Simply Explained: What a Domain Name Is and Does

The term regularly causes confusion. If you still don't quite understand what it is, here is another simple explanation.

If you are not yet sure about what a domain name actually is, you are not alone. Unfortunately, attempts at explanation often become too technical and thus abstract for the normal user. As usual, I will deal with this topic on the surface.

You may have heard the term domain more before and you may already classify it somewhere in the rough direction of "websites and co". That is already a start. But what I often experience is that then the more precise classification does is a little vague and usually not correct. Again and again I see confused looks when it is explained that website and domain are not the same.

A domain is a memorable address for users, which can be linked to various online services. For example, with websites (the front part in the address bar of the browser, like or e-mail addresses (the part behind the @ symbol, like

There are some good analogies on this topic and I usually use two. Since moments of realization don't happen the same way for everyone I'll list both. Maybe one is more logical for you than the other.

Domain names simply explained

  • Analogy 1: a domain is a phone number

Okay, but what exactly do I mean by that?

Just as your phone number is not your phone, the domain is not your website. It is only regulated that one can reach your phone, respectively your website.

When someone calls your number, the call is routed so that the call arrives on your phone.

With a domain it looks similar: the visitor enters your domain, it is checked to which website your domain is directed and the content is getting displayed.

  • Analogy 2: a domain is your house number

Let's say you are visiting a family member who lives at the main street number 61. By the name you know exactly where you have to go, but once there you can be in the living room, bathroom, kitchen, etc.. You are in the main street number 61 regardless.

It's similar with domain names. You know the domain name and thus your destination. You call it up and land on the homepage of a website, which could be compared to the entrance area of your relative's house.

From this entrance area, however, you can continue to move through the house to other areas of it.

On web pages, for example, it may look like this:

You arrive at the homepage by entering the domain name in the address bar of your browser, you click on "Shop" in the navigation bar and you will be redirected to another section.

Usually it looks like this in the address bar: ->

or like this ->

Theoretically, it is also possible that it redirects you to a completely different domain, but I will not go into this here, as it is not really contributing to understanding. It is sufficient to briefly mention the most widespread example of this: Search engines. For example, you are on and click on a search result - you don't stay on ecosia, but are redirected to the corresponding domain, which resolves to another website and ultimately displays it in your browser.

Therefore, once again for repetition:

In summary, domain names are a simplified or easy-to-remember variant of your actual Internet address, which can be linked to your website (and other services).

I think that should have given you a rough understanding about domain names.

If you still feel like it, you are welcome to read a little further and take the extra tour.

Still here? Okay, let's continue.

Domain names were introduced early on and are actually just a mask for the real addresses on the Internet. You could compare it to contacts in your smartphone to pick up the phone analogy again. Instead of typing in your friend's full phone number every time, you'll just quickly type in the name and it's linked to the phone number and which is then being called. The result is the same, but the way is much more comfortable, since you don't have to remember complex sequences of numbers.

Since IPs are even more unwieldy in their format than most phone numbers, domain names make particular sense to make the Internet user-friendly.

What IP addresses are - in simplified terms

You have probably heard the term IP before.

The abbreviation "IP" stands for Internet Protocol. Internet protocol addresses are uniquely identifiable sequences of characters that are recorded in blocks. IP addresses are designed for the efficient operation of the Internet and not to be memorable for the user.

There are the two types IPv4 and IPv6.

IPv4 is based on 32bit. What this means exactly I will not try to explain. However, it is relevant that due to this principle the numbers for IPv4 addresses are very limited. Strictly speaking, we already need more addresses than there are of them:


The number is not even enough to provide every person in the world with an IP address. And since more and more people have more than one device, it's even more obvious why thery are not enough.

The successor IPv6 is 128bit based (which I will also not try to explain). The amount is in any case much higher than with IPv4, because there is not only a quadrupling, as one might assume. The total amount of possible IPv6 addresses is close to 340 sextillion - a number that is hard to imagine. It would be enough to say there are almost unlimited IPv6 addresses, but just for fun we can compare the whole thing:

IPv44 294 967 296
IPv6340 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 000

If you are wondering how such an IP address can look like, here is an example of one:


Always consisting of four blocks. The respective blocks are always between 0 and 255 and are separated by dots.

IPv6: 2001:0db8:85a3:08d3:1319:8a2e:0370:7344

Consists of eight blocks, which can contain letters and numbers.

So you see, both types are not necessarily memorable or easy to communicate. And here we come back to the topic of domain names, because domain names are meant to remedy exactly this.

Functioning of domain names

If you have a domain name, you can point it to a specific IP address. The IP address can then point to a server that knows which of the content stored on it should be displayed, when a request arrives for that specific domain name.

The simplified process would look like this:

  1. Eingabe eines Domainamen im Browser
  2. Determination of the IP address to which the domain points
  3. Determination of the server on which the website is located
  4. Opening the website

So now you know roughly the function and the process.

Now you may have noticed that there are different domain extensions: .COM, .DE, .CH, .AT, etc.

These domain extensions are called Top-Level-Domain (short TLD), which means the highest level of the domain. It is the highest level because domain names are resolved from the back. The domain actually looks like this:

The dot at the end is not a typo, but actually there (but usually it is not displayed in the address line of Internet browsers). The dot says that it starts here. Then the TLD follows, which are administered by appropriate registries. These TLDs allow, for example, that there is not only one possibility to use the term motor. There is the possibility for motor.COM, motor.DE, motor.CH, motor.AT and several more (new ones are added pretty much every day).

Further, it is possible for users, like you and me, to roughly classify whether the page is relevant. A website for a carpenter with the extension .CA (Canada), is unsuitable for a repair order for a small table in most cases, which is so easy to recognize. Over time, however, domain endings have become intermingled across national borders. Especially when the extension has a second meaning. A popular example is:


Because contrary to the frequent assumption that this ending is intended for TV stations, it is actually the country-specific Top-level domain of the island nation of Tuvalu in the Pacific Ocean.

These registries define a set of rules for the corresponding domain extensions, which are almost all based on those of ICANN. The registries usually offer the possibility that domain names can be registered directly with them, but they also empower (accredit) other companies as so-called registrars for their TLD(s). With these you can also register domain names, which is in most cases the more typical place to go if you want to register a domain name.

So those are the three parties in such a scenario:

Registry = the registry of the corresponding domain extension / TLD

Registrar = a company that is authorized to register domains for corresponding TLDs for entities (such as individuals, companies, associations, etc.).

Registrant = an entity that has registered a domain name in its own name. For example you.

So I think that's enough so far. Just one more thing:

A good registrar is worth a lot. The registrar I trust is my employer. There may be many others and I encourage you to do your own research too. Anyway, here is the way to Infomaniak:

Special tipp for you

There is now a new breed of domain names based on blockchain (the link will take you to the relevant article.

These domains are exciting precisely because they cannot be revoked and therefore cannot be withdrawn (this is very interesting especially against censorship).

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