Behind the Internet: the history of domain names

About the Author

Samantha Lloyd is Content Marketing Manager at Hover, a division of Tucows.

We all use domain names to browse the internet, but have you ever wondered where the idea of ​​domain names Actually just? Why do we use them and rely on them to bounce from website to website through the vast sea of ​​information provided by the Internet?

Despite all of our use, and even ownership of domains, most people don’t know why they started or why we continue to use them. Domain names are part of the Internet infrastructure domain name system. If you’ve ever wondered what’s behind that $12 purchase for your personal website or why it exists in the first one, then you’ve come to the right place.

“Domain names are used in a variety of networking contexts and for application-specific naming and addressing purposes. In general, a domain name identifies a network domain or represents an Internet Protocol (IP) resource, such as a personal computer used to access the Internet, a server computer hosting a website, or the website itself or any other service. communicated via the Internet. In 2017, 330.6 million domain names were registered. Going through Wikipedia.

Beginnings: ARPANET

Simply put, a domain name gives you access to everything you need to access what’s on the Internet. Domain names were first used through the Domain Name System in 1983, with consumer registration not available until February 24, 1986.

Before the domain name system, you accessed different addresses on computer networks through a host’s numeric address. Each computer on the network can access the host’s files using these numeric addresses.

The Domain Name System process had to be introduced due to the complexity of how the internet worked before. Remembering the numeric addresses would certainly have made scaling and public access difficult! The domain name system was introduced on ARPANET, a project under the US Agency for Advanced Research Projects.

ARPANET was originally released in 1967 and introduced a network concept which was essentially the foundation of the Internet. In 1969, the idea materialized with the interconnection of four computers. Much later, the domain name system was introduced on the ARPANET. It was published by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

TLDs: Top Level Domains

To better understand domain names, it is important to note that they are divided into several parts. Domain name extensions you know, such as .COM and .ORG, are called top-level domains (TLDs). They apply to any word that is to the right of the dot. The part you choose for your brand, business or personal name is the “second level domain” and before that you will find the “subdomain”, the best known being “www”.


(Image credit: Tucows)

Seven top-level domains were introduced in 1984:

  • is intended to abbreviate the word “commercial” and its original usage was for commercial organizations. There are nearly 150 million registered .com domain names and it remains the most recognizable top-level domain.
  • is a domain extension that was intended for non-profit or charitable organizations and is still commonly associated with organizations that serve a public good.
  • was created with networks in mind. The term net derives from “network” and was originally associated with networking companies and infrastructure technology.
  • is short for “international” and was intended for international organizations, such as those concluded and endorsed by a treaty between two or more nations.
  • uses an abbreviated word for “education”. It was originally open to all types of educational institutions, but was later restricted to accredited schools that are often associated with the United States.
  • stands for “Government” and is strictly for use by United States government agencies or entities associated with the state or municipal level.
  • is reserved for the US military.

Fun fact! The first domain name ever registered was They have an online museum dedicated to the history of the Internet.

Without these top-level domains and making them available to the public, you would not be able to register a domain name.

These days there are hundreds of TLDs to choose from and many are open to anyone to register with no restrictions on use. If your domain extension is longer than two letters, it’s a generic top-level domain (gTLD). If your domain extension has two letters, it is a country code top-level domain (ccTLD). Countries are referred to by their ccTLD based on their International Organization for Standardization (ISO) code.

Domain names began their journey into Internet infrastructure decades ago, and it’s always interesting to learn how the Internet was just a concept or an idea. As something we constantly rely on these days (you’re probably reading this while logged in!), it’s always possible to remember how it started and better understand why it works the way it does today. There are many intricacies to explore.

You think it was interesting? So you’re in for a treat as we continue to take you behind the scenes of the domain name industry. It’s a fascinating part of the internet that everyone relies on, but few know about. In the next article, we will explain the process of the governing body, ICANN, and its impact on the infrastructure of the Internet.

Samantha Lloyd is Content Marketing Manager at Float, a division of tucows.

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