How Do Internet Domain Names Work and Who Owns Them?
Stephen McCance June 5, 2014
What happens when you enter a URL in to your browser and how do IP addresses and DNS servers relate to that. Most importantly, who owns the domain names you purchase and where does the money you pay go?
The internet is a huge part of our day to day lives and something that we probably take for granted. Imagine having to send a letter every time you wanted to communicate with somebody or paying by cheque and waiting 5-7 working days for the money to clear. Imagine not being able to look up facts, stats, weather forecasts, download music, watch TV on demand and play on your games console online. There would be no Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google, Wikipedia or eBay, things that we probably all use on a day to day basis from our laptop, phone, tablet or desktop. Have you ever stopped to think about how it all works, who first created the domain names like ‘facebook.com’ and most importantly who owns them?
When the internet was first invented by Tim Berners-Lee you would connect to a website by typing in its IP address. For example, if you wanted to visit Amazon you’d type the IP address 126.96.36.199 in to your browser in a similar way to how a phone number works. As you may have found, trying to remember that number is easier said than done, imagine trying to remember the IP addresses of all of your favourite websites, it would be pretty much impossible. Because of this a new method was invented to help the internet grow and become more user friendly, this was called DNS (Domain Name System), a DNS server maps out the IP address of a website to a more user friendly text based version. This means when you now type in www.redcowmedia.co.uk the DNS server maps it out to the connected IP address which is 188.8.131.52 and automatically diverts you there. One thing you may notice is that if you try and enter 184.108.40.206 in your browser you will get an error page, the reason for this is that often with smaller websites there might be 20 hosted on the same server, whereas the bigger companies like Amazon who are getting hundreds of thousands of visitors a day will have one dedicated server.
So now we know how the domain names work but we don’t know who is responsible for creating them and allowing people to buy them. You will probably have noticed lots of companies selling the same domain names such as GoDaddy and 123-Reg, these companies work as a registrar on behalf of a non-profit organisation that was set up called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). ICANN are responsible for coordinating the global domain name system and have a sub-company called the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) who are responsible managing the DNS Root and numbering system of IP addresses that was mentioned earlier. These companies do not ‘assign’ domain names, they just manage the registrars (GoDaddy etc…) and ensure there are no repeat domain names handed out. ICANN was set up in 1998 following a large scale review of the internet by the U.S. Government, of the £2.99 you pay for your domain with 123-Reg, a percentage will go to 123-Reg and the rest will go to ICANN to continue managing the domain names on behalf of the internet.