To the uninitiated, a website address can seem unnecessarily complicated. However, from the protocol to the domain name suffix, each constituent part plays an important role in identifying the site and ensuring web browsers can locate it.
Breaking Down the URL
A website address is also known as a uniform resource locator (or URL), and it typically starts with either http or https. The latter is a secure version of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol that governs how sender and recipient devices communicate. Data is sent across the World Wide Web, which explains the three w characters. It then arrives at a site belonging to the resource owner, who will have registered the unique third portion of any website address. Finally, the domain name suffix identifies the website’s purpose – .edu for academic institutions, .gov for Government portals, and so forth.
Domain Name Suffixes
The domain name suffix is perhaps the most intriguing component of a website address. In the 1990s, when website names were unregulated, consumers only had a few suffixes to choose from as they scrambled to secure memorable or relevant domain names. The non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – or ICANN – was created in 1998 to regulate this digital Wild West, and they quickly decided to expand the pool of suffixes. This was intended to reduce overcrowding, slash costs and improve each site’s clarity of purpose.
The Top Level Domain Candy Store
To date, ICANN has released over a thousand different domain name suffixes. Also known as top level domains, or TLDs, these suffixes are still intended to identify a website’s purpose or origins. However, they have progressed far beyond distinguishing between State bodies and private firms. Today’s list of TLDs includes suffixes for every country on the planet, plus major cities and regions/states. There are niche entries like .villas and .rehab whose potential uses are clear, and less obvious TLDs like .xyz, .ooo and .gripe. These rather contravene ICANN’s original intention to reinforce a website’s role or function, as do the various branded TLDs now in existence. From .alfaromeo and .dell to .kerryhotels and .swatch, these company-specific suffixes will only ever populate a small number of sites.
Given this willingness to approve niche TLDs, it’s perhaps surprising that some more obvious possibilities haven’t reached the market yet. South American companies vetoed the use of .amazon by a certain well-known online retailer, while ICANN’s aversion to military connotations has kept .bomb, .gun and .war at bay. Numbers are extremely rare in TLDs, and the Bulgarian Government fought for years to get .6r (the Cyrillic translation of their existing .bg suffix) approved. To the disappointment of Morse code fans around the world, there are no plans to register .dash – even though .dot came out last year. Similarly, .hiv was released before .gay, due to a lengthy legal battle over the latter’s eventual ownership.
With each new TLD taking between five and ten years to achieve widespread acceptance, and some niche suffixes languishing in obscurity, this is clearly still an evolving market. Nonetheless, it remains hard to argue with the enduring popularity of .com and .co.uk suffixes – the gold standard any business owner or webmaster should aspire to…