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You may have heard of the term top-level domain, often referred to as TLD, when talking about domain registration. The top-level domain is the .com or other extension that follows your individual domain. They fall into two categories – generic TLDs and country-specific TLDs. Currently there are just over 20 generic top-level domains (the most notable being .com, .net, .org, .gov, .edu, .biz) plus top-level domains for most countries.

tlds1 What is a Top Level Domain, Anyway?

What’s in a Domain Name?

A domain is broken into several parts, but it can be simplified to a great degree. Historically when talking about a website, you’d specify www.domain.com when telling someone your web address. However, with most web browsers are now improved to the point where if you simply type “domain.com” the website will resolve without a problem. Everything to the left of the TLD in a domain name is technically a subdomain. The “domain” in www.domain.com is a subdomain of the .com TLD, and the “www” is a subdomain of domain.com.

The domain name system in general can be a little confusing, but it’s much better than having to type in the IP address that the domain name represents. You’d end up typing 216.34.94.184 into your address bar to get to Domain.com without the domain name system. If you’re curious about more domain name system details, the Wikipedia page is a good place to start.

About Those TLDS…

TLDs are one of the primary measures used to structure the internet. ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is the entity that coordinates domains and IP adresses for the internet. This includes managing the creation of TLDs. Each TLD is operated by a registry, and that registry pays fees to ICANN to be able to operate the TLD. Domain Registrars such as Domain.com then pay registries to register domains for end users.

ICANN has historically been very strict about allowing the creation of new TLDs. To this point, new generic TLDs have been rare, with .tel being the newest. Each registry for specific countries controls the use of their country specific TLD. Originally, the country TLDs were intended to help divide the internet geographically, but .com has become the dominant worldwide TLD instead. Some country TLDs are still fairly restricted, while others have been opened to be registered by all. For instance, to register a .ca domain, you have to live in Canada, but .me (Montenegro’s TLD) is open to everyone, and is generally presented as a good TLD to use for a personal website.

The king of TLDs continues to be .com, and part of the shortcomings of the country TLDs was that they were introduced after the .com standard already existed. The intended use of .com for commercial purposes has never been fully followed. Instead, businesses, individuals, and nearly everyone else choose a .com address. The result has been that .net has become a backup if the .com you want to register is taken, while .org is generally used by most non-profits. However, country codes have somewhat fallen by the wayside, particularly in the US. This is beginning to change with new TLDs for specific purposes, such as .me for personal websites, and .tel for contact information.

See a full list of existing TLDs

The Future of the TLD

The stage is set for a dramatic change in TLDs in 2010. ICANN has decided to allow the creation of numerous new generic TLDs as well as TLDs to companies for specific trademarks. The details of the new TLDs and how many new TLDs there will be are still somewhat unclear, but ICANN has indicated that registry creation for new TLDs will be opened for many more generic TLDs than currently exist. Many have suggested that new registries for TLDs such as .blog, .food, and others will spring up. Businesses will also be able to become their own registry as well, resulting in closed registries such as .apple or .nike.

The ongoing debate about this issue is the intent behind creating new TLDs. ICANN is looking at the issue from the perspective that the good .com domains are all taken and they want to reorganize the internet based upon TLDs having more meaning to the domain. From a business standpoint, the new TLDs will allow businesses to fight cyberquatting more effectively. Opponents to the new TLD plan generally argue that ICANN is simply looking for more funding and the changes won’t effectively make the needed changes to the domain name system.

Regardless of the ongoing debate, it appears that new TLDs are definitely coming. When they’re available, be sure to check out Domain.com for more details. Tell us your thoughts on the new TLDs in the comments or vote in our new TLD poll.

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.COM | .ORG | .NET | .ME | .TEL | .US | .TV | OTHERS