What is a Domain?
Elizabeth Feinler was the original Domain Name System as she kept track of all the computers that were a part of the early Internet network. She kept track by hand in a file and sent it out to everyone.
I love that she was willing to do this thankless job that eventually turned out to be a very technically challenging thing to do automatically as the network grew. The essence of that file is still used today all over the Internet, so someone can find your website.
Read the Read the full interview with Elizabeth about her experience during those early days of the Internet.
Domains can be a source of confusion, and for good reason. They came into existence in 1974, and basically haven’t changed since. Back then, the engineers were simply creating a solution to manage an ever-widening network of computers. But they had no inkling that this network, aka the Internet, would become a fundamental part of daily life.
The best way to understand domains is to look back to 1974 and meet an Internet pioneer, Elizabeth Feinler. She worked for the Network Working Group and talks about the early days of domains:
“We put out something called the Directory, which was a phone book for the Internet.
In the early days it was, “Take this hostname file—please!” [laughs.] Nobody wanted to be responsible for it... [Eventually] they redid the naming and addressing into a tree-structured system…”
That tree-structured system is the domain system you know today and why we have .com and other similar conventions.
The key reason they needed the Directory she spoke of, was because the number that uniquely identifies a computer on a network looks like this.
No one wants to memorize a number like that! It is much easier to remember something like this...
So they set up a system empowering computers to do the work for you, by remembering that 126.96.36.199 and 1happyplace.com really mean the same thing, It works just like your smartphone’s contact list where you simply have to set up a contact for “Jane” rather than having to remember Jane’s phone number each time you want to call her.
The domain name system is essentially a giant directory for the entire world and it is managed by a group called ICANN. Every single website that is on the Internet must have an entry in this directory.
Remember when you first bought your domain and the company checked its availability? It was looking up that particular string in the ICANN directory and if it didn’t exist, it would then help you register and add the entry into the worldwide system.
As long as you keep paying to keep it registered, that unique string is yours and you can then attach a website and emails to that domain name. This is achieved through that directory, as there is additional technical information in your record that helps the visitor’s computer or phone find your website, or send a message to your domain email, such as email@example.com.
The whole Domain Name System is quite remarkable and complicated, but, gently speaking, your domain name represents your entry into the world’s contact list, it is your slice of the Internet.