About domain names and DNS

Domain names are regulated by ICANN (The Internet Coporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), a non-profit organization that also regulates DNS (Domain Name System), and IP addresses. Previously these functions were handled first by the National Science Foundation and then by Network Solutions through a contract with the US government.

Domain names are registered with the Internic (now run by ICANN) and mapped to IP addresses using DNS.

How does it work?

All ICANN approved registrars maintain their own registration data, but this data is electronically distributed so that each registrar and their affiliates can only register available names. The whois databases, maintained by each registrar provides a publically accessible way to discover which names are available as well as which domains are in use and who is responsible for them. Any individual or group who owns a domain name must provide accurate technical and billing contact information. Note that because the whois databases are maintained by different entities they do not always provide accurate information and may not be completely up to date with each other. The best way to find out if a domain name is available is to use the registration services of an organization that can register names. The search box on our main page is one of many available on the net that can perform this task.

Once the a domain name is registered it can be used to identify a website or send email. This requires that its electronic location be entered into the distributed DNS database, which is a separate database from the whois/registration databases. Typically, this requires that at least two internet hosts running DNS name servers have records for the internet address of the domain name. One nameserver, designated the primary, provides the master address records for a domain, which associate the hostnames within a domain with IP numbers. The other nameservers, known as secondaries, back up the information provided by the primary, both for increased network efficiency and in case of failure of the primary.

Researching Domain Names

There are powerful tools available to help you find a domain name. If you are on unix host you may query the whois database using the "whois" command. You may research DNS records using the "nslookup", "dig", or "host" commands. There are Windows and Mac equivalents of these tools, check a shareware repository such as for more information. Currently we recommend using the services at which:

Links to more information
Here are some links to sites with more information:

DNS Resources Directory Excellent explanations of domain names and how they work.

About "whois" Explains how to use the whois command.

rfc 1034 For the technically inclined. The official document that explains domain names.

For more information, please email

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