What is a Domain Name?
An Internet website is defined by its URL. A website hosted by a free host (e.g. an Internet access provider) generally has an address such as:
This type of address is rather difficult to commit to memory, so an address such as the following is preferable:
Usefulness of Domain Names
A website with its own domain name is much easier to memorise. It is much easier for a visitor to return to a website whose name is easy to remember than to a website whose name is extremely complicated.
What's more, a well-chosen domain name will help the site's popularity grow exponentially by word of mouth.
Finally, a domain name generally gives a touch of professionalism and credibility to a website and gives the Internet user a stronger feeling of trust.
Choosing a Domain Name
Given that a domain name must be easy to spread, it is essential to choose the easiest one possible. Obviously a domain name is not just a complex list of characters, so it should be chosen carefully by avoiding the following pitfalls:
- Choosing complicated names
- Choosing names that are too long (www.commentcamarche.net is already pushing it length-wise)
- Using special characters such as underscores (_) (it is much easier to sa "comment ça marche dot net all one word" than "comment hyphen ça hyphen marche dot net")
Moreover, the domain name must:
- be pronouncable
- have a meaning, if possible
- be available
Verifying a Name's Availability
There are tools (provided by the organizations in charge of domain names) called Whois that allow you to verify the availability of a domain name and even to find out who owns it.
Registering a Domain Name
Domain names are registered with an international organization (Internic) or with a registrar (in France the organization is Afnic). Domain classification (by business: commercial, not-for-profit, network organization, etc.), sometimes called TLD (Top Level Domain, generally corresponds to geographic distribution. Nevertheless, there are names originally created for the United States that allow you to classify the domain according to business sector. For example:
- .arpa is for machines from the original network
- .com is for commercial businesses (but now this domain code is extremely general and has become international)
- .edu is for educational organizations
- .gov is for governmental organizations
- .mil is for military organizations
- .net is for organizations dealing with networks
- .org is for not-for-profit organizations
In addition, some of these domains have sub-domains. In France, for example:
- .asso.fr is for associations
- .gouv.fr is for governmental organizations
- .tm.fr is for trademarked business organizations
Acquiring an .fr Domain Name
Opening a domain name in France (a website whose name ends with .fr) is governed by more complicated acquisition rules. AFNIC, the organization in charge of assigning .fr domain names, only allows certain entities meeting certain conditions to acquire a .fr domain name. Here is a non-exhaustive list of conditions:
- Holder of a registered trademark
- A company (business) registered at the trade register
- An association registered at the INSEE (French National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies)
- Liberal professions
- Self-employed craftsmen
- Public sector organizations
It is obviously necessary to have documents proving that the organization belongs to one of these categories:
- For businesses: an official document from the trade register and the SIREN/SIRET number
- The SIREN/SIRET number for associations registered at the INSEE
- For trademarks: a certificate from the INPI (French National Institute of Intellectual Property), to be provided within 6 months if the application is in progress
However, AFNIC is gradually liberalising the .fr domain code. It is a good idea to regularly consult their website to find out the latest rules. New organizations that will soon be able to acquire a .fr domain name are:
- all the above-mentioned categories
- individual people
- all associations, even those not registered with INSEE
It is possible to choose a redirection, i.e. a domain name that redirects the Internet user to a specific URL. This type of solution is a compromise that allows webmasters using free hosting services to benefit from an easy-to-remember name. Nevertheless, this system does not make the domain name appear in the browser address bar.
Warning: providers who offer free domain name redirection also become the owners of those domain names, too!
Some crafty Internet users take pleasure in buying large numbers of domain names. This process is called grabbing and consists of buying the domain names that certain companies could use before the companies buy them (e.g. the .com, .net and .org versions of the same domain name. This process is not controlled).
In the past, many unscrupulous individuals grabbed domain names and were successful at reselling these domain names (which often are brand names) to companies at very high prices (sometimes several million dollars). Since then, legislation regarding the Internet has become more rigid and only on rare occasions do courts side with cybersquatters.