The term domain entered the English language circa 1500, from the Middle French domaine ‘estate,’ deriving from the Latin dominium ‘property.’ The meanings to describe a region under certain rules and control and a particular field of thought or activity, over which someone has control, developed circa 1750. The mathematical meaning as the set of all possible values that an independent variable of a function can take, was first attested circa 1900.
A domain, in the context of web terminology, is often wrongly interpreted as synonymous to a website, and while those terms are closely connected, they are very different things.
In generally, domains or domain names hide and replace numeric IP addresses with human friendly names. And simply put, a domain is the location of a website on the Internet, or with other words, the address where users can access it.
According to statistics, provided by domain name and internet security industry leaders, at the start of this year, there were around 330 million registered domain names.
And it all started 24 years ago, when in 1983, a fresh Computer Science graduate named Paul Mockapetris, given the task to simplify the directory of ARPANET websites and their corresponding IP addresses, proposed the Domain Name System (DNS), replacing IPs with names and categorising websites by purposes – for example the .com extension stands for ‘commercial purposes.’
He received the task from the “god of the Internet”, Jonathan Postel, who was the first to record the term domain in relation to the computer world. And that happened in 1982, in Request for Comments (RFC)— the documents that defined how the Internet was built: “The name of a domain consists of a concatenation of one or more ‘simple names’.”
The original specifications of DNS were published in November 1983 and the first ever domain was created by a Scandinavian research collaboration in January 1985, Nordu.net – used to serve as the identifier of the first root server, nic.nordu.net.
Yet, the first legally registered – through the permitted DNS process – domain name came out two months later – when on March 15, 1985 Symbolics Inc., an American computer systems company, registered Symbolics.com.
Only 5 other domains were registered by the end of that year, and the next year saw the registration of Xerox.com in January, as the 7th domain. While HP, IBM and Intel registered their domains in March 1986, becoming the 9th, 11th, and 13th names registered respectively.
Domain name registration was free of charged until 1995, when prices for a two-year registration begun at $100. Curiously, the most expensive domains ever, Insurance.com, VacationRentals.com, PrivateJet.com sold for over $30 millions each.
Taking into account the rules that a domain name may contain up to 63 characters and may not exceed a total length of 253 ASCII characters in its textual representation, the domain names’ choices seem much more limited than most of us realise. Just consider that every possible combination of three-character.com has been registered by 1997, and every possible four-letter.com domains – by 2013.
The good news – it is not all about .COM, as there is a plethora of Top-Level Domains (TLDs) available since 2011 when ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) removed most restrictions on the creation of new TLDs.
The era of new Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs) is on the horizon, making the combinations almost endless, and giving chances to create own domain extensions and register own trademark names.