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The Difference Between .com, .net, .org and Why We’re About To See Many More Top-Level Domains

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.com, .net, .org and other website suffixes are known as “top-level domains” (TLDs). While we normally see only a few of these, there are hundreds of them – and there may be thousands more soon.

Top-level domains are managed by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which is run by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Generic Top-Level Domains

Perhaps the most common top-level domains are .com, .net, and .org. Originally, each had a unique purpose:

  • .com: Commercial (for-profit) websites
  • .net: Network-related domains
  • .org: Non-profit organizations

However, these top-level domains all offer open registration – anyone can register a .com, .net, or .org domain for a website (for a fee). The distinction between the domains has largely been lost, although there are still non-profit organizations that prefer .org.

There are a variety of other domains that were added later to take some off the stress off of the original generic top-level domains (gTLDs), including .biz and .info. However, fewer websites use these top-level domains – there’s more brand recognition associated with a .com domain. Currently, .com is by far the most popular top-level domain – nearly 50 percent of the websites Google visits use the .com top-level domain. (Source)

Open vs. Closed TLDs

In contrast to the above top-level domains, which are “open” in that they allow anyone to register a domain without meeting any qualifications, many TLDs are “closed.” For example, if you want to register a .museum, .aero, or .travel domain, you must verify that you’re a legitimate museum, air-travel, or tourism-related entity.

Country-Specific Top-Level Domains

There are hundreds of country-specific top-level domains. For example, the .uk domain is for the United Kingdom, the .ca domain is for Canada, and the .fr domain is for France.

Some of these country-specific domains are closed and only allow citizens and businesses in the country to register, while some allow open registration for everyone to register.

For example, the popular .ly domain, notably used by bit.ly and other URL-shortening services, is actually the country-specific domain for Libya. It allows largely open registration, although there are some restrictions around the type of content a website with a .ly TLD can contain.

Uniquely, the USA has some country-specific domains that aren’t country codes:

  • .edu: Educational institutions in the US
  • .gov: US government entities
  • .mil: US military use

Future Top-Level Domains

In 2012, ICANN allowed corporations to apply for new generic top-level domains. The list of applications is long – For example, Google applied for domains such as .google, .lol, .youtube, and .docs. Many companies applied for domains matching their company name, such as .mcdonalds and .apple. A variety of companies also made a land grab for generic domain names such as .pizza, .security, .download, and .beer.

None of these new domains has come online yet, but it seems like we’ll be seeing a lot more top-level domains soon.


For a complete list of the current top-level domains in use, check out the root zone database page on the IANA’s website.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 10/15/12

Comments (18)

  1. Hitesh Chavda

    Nice Info. Thanks

  2. Collin

    Don’t forget .xxx :)

  3. John Stamos

    Yeah… you like that .xxx don’t ya Collin… let’s not forget about .xxx for Collin and his rosey palm and the five fingers!! Lol

  4. Sirmentio

    Lol Thats Interesting to have so many domains.

  5. Bernard

    Some of the newer tlds are very expensive so they may not be as popular as suggested.

  6. Jim

    There was a lot of debate at ICANN conferences about the new TLD’s.

    The new TLD’s will provide a lot of money for:
    1) domain registrars
    2) lawyers
    3) lawyers
    4) lawyers

  7. JonK

    So, how long before we see a .1337 ? :-P

  8. gesti

    just as an interesting info if anyone would like there own TLD then here are the two main requirements:
    1. “Any established public or private organization anywhere in the world can apply to create and operate a new generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) registry. Applicants will need to demonstrate the operational, technical and financial capability to run a registry and comply with additional specific requirements.”
    2. “The evaluation fee is US$185,000. Applicants will be required to pay a US$5,000 deposit fee per requested application slot when registering.”
    Source: https://crm-gtld.icann.org/portal-icann/index.php?action=DetailView&module=KBDocuments&offset=1&id=ad5703ee-0e54-11e1-b379-001ec956ae79

  9. Ruja

    @Jim: Good one sir!

  10. Citrus Rain

    Submitted this comment a few hours ago, didn’t show up, tried again, said it was a duplicate. Since it’s still not there, I’ll try again.
    ———————

    They should have opened the application process to the public and allowed groups of people to vote on more of them.

    Imagine fandom based TLDs.

    .whovian
    .brony
    .deathstar
    .avatar

    etc…

  11. imanoldgoat

    Hey, ICANN. I can’t keep up with all these new dots. What’s next? ” I can.can”, for Parisian Night Spots? Baa!

  12. Shorah

    How does one get a TLD? Does anyone know about the price and process?

    Thanks,

    Shorah

  13. spike

    Price = a lot (several hundred thousand USD, according to one source I saw a bit back).

  14. Vivek

    There is even more to it..

    there are domains like .nz , .in, .au , .ca , etc

    These are country specific domains itself.
    For eg.
    .nz is for New Zealand
    .in is for India
    .au is for Australia
    .ca is for Canada

  15. SAud

    nIce onE

  16. nazish

    nice cognition.

  17. notch

    um what about .los
    . for losers
    THHEEEE

  18. Dilbert

    I wonder how long it will take for the cyber-squatters to grab all the easy to spell TLD names and put them on Ebay for a king’s ransom? If ICANN wanted to do something constructive they should require applicants for TLD’s to demonstrate they intend to use them to support their business or activity, not just sit on them and rip people off for something they should be able to access for $45 per year.

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