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We see .com, .org, and even .net all over the Internet but how did they come about, and are they really the only URL suffixes available?

Have you ever wondered why URLs always end with .com, .org, or even .net? Those three suffixes are known as top-level domains (TLDs). There are actually hundreds of top-level domains, with those mentioned suffixes being the most popular.  And the total number of TLDs is only going to keep growing. The organization in charge of the TLDs is Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which is a part of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Originally, each of the three most popular TLDs had specific purposes. .com was reserved only for commercial, for-profit websites, .net was only for network-related domains, and .org was only for non-profit organizations. In reality, anyone can register any top-level domain. And since .com has become so ubiquitous, it’s almost expected. It can even be an SEO detriment if your website doesn’t have a .com TLD. Perhaps the one distinction that remains is that most non-profit groups still get .org suffixes. Naturally though, those particular TLDs are running out, so more were added. Suffixes like .biz, .info, and many others, are also available.

The difference between TLDs is the open TLDs (like the ones already mentioned) and the closed TLDs, like .museum, .aero, .travel, etc. To register those domains, organizations attempting to secure them have to provide proof that they’re an actual museum, air-travel, or tourism-related company. There are also country-specific TLDs that might be a little more visible to the common Internet user. Suffixes like .uk (United Kingdom), .ca (Canada), and .fr (France) are sometimes closed and available only to citizens and businesses that are physically located in the country. Not all countries have closed TLDs however. For example, the URL shortener service bit.ly uses the Libyan suffix, .ly. Libya’s TLD is open registration so bit.ly is free to use that TLD. Finally, the USA has some specific suffixes like .edu for educational institutions, .gov for US government entities only, and .mil for US military use only.

Mentioned earlier, ICANN is releasing more TLDs later in 2012. New suffixes will include .google, .lol, .youtube, .docs, and many, many others. Companies are now able to apply to create their own suffixes. Companies that have tried to get their own personalized TLDs include McDonalds with .mcdonalds, and Apple for .apple. These TLDs aren’t online yet, but I can imagine them hitting the Internet hard when they are finally available.

Part of me wonders if this will make any difference. It will take consumers a long time, in my personal opinion, to get out of the habit of typing .com at the end of every address they want to go to. But time will tell, and at the very least, the new TLDs are fulfilling their intended purpose of creating more name space on the Internet.

To read more about regulations on the Internet, check out our blog post about the new “six strikes” program that most major US ISPs have started to adopt.