Imagine that everyone in the world were known by their telephone number instead of their name. Sounds like a nightmare, right? You’d never be able to remember the numbers of every single person you know.
If names didn’t exist, you’d be forced to invent them, or you’d never be able to identify your closest friends, let alone casual acquaintances you’d met only a couple of times!
Domain names were invented to fill a similar need on the Internet. Computers connected to the Internet are identified by a unique series of numbers called an IP address (for example, 126.96.36.199). IP stands for “Internet Protocol”, and they are not easy to remember (you can prove that by glancing away from this page then trying to recall the IP address in the above example!).
If you type an IP address into the URL bar of your browser you will be connected to the computer it represents. But since IP addresses are so difficult to remember, the Domain Name System (DNS) was invented in 1983 to help people connect to specific computers and content.
It may help to think of an IP address like your physical home address. If someone sends you a letter by postal mail, they must have your physical address. Similarly, an IP address is the physical address of a website online. When someone connects to your website, their computer finds it by looking up the IP address associated with your domain name.
Some websites, particularly larger websites, have dedicated IP addresses. This would be similar to having a single family home: 1 family with 1 home, but in this case, it is 1 website with 1 IP address. Most of the time however, multiple websites share an IP address, which, if thought of in a real world address situation, would be similar to an apartment building with a single address but many families living there.
As well as being hard to remember, IP addresses are generally fixed to the web hosting provider you’re using. If you move your website to a new web hosting provider, they’ll assign a new IP address to your website. While this presents no problems for a computer, the system just isn’t feasible for the average person (unless you have a photographic memory). It would be hard enough to have to remember one IP address, but to remember a constantly changing address would be impossible.
In a nutshell, domain names were launched to be easy to remember aliases for otherwise meaningless strings of numbers (IP Addresses).
Now let’s look at the different parts of a URL and how that differs from a domain name.