Have you ever been to a website before? I’m going to go ahead and assume that you have – after all, if you’re reading this then you’re visiting a website right now! Whether or not you realize it, you have encountered a Top-Level Domain (TLD, or domain name extension) every step of the way on your journey across the web.
But what exactly is a Top Level Domain? Before we go over TLDs, let’s first take a look at the structure of a domain name (I know, I know, you just want a definition, but trust me – this will make it easier).
A domain name is divided into character strings called labels. Each label is separated by a period and serves a different purpose. Most websites that you see will consist of a Subdomain, Second-Level Domain, and a Top-Level Domain. Here’s how an example domain name is structured using these three labels:
A Top-Level Domain is the label following the last visible dot in a domain name. There are several different types of TLDs, each operated by a registry that helps you – the registrant – purchase a domain name through a registrar. So if you were to buy example.com through Hover, you would be the registrant, Hover would be the registrar, and Verisign would be the registry for .COM.
Types of Top-Level Domains
There are several types of Top-Level Domains that you’ll see across the web, each of which are used for different reasons. Here are the most common ones that you’ll come across and want to consider registering for yourself:
Generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD)
These are the most commonly used TLDs. The most popular gTLD is .COM and for a long time it was one of only seven to choose from. In 2014 the domain name world completely changed, when hundreds of new gTLDs began to be released. Now there are a ton of gTLDs to use with your website and more being released all the time. These can range from something generic like .XYZ, something for your business like .CONSULTING or something for your passion like .PHOTOGRAPHY. This makes it possible to have a more meaningful domain name, as well as increases the odds of finding a Second-Level Domain that someone else may have already claimed with another gTLD.
Sponsored Top-Level Domain (sTLD)
A Sponsored Top-Level Domain is a specialized TLD provided by a sponsor representing a community that the sTLD is intended for. These TLDs tend to be for niche audiences and will have strict rules regarding who can register one and what type of website it can be used for. Some examples of sTLDs include .GOV (for the U.S. government), .POST (for postal services) and .CAT (for Catalan language & culture).
Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD)
A Country Code Top-Level Domain is a TLD intended for websites originating from a specific country, sovereign state or territory. Unlike the other TLDs mentioned, a ccTLD consists of 2 letters typically corresponding with a location’s abbreviation (for example the ccTLD for Canada is .CA). Some ccTLDs require that a website originate from whatever region it represents, while others are open for anyone in the world to register. This has resulted in many websites using a ccTLD more like a gTLD. For example, last.fm uses the Federated States of Micronesia’s ccTLD to signify FM radio.
Ready to grab a domain of your own? See what TLDs it’s available with at Hover!