A domain is a human-readable translation of an IP address

What is a domain? A domain is an address on the internet – e.g. google.com. Domains help people to use web-based services and communication (e.g. websites and e-mail) easier.

Web traffic works with IP addresses (IP is the abbreviation for Internet Protocol). An IP address is an address that is designed for computers to find the resource (website) you want. Although, this isn’t very easy for people to use and gives no indication as to what this resource contains.

An example of an IP address is 192.168.0.1. This address is easy for a computer to understand, but doesn’t make sense to a person. That is where a domain comes in. A domain translates a human-readable address into a computer readable address (e.g. www.google.com translates to 216.58.223.36).

Why do we use a domain name for a web address?

The short answer is because it makes our lives easier. It is easy to remember a domain name. It is much more difficult to remember an IP address of the same domain name. When you are looking for information, it is easy to go to www.google.com and search for the relevant information.

Now, if you typed 216.58.223.36 into your browser’s address bar, you would also reach google.com. The domain name www.google.com is just much easier for humans to remember than the IP address 216.58.223.36.

The Domain Name System (or DNS) exists to make it easy to remember the internet address of resources (website). We can also easily share it with others – e.g. go to google.com and search for something. Domain names (and brand names) have become intertwined with our language, and our daily lives. So much so, that we even use some domain names as verbs. Nowadays, we google something.

Why do I need a domain?

It is important for anyone that has hosting services (website & e-mail) to own their own domain – especially for small businesses. Owning a domain protects you (the owner) when you need to switch hosting providers for whatever reason.

I already have a public or ISP address

Do you have a public e-mail address (e.g. company.name@gmail.com) or a service provider address (e.g. example@telkomsa.net) for your business? Then you are stuck with that service provider forever – unless you want to lose your e-mail address. What if the service provider changes their infrastructure, security, requirements, policies or pricing? You will have no option but to adapt or leave.

The Internet Service Providers’ Association (ISPA) lists hundreds of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in South Africa. Many of them, offer an ISP e-mail address (e.g. company@mweb.co.za). It’s a trap!

Any of those ISPs can go out of business, and suddenly you no longer have an e-mail address. This is only if you have an ISP address with that ISP. If you have your own domain, you could just switch to another hosting provider and carry on doing business. The little downtime (up to 48 hours) is nothing compared to permanent downtime.

Are you serious about your business online?

When you are in business, you should be serious about an online presence and online communication. You almost certainly have an online store, website, blog, e-mail, forums, or a newsletter. Maybe even a combination of these. Owning a domain is the single most important thing you can do. This will ensure your ability to keep using your selected platform for as long as you want.

Another important reason for having your own domain is that you are in control of everything hosted on your domain. With e-mail, that means anything in front of the @ sign. How often do you see small businesses use company.admin1@gmail.com, company.admin2@gmail.com, and company.sales@gmail.com as company e-mail addresses?

If you own your own domain, you will be able to change that to admin@company.co.za, finance@company.co.za and sales@company.co.za. This not only looks more professional but is also much easier for your clients to remember. At the same time, it gives you much more control over your infrastructure.

How do I register a new .co.za domain?

You can register or renew your .co.za domain online at our online store, or by using the purchase option above. Please include the domain name (you wish to register, renew or transfer) in the order notes on the checkout page.

.co.za domain registration & renewal fees

It is important to note that .co.za domains are registered once, and renewed annually. The fee is a recurring yearly fee and not a one time fee. The .co.za domain registration/renewal fee also excludes any hosting fees – this is just the fee for the domain registration or renewal. Any .co.za domain transfers are free of charge when tied to a web hosting package.

How domains and DNS work

Every time you browse to a website, your browser asks your DNS server to resolve the domain name of the website. Your DNS server checks the central registry, which points it to the registrar (hosting company) and directs your browser to the IP address of the web server. Your browser then connects to the web server, which serves the web page.

Domains names are structured similarly to landline numbers

Briefly, the Domain Name System (or DNS for short) is similar to a telephone number, only in reverse.

If you tell someone a telephone number (e.g. +27 011 345 6789), they can conclude a few things about it. They can immediately distinguish that this is a landline, based in Johannesburg, South Africa. We can do this by the country code (+27 for South Africa), the landline city code (011 for Johannesburg). The rest of the number is split into an area code and extension. This is obviously assuming that this is not a VoIP number.

Similarly, the domain name system can be used to distinguish certain information. With .co.za domains, the first portion of the name points to a specific domain. The second points to the TLD (usually the broad category the site falls in). The third portion is the country code where the domain is registered. For example, www.nedbank.co.za refers to the website on Nedbank’s domain. This domain is registered in the commercial (co) domain in South Africa (za).

What Domain Registration is

You can sum up the domain registration concept in a single sentence. A domain is registered on behalf of a registrant, by a registrar, under a TLD, which is managed by a registration authority (or domain name authority).

The domain registration authority keeps a register of all domains under the TLD. It also keeps a record of the Domain Name Server (DNS Server) records for each domain. The Domain Name Server records point to the Domain Name Server of the registrar (your hosting company).

The Domain Name Servers at the registrar keeps a record of all the domains it is responsible for. It also manages the domain records (records that point to IP address) of the domain. These typically include A records, CNAME records, TXT records, etc. These records point to web servers (hosting websites or e-mail accounts). The web server directly serves the required resource or handle the required request.

The terminology used when registering a domain

Once you understand the basic terminology, the concept and the domain registration process (and what it entails) becomes much easier to grasp.

What is a registrant?

The registrant is the person or company that registers a domain – the owner of the domain that is (or will be) using it. A domain is usually registered for exclusive use by a single person, company or organisation. A domain is the property of the registrant. The registrant can have the domain hosted by any registered registrar.

This gives the registrant (the owner) the ability to transfer their domain (obtain hosting services from another hosting company) without losing their domain name.

What is a registrar?

The registrar is the hosting company that registers, renews, and manages the domain on behalf of the registrant or owner. The registrar can be seen as the service provider (aka hosting provider, web host, or host).

What is a TLD?

A Top Level Domain (or TLD) is exactly what the name implies – the domain at the top level, under which all subdomains fall. An example would be the .za Top Level Domain. Any domain that ends with .za (including .co.za domains) falls under the .za Top Level Domain.

.za Is the internet country code Top Level Domain (or TLD) for South Africa, under which all other domains in South Africa should fall – excluding generic domains (e.g. .com, .org, .biz) and custom domains (e.g. .capetown, .joburg, .durban, .museum).

Any domain that ends with .za is administered by ZADNA – the ZA Domain Name Authority and all domains under the .co.za TLD are registered on ZACR – the ZA Central Registry (administered by UniForum SA).

What is a .co.za domain?

A .co.za domain is a commercial domain under the .za TLD administered by UniForum SA. In general, that means a .co.za domain is a commercial domain (registered by a company) in South Africa. However, not only South African companies can register a .co.za domain, anybody can.

This means that a blogger in South Africa could have their blog on a .co.za domain, or international companies can register a .co.za domain for their South African division.

What is a domain extension?

The domain extension is the last part of the domain name – e.g. .co.za or .com. The domain extension points to the authority that manages the TLD.

What is domain registration, renewal & transfer?

Domain Registration

When we talk about domain registration, we are referring to the process where you register a new domain (that doesn’t currently exist) through a registrar under a TLD.

Domain Renewal

Domains are renewed annually. Which means that every year the domain basically has to be re-registered. It is recommended to ensure that your contact information is up-to-date before your domain has to be renewed. Your registrar will take care of this for you and you will be billed for the renewal as per the renewal fees of your registrar. You will not experience any downtime during this process, it is purely administrative.

Domain Transfer

This is when you transfer your domain away from your current registrar to a new registrar (i.e. switching hosting providers). You will experience downtime during this process. The amount of downtime depends on the hosting settings your registrar has configured and the update interval of external DNS servers. Downtime usually ranges from 1 hour to 48 hours, during which time your website & e-mail service will be unavailable.