What is a TLD? Everything You Need to Know

By: Michael Benninger

There are over 1 billion websites on the Internet, ranging in subject matter from the sublime to the ridiculous. But despite all of their differences, every site on the Web has one thing in common: an address. Website addresses are ubiquitous in the modern world, though most people don’t have the first clue as to how or why they work, nor do they understand the role of the top-level domain (TLD), one of the most valuable vertebra in the Internet’s backbone. So how do Internet addresses work? And exactly what is a TLD?



The Birth of the Domain Name System and the Uniform Resource Locator

In the early days of the Internet, before the emergence of World Wide Web, different digital destinations could be visited by using their numeric Internet Protocol (IP) address. IP addresses generally look something like, and while that might appear like a random string of digits to the human brain, a computer knows that those numbers point to Google.com. It’s this disparity between computer language and human language that led to the creation of the Domain Name System (DNS).

DNS is a tier-based system overseen by the nonprofit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and is responsible for naming devices and services accessible via the public Internet or private intranets. The system links a variety of information with domain names assigned to individuals or organizations. Essentially, DNS correlates easily remembered names with the IP addresses required by computers and devices around the globe. The existence of DNS makes the Internet infinitely more usable, thanks the innovation of uniform resource locators (URLs), or as they’re more commonly known, Web addresses.

Anatomy of a URL and Definition of a Top-Level Domain

When you purchase a website name from GoDaddy, or any number of other domain registrars (companies that buy and sell domains), what you are essentially buying is the second-level domain, the part that comes before the dot. For example, Yahoo., Twitter., and Amazon. So if that’s the second-level domain, can you answer the question: What is a top-level domain?

URLs were created so people could remember the names of websites without requiring them to memorize an ambiguous IP address. Four distinct components comprise a URL. In http://www.google.com, for instance, the "http://" is known as the Internet protocol, the "www" is the subdomain, "google" is the second-level domain, and ".com" is an example of a top-level domain, or TLD. So what is a top-level domain’s definition? The top-level domain of a Web address is what immediately follows the dot: the .com, .net, .org, etc. Those are among the most common TLDs, and are known as Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD).

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A New Era in TLDs has Begun

Twenty-two gTLDs have been available to consumers for some time now, with the most popular ones, .com and .net, filling up fast with nearly every second-level domain name imaginable. But because staking out an unclaimed URL has become increasingly difficult in recent years, hundreds of new suffixes, including ones like .pizza, .book, and .wtf, started becoming available in 2014. These additional TLDs are also under the purview of ICANN, and were added to allow for more variety, choice, and competition on the Web, essentially expanding the amount of virtual real estate on the Internet.

A Brave New Web Awaits You

With the availability of all these new TLDs, and the likelihood that hundreds, if not thousands more, will be added in the future, the Web is evolving into an even larger landscape, giving business owners even more options when creating the digital domain of their dreams.

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