You probably know a little about domain extensions. For example, a majority of people know what .com is, but did you know that there are over 1,500 TLDs (top-level domains) as of December 2018? .com and .net account for 50% of all domain extensions registered worldwide!
To fully comprehend what domain extensions are and where they came from, we have to go back in Internet history and how it played an important role in domain name extensions. We'll also take a deep dive at the domain extensions list and see how many are out there, what their various use-cases are, and some custom domain extensions and what they mean.
The Internet and its foundation was actually implemented in the 1960s and 1970s. There are lots of people who don't know or understand how the Internet functioned back then or what it was used for.
We know the Internet the way it works today, with its domain system structure and layout. This layout and structure was first introduced in 1985 when the first 6 TLDs launched. The term "Internet" wasn't actually in use until October 1995. The first 6 domain extensions included:
Since the beginning, the Internet has constantly been in development and ever-growing with more content, more usage, and more domains.
For instance, 2-letter country code TLDs (ccTLDs) like .us, .uk, and .il were the first to launch. Over 200 other ccTLDs have joined the Internet ever since. These ccTLDs are also called short domain extensions like .ru, .de, .jp, and many others, all of which consist of country codes.
To put it simply, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has been in charge of domain namespace since 1998. The need for expansion of the Internet resulted in ICANN launching the new gTLD program in 2011 to expand the namespace.
This gave organizations and companies the opportunity to apply to operate their own TLD. The new TLDs would provide benefit to the global Internet community by providing users with more memorable domain names.
Despite the application process for gTLDs being a tough one, more than 1,200 new TLDs have been delegated since 2007. If you combine that with the TLDs that were already out in the wild, you can see how we effortlessly hit the 1,500 TLDs mark.
There's three main components of a domain name; subdomain, second-level domain, and the TLD. You can technically break it down even further, however. Let's take a look.
A subdomain is a domain that consists of a larger domain in the DNS (Domain Name System) structure. Subdomains are used to make it easy to create a memorable address for very specific or unique web content.
For instance, lots of people use subdomains to make it easier for their users to remember where to go to view pictures by using the subdomain gallery.example.com rather than example.com/gallery. In this use-case, gallery is the subdomain, where the main domain is example.com. You might also hear it referred to as a child domain.
A second-level domain (SLD) is the specific component of a website, page, domain name or website address that attaches to a TLD. One of the easier ways to define the second-level domain component is that it's the first portion of the domain name to the left of the TLD (example in example.com, for instance).
A top-level domain (TLD) is something you've already come across reading this blog post. TLD is just a fancier way of talking about this post's topic, the domain extension. It's the portion of the domain to the right of the SLD. For example, .com or .org. So when you hear someone talking about a TLD, this is what they're referring to, not the entire domain name.
We touched on these earlier in the post, but a generic top-level domain (gTLD) refers to TLDs that could be considered generic. Yep, it's that simple. Google, for instance, recognizes the following TLDs as generic ones: .xyz, .online, etc. There are hundreds of them, so choose carefully!
The ccTLD is also something we've touched on here. A country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) is a custom TLD that is associated with a certain country or region. Popular examples of these include .ca (Canada) and .jp (Japan). You've likely seen these before online or even visited sites using these ccTLDs.
We've touched on a couple of these throughout the post, but a sponsored top-level domain (sTLD) is used in very specific areas and isn't allowed for use by the public. Two of the most recognizable are .gov and .edu.
.gov is only available for use by the United States government. .edu is an extension only available for post-secondary educational institutions and related organizations.
To be eligible to use these types of domain extensions, you also must be located in the United States, organized in the US, or recognized by a US territory, state, or federal agency.
As you'd imagine, TLDs continue to expand and grow. .com and .net are still the market leaders by an insane margin, but there's plenty of fish in the sea in terms of TLDs. Here's the list of the current top 10 domain extensions:
You can expand the rankings even further if you look at how they rank by country. These are constantly changing due to various factors including regulations either by ICANN or by the country in question.
That said, let's take a gander at how the rankings currently look. As previously mentioned, the ever increasing usage of the Internet moves at an incredible pace, so take these with a grain of salt.
The sky is the limit at this point. In Q1 of 2022, there were 20 gTLDs, including:
Today there are a multitude, so it'd be pointless to list every single one here. The good part is that they're so targeted that you can find a TLD for just about anything these days. If you'd like to take a couple minutes to skim through the full list, here's a great place to start: https://iwantmyname.com/domains
We hope this article has allowed you to be better prepared for finding that perfect domain name for your needs. You should also understand what type of site you're on and why they might be using a custom TLD.