Have you ever wondered how the Internet manages to connect up a website name typed into someone’s browser with the actual website? In other words, if I type in your ‘mysupersite.com’ name, how do I end up at the precise, physical computer somewhere on which your ‘mysupersite.com’ site is hosted? The computer that hosts your website, and lets it be known by an easy-to-remember name, is known as a domain hosting server. But an additional component is needed for visitors to be able to find you.
The way it works is that every domain name is connected to a rather less user-friendly network address, called the IP address (where IP stands for Internet Protocol). A basic IP address typically looks something like ‘135.246.579.486’. It’s the Internet form of a telephone number. Different servers (called Domain Name Servers) on the Internet act as ‘telephone directories’. When people type in ‘mysupersite.com’ in their browsers, the domain name servers send back the IP address: then like using a phone number, people can connect to your site.
One Network Address, Many Domains
Depending on how your website is being hosted, you may have your own IP address. Or you may be sharing a computer with other websites, and also be sharing just one IP address as well. How do visitor requests to go to your ‘mysupersite.com’ then get through to your website? Rather like main switchboard phone numbers and internal extension numbers, your domain name will be mapped onto an IP address that looks something like ‘135.246.579.486/~sub159’ (just an example).
Clearly, this is nowhere near as easy for visitors to remember as ‘mysupersite.com’. Fortunately, they don’t have to. The Internet and the domain name server system take care of discreetly converting your more impressive ‘mysupersite.com’ address to the actual network address needed to find your site. But the mechanism we have just described can also be useful to you in other ways.
Branding Your Business, Building Different Communities
If you have one overall website domain name, you may want to subdivide the name in order to produce separate Internet addresses. As a business, your reasons for doing this might include building a separate web presence or identity for each major product line or service offered, like ‘support’, ‘marketing’ and so on. If you’re offering a community service, then such different ‘sub-web presences’ might correspond to different geographical sectors, age groups and so on.
Of course, you could simply use an entirely separate domain name in each case and put specific business or community information into each corresponding domain name. However, the possibility to always use the same overall domain name as part of each ‘sub-web presence’ name allows you to show visitors that all the ‘sub-web presences’ are part of the same enterprise or the same community service.
A Better Choice for Your Visitors? – The Subdomain Name
We’ve seen above that you can tag an ‘internal extension’ name or number after a main Internet address. But we can also see that this does nothing for user-friendliness. In fact, it probably makes it even harder for users to remember the address of your site, which is usually not what you want. The alternative is a web hosting solution that lets you use a similar feature, but in this case to add an extension name directly after your website name, to give for example: ‘mysupersite.com/support’.
Both the subdomain name and the subdirectory do the same job, and technically they are very similar. However, for the company or service image you want to project, you may prefer the subdomain format (support.mysupersite.com, sales.mysupersite.com, and so on) as being a little classier. Whichever solution you choose, the Internet domain names servers and the Internet Protocol will continue to ensure your visitors can find you – that’s the magic of the World Wide Web!