How a Domain is Activated*

[Alternate version on another site in Español]

Here are the major steps:

  1. Register your domain
    • First, pick the top level domain (or TLD) that you want (e.g., .com, .org, .net).
      • For .com, .org, .net find an accredited registrar at the ICANN List of Accredited and Accreditation-Qualified Registrars - ICANN = Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers
      • For the two-letter country codes, contact their respective registrar at IANA Country Code Database - IANA = Internet Assigned Numbers Authority
      • Uwhois - Looks up two letter country domains
      • New TLDs are being discussed all the time. Different registrars will be the final authorities for different TLDs that emerge, like .biz etc.

    • Second, find an accredited registrar. Many registrars are available at many different prices. The actual registration process, no matter whether it costs you $35/yr [the most common figure], $70/yr or $7.50/yr, registers you in exactly the same database, and pretty much provides the same service.
      • Here is an inexpensive registrar called: Cheap-DomainRegistration.Com, which is at the bottom end of the market in cost. At the time I posted this, they provided free parking, free forwarding and free transfer of ownership -- each of these can be costly at a premium domain registrar's site. (This is not meant as an endorsement, but to encourage you to look around with your eyes open.)
      • My registrar: BulkRegister (also not an endorsement). My service has been as good as when I was with two more famou$ companies.
      • Another registrar: Cheap-DomainRegistration.Com, for instance, offers domain names for $8.75, transfers for $7.75 and offers free parking, free URL forwarding, free domain name generator software, and more (also not an endorsement).
      • People who are inexperienced or naive will buy from the most expensive companies. Just a warning: these companies will offer overpriced services to accompany their overpriced registrations.
      • "Never give a sucker an even break" - W.C. Fields

    • To find a domain, use the whois database. Here is a portal:
      IP Address Lookup (enter domain   www. ).
      This is actually a portal to the Internic WHOIS database. This can be used to lookup domains (specifically: .aero, .arpa, .biz, .com, .coop, .edu, .info, .int, .museum, .net, or .org) and check for availability

    • To apply for a domain, you will need to provide:
      • owner name - who owns it - Note: this cannot be changed except by notarized (snailmail) transfer of ownership
      • administrative contact - who administrates it
      • technical (or zone) contact - who operates the computer and DNS (Domain Name Server)
      • billing contact - who pays the bills
      • DNS server name - who will serve the domain record
      • DNS IP address - where will the domain record be physically located

    • If you don't have an administrative contact, technical contact and billing contact, you can just enter your own name. It takes just a few minutes at your registrar to change the data later (except for ownership! see above). The DNS server is one that serves only the name of your domain. Usually, your domain is on another server.

    • Here is a sample database entry for

         SR Consultants 
         Norman, OK 73071
         Domain Name: WORMHOLE2K.ORG
         Administrative Contact:
              Scott Russell
              SR Consultants
              Norman, OK 73019
              Phone- 405-555-1212 (fake of course) 
              Fax- 405-555-1212 (fake of course)
         Technical Contact:
              Scott Russell
              SR Consultants
              Norman, OK 73019
              Phone- 405-555-1212 (fake of course) 
              Fax- 405-555-1212 (fake of course)
         Record updated on 2001-03-28 13:59:01.
         Record created on 2000-04-22.
         Record expires on 2002-04-22.
         Database last updated on 2001-08-06 05:23:33 EST.
         Domain servers in listed order:

  2. Domain Name Service (DNS)
    • Domain Name Service is the method of obtaining the physical location of a server, which is given as an IP address (currently a four-number set). The numbers are each within a range of from 0 to 255. (Note: not all IP addresses are assigned, for example malfunctioning DHCP servers may return IP addresses beginning with 169, and firewalls often begin with 172, neither of which normally appear in Internet IP addresses.)

    • The domain name is decoded from BACK to FRONT.

    • An example,

      • The first step is determining the top-level domain, or TLD. This is located to the right of the last period. If the TLD is .org (like this site), your computer looks up the TLD in The location is ftp://FTP.RS.INTERNIC.NET/domain/. The file contains codes for all the root servers. Here is a sample:

        .                        3600000  IN  NS    A.ROOT-SERVERS.NET. cache expiration (in seconds) and the name of the name server
        A.ROOT-SERVERS.NET.      3600000      A          cache expiration (in seconds) and the IP address

      • The TLD server then reports on the name, and in a separate listing the IP address for the domain name server.

        • In this case, the .org domain server is asked for the name and location of the wormhole2k domain server.

        • The entry in the .org server for wormhole2k returns two DNS servers:


        • The first DNS server is asked for the wormhole2k domain record to locate the server. If a certain amount of time passes, the second server will be asked.

        • If you are looking for a domain that is valid, but its domain name server is not operating (or the server itself is not operating), this is called a "lame server". You may have to wait several minutes before it gives up.

        • The domain name service protocol depends on "authoritative" response and if there is no response, it is not authoritative, so it waits. Eventually, you see a message similar to this:

          No response

        • If you ask for a server that is not in the record or the domain is not registered, the response is almost immediate, like if I ask for "", which does not exist:

          Server not found

        • In the case of, the name of the server is "www". (Actually, it could be called any valid character string.)

        • This request maps to a DNS configuration file that lists all of the domains. There is typically a master and one or more slaves. The primary (master) server has the following entry:

          zone "" {
          	type master;                                    this is the master copy
                  file "";            this is file name of SOA record

        • Secondary (slave) servers have the following entry:

          zone "" {
          	type slave;                                     this is the slave copy
                  file "";            this is file name of SOA record
                  masters {; };                     IP address of SOA master copy

        • This is the actual wormhole2k domain record:

          $TTL	86400                        TTL=Time To Live or how long to cache this data in seconds
       IN   SOA (  
                    SOA = Start Of Authority Note: any mistake in syntax negates this whole record
                                2001021901 ; SERIAL                        serial number yyyymmdd##
                                7200       ; REFRESH                       cache refresh at 2 hours
                                3600       ; RETRY                         cache retry at 1 hour
                                604800     ; EXPIRE                        caches data at most for 1 week
                                86400 )    ; MINIMUM                       caches data a minimum of 1 day
       IN    NS                name of primary name server
       IN    NS               name of secondary name server
   IN    A                  IP address of www server
   IN    MX    0          mail delivery priority & routing
       IN    MX    0          mail delivery priority & routing
   IN    WKS    TCP   SMTP    location of well-known services

        • Since domain name service depends on "authoritative" responses, any mistake in this configuration will invalidate the entry and the record will not be loaded. Common reasons include syntax errors, logical errors in routing emails (MX), and any disagreements with the ROOT SERVERS. Illegal characters (or loading in BINARY instead of ASCII TEXT mode) will also invalidate an entry and render the domain inaccessible.

        • Because data is cached (stored without refresh) for one day, any change in the domain name server will take one day before the cached data expires from all machines. The worst scenario is someone retrieving the DNS information one second before the data is changed. They will have a full day of outdated information, whereas someone who accessed it one second afterwards would have the new data right away. The same is true of DNS registration information kept by the registrar as well.

      • You can get DNS service for free at a number of places. Two of the largest are ZoneEdit and Granite Canyon Public DNS. (To look for more, just look up the keywords "free DNS" on a major search engine.

  3. Configuring the HTTP Server
  4. Making the Site

©2002, 2003 Scott Russell. Last modified: Monday, 15-Apr-2013 13:47:49 CDT







  *I wrote this page because every other page that explained this was simply "selling domains". Ignorance helps to foster this overpriced service, so I wrote this fairly complete explanation of what is really involved in Domain Name Service. I am a professor and got into this because my non-profit scientific society needed a site. I donated my services for 7 years, until they decided that they really did have the resources and hired a team of people to replace my free services. So needless to say, there is no business plan here! (Return to the top)