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Domain names are the basic building blocks of how we use the internet. They are the essentials of a user friendly internet experience. They are what enables us to use our favorite email service, access your website, read news online, Google any subject matter and even login to our favorite social network. This article will explore the history of domain names in Zimbabwe and on the international scenes. Knowing how domain names work enables us to appreciate their importance in our personal lives and in business.

1. What are domain names

Computers on the internet have unique IP addresses that they use to locate and communicate with one another. These numbers are difficult for humans to remember. This is where domains come in. Domain names are the way the internet is organised, navigated and understood.

A domain name is a unique name that identifies and links to the address of a resource on the internet.

Without domain names, URLs would be a series of numbers, or IP addresses, that would be difficult to remember. However, a domain name gives us an address that is easier to remember. A domain name is key to doing just about anything on the Internet, from setting up a website to sending and receiving e-mail to building an online shop.

The system that links the domain names and IP addresses on the internet is called the Domain Name System or DNS. This is done through what are called DNS records. These DNS records tell other computers on the internet things like where the website is located, where to deliver emails and so on.

The structure of a domain name

structure of a domain name
Domain names are generally divided into two parts: the second level domain and the top level domain.

i. Second Level Domain

This is the customisable part of the domain name that people, organisations or companies register to represent them on the internet.

ii. Top Level Domain

Top-level domains (also known as TLDs) are the next level of organisation on the internet. There are typically two kinds of TLDs, which are:

a. gTLDs

Generic TLDs (gTLDs): the top level domains like .com, .net, .org, etc. As from 2012, it is now possible to register hundreds of other new TLDs like .website, .company, .holdings, .clinic and more.

b. ccTLDs

Country-code TLDs (ccTLDs): these are two letter country codes that are approved for use by countries (i.e., .zw, .uk, .za, etc.). Its also important to note that most countries break the ccTLD further to allow for industry segmentation e.g. .co.zw for commercial companies, .org.zw for non-profit making organisations or .ac.zw for academic institutions. There are about 250 ccTLDs in all.

2. A history of international domain names

The history of the internet is not very old.

  • In 1983, the Domain Name System (DNS) was set up so that people did not have to remember a long string of number combinations.
  • The first domain name was registered on March 15, 1985. The domain name is symbolics.com.
  • Until 1995 domain name registration was free! In 1995, Network Solutions was granted the authority to start charging for domain names. Domains started at $100 for 2 years of registration.
  • Initially there wasn’t a stampede to register domains as only fewer than 15,000 .coms had been registered by 1992. Things quickly changed in the 90s, however as about 205.3 million .com domains had been registered by 2010.
  • There are now +280 million .com domains (Verisign) and approximately 334.6 million domain name registrations across all top-level domains (TLDs).

Important players in the management of domain names managed & registered

The organisation that is responsible for domain names worldwide is ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) which was formed in 1998. ICANN develops internet policies, contracts domain registries and accredits domain registrars. Domain registries are organisations that manage a particular TLD e.g. Verisign manages the .com, .net, .tv, .cc and .name TLDs. ICANN also has agreements with registries responsible for each country ccTLD. Domain registrars are organisations that sell domains to the public. They do so directly to registrants (individuals and organisations who register a domain) or through resellers.

domain name registration process

3. A history of Zimbabwean domain names

The administration and management of the .zw ccTLD falls under POTRAZ . The .zw ccTLD was created on 6 November 1991 (IANA). The very first domains in Zimbabwe were registered using the .zw ccTLD e.g. mango.zw and healthnet.zw. These are the only two remaining such domains in Zimbabwe.

POTRAZ sub-divided the .zw into segments (ccSLDs or country code second level domains) to ZISPA, UZ Computer Centre, Telone and GISP as follows:

ZISPA and the .co.zw domains

ZISPA was founded in late 1997 to early 1998. ZISPA (the Zimbabwe Internet Service Providers’ Association) is an independent and voluntary association established to represent all the major ISPs in Zimbabwe and deal with matters relating to the provision of Internet access in Zimbabwe.

ZISPA is responsible for the administration and management of the .co.zw domain registry.

UZ and the .ac.zw domains

The UZ Computer Centre manages the administration of the .ac.zw domain registry. The .ac.zw domains are reserved for academic institutions only.

Telone and the .org.zw domains

The government parastatal Telone manages the .org.zw domain registry through it’s Comone division. The .org.zw domains are reserved for organisations like churches, non-profits, associations and the like.

GISP and the .gov.zw, .mil.zw domains

The Government Internet Service Provider (GISP) manages the domain registries for .gov.zw domains (for government departments and parastatals) and .mil.zw domains (for military departments).

4. Interesting facts and statistics on domain names in Zimbabwe

  • The first domains in Zimbabwe including .zw, .co.zw and .ac.zw were managed and registered through Prof John Sheppard of the University of Zimbabwe.
  • www.co.zw is actually a domain!
  • There are currently 23,731 domains registered under the .co.zw domain registry (As of mid November 2016). Since June 2004, 28,195 .co.zw domains have been added and 9,652 .co.zw domains have been deleted.
  • As of early November 2016 ZISPA had 45 members and 148 registrars.
  • There are currently 1,321 domains registered under the .org.zw domain registry.
  • There are currently 516 domains registered under the .ac.zw domain registry.

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