The top-level domains (TLDs) such as com, net and org are the highest level of domain names of the Internet. Top-level domains form the DNS root zone of the hierarchical Domain Name System. Every domain name ends with a top-level domain label.
When the Domain Name System was devised in the 1980s, the domain name space was divided into two main groups of domains. The country code top-level domains (ccTLD) were primarily based on the two-character territory codes of ISO-3166 country abbreviations. In addition, a group of seven generic top-level domains (gTLD) was implemented which represented a set of categories of names and multi-organizations. These were the domains gov, edu, com, mil, org, net, and int.
During the growth of the Internet, it became desirable to create additional generic top-level domains. As of October 2009, 21 generic top-level domains and 250 two-letter country-code top-level domains existed. In addition, the ARPA domain serves technical purposes in the infrastructure of the Domain Name System.
During the 32nd International Public ICANN Meeting in Paris in 2008, ICANN started a new process of TLD naming policy to take a "significant step forward on the introduction of new generic top-level domains." This program envisions the availability of many new or already proposed domains, as well as a new application and implementation process. Observers believed that the new rules could result in hundreds of new top-level domains to be registered. In 2012, the program commenced, and received 1930 applications. By 2016, the milestone of 1000 live gTLD was reached.
For special purposes, such as network testing, documentation, and other applications, IANA also reserves a set of special-use domain names. This list contains domain names such as example, local, localhost, and test. Other top-level domain names containing trade marks are registered for corporate use. Cases include brands such as BMW, Google, and Canon.
Second-level and lower level domains
Below the top-level domains in the domain name hierarchy are the second-level domain (SLD) names. These are the names directly to the left of .com, .net, and the other top-level domains. As an example, in the domain example.co.uk, co is the second-level domain.
Next are third-level domains, which are written immediately to the left of a second-level domain. There can be fourth- and fifth-level domains, and so on, with virtually no limitation. An example of an operational domain name with four levels of domain labels is sos.state.oh.us. Each label is separated by a full stop (dot). 'sos' is said to be a sub-domain of 'state.oh.us', and 'state' a sub-domain of 'oh.us', etc. In general, subdomains are domains subordinate to their parent domain. An example of very deep levels of subdomain ordering are the IPv6 reverse resolution DNS zones, e.g., 22.214.171.124.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.ip6.arpa, which is the reverse DNS resolution domain name for the IP address of a loopback interface, or the localhost name.
Second-level (or lower-level, depending on the established parent hierarchy) domain names are often created based on the name of a company (e.g., bbc.co.uk), product or service (e.g. hotmail.com). Below these levels, the next domain name component has been used to designate a particular host server. Therefore, ftp.example.com might be an FTP server, www.example.com would be a World Wide Web server, and mail.example.com could be an email server, each intended to perform only the implied function. Modern technology allows multiple physical servers with either different (cf. load balancing) or even identical addresses (cf. anycast) to serve a single hostname or domain name, or multiple domain names to be served by a single computer. The latter is very popular in Web hosting service centers, where service providers host the websites of many organizations on just a few servers.
The hierarchical DNS labels or components of domain names are separated in a fully qualified name by the full stop (dot, .).
The Domain Name System, which performs a lookup service to translate user-friendly names into network addresses for locating Internet resources, is restricted in practice to the use of ASCII characters, a practical limitation that initially set the standard for acceptable domain names. The internationalization of domain names is a technical solution to translate names written in language-native scripts into an ASCII text representation that is compatible with the Domain Name System. Internationalized domain names can only be used with applications that are specifically designed for such use; they require no changes in the infrastructure of the Internet.
IDN was originally proposed in December 1996 by Martin Dürst and implemented in 1998 by Tan Juay Kwang and Leong Kok Yong under the guidance of Tan Tin Wee. After much debate and many competing proposals, a system called Internationalizing Domain Names in Applications (IDNA) was adopted as a standard, and has been implemented in several top-level domains.
In IDNA, the term internationalized domain name means specifically any domain name consisting only of labels to which the IDNA ToASCII algorithm (see below) can be successfully applied. In March 2008, the IETF formed a new IDN working group to update the current IDNA protocol.