Definition of a Top Level Domain (TLD)

A Top Level Domain - or, TLD for short - is the text to the right of the final dot in a domain name. For example, the .COM TLD is the most popular TLD today.

Every Top Level Domain is owned by a company known as a Registry Services provider. For example, Verisign, Inc., is the owner and operator of the .Com Registry. Verisign receives $7.85 USD for every .com domain name sold anywhere in the world.

So what does a Registry provider actualy do? A Regstry Provider operates a global network of servers so that when you type in a domain name into an Internet browser anywhere in the world, you are directed to the right website. For example, Verisign, Inc. operates a global network of servers, so that when you type in a .com domain name into an Internet browser from anywhere in the world, you are directed to the correct website.

When you buy a domain name, what you are really purchasing is a service. For example, when you buy a .com domain name, Verisign, Inc., adds your domain to the list of domain names maintained on Verisign's global network of servers. Verisign's servers - known as Domain Name Servers or DNS Server for short - function very much like a phone book for computers. When you type in a .com domain name in your browser or click on a .com link from a web page or email, it is ultimately the DNS Servers operated by Verisign that let your computer know where to find the website that you are looking for.

Each Registry Operator is responsible for maintaining the list of domain names in one Top Level Domain. For example, Verisign maintains the list of .com domain names and Afilias maintains the list of .info domains. A company may operate more than one Top Level Domain. For example, Verisign operates both the .com and .net Top Level Domains.

Today, there are a limited number of generic TLDs including .aero, .asia, .biz, .cat, .com, .coop, .info, .int, .jobs, .mobi, .museum, .name, .net, .org, .post, .tel, .travel, .xxx, .edu, .gov and .mil.

In addition to today's generic TLDs like .com and .net, there are also several hundred country-code TLDs. A country-code TLD is a two-digit TLD that stands for a specific country. For example, the .US Top Level Domain stands for United States.

ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is responsible for maintaining the Internet naming system. Before any new Top Level Domain can be created, the prospective operator must sign a contract with ICANN.

The table below shows the relationship between ICANN and the Registry Operators like Verisign and Afilias.

Every Top Level Domain is revenue-generating business owned and operated by an individual company. For example, Verisign, Inc. owns the .COM Top Level Domain and receives $7.85 for every domain name sold. Verisign, Inc. owns and operates the .com, .net, .cc, .tv, and .name Top Level Domains and also provides back-end systems for all .gov, .jobs and .edu Top Level Domains. As a result of these activities, Verisign, Inc. generated $874 Million in revenues in 2012 according to its Annual Report, primarily from its .COM business operations.

In 2012, ICANN held an open application process inviting companies from around the world to apply for new Top Level Domains.  1930 applications were filed for new Top Level Domains.  Applications were filed for everything from .Shop and .Web to .BMW and .Hilton.  View a list of all of the new TLDs that were applied for in ICANN's historic 2012 application round.

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