It is important for a Small Firm to register it's own domain name. I have implied in other places that it done by the same service providers as those hosting ones web page and ones email system. This is not strictly the case although it is often more convenient to do so - you do however need to be sure that it is all registered in your name and that you can change service provider in the future. You do not want to risk being locked into anyone in such a fast moving area.
How a Domain Name is Implemented
I have wondered how much I need to say about how a Domain Name is implemented and finally decided that a short description is needed so one can understand the choices that have to be made and how changes can be made. It is clear there has to be some mechanism for linking the domain name one types into a browser and a specific file on a Server (computer) somewhere in the world. Firstly one has to understand that every computer that is connected to the Internet has a unique address for at least the whole time they are connected - you sometimes see them on the bottom line on a browser and they look like 123.456.789.012 . Secondly one needs to know that the communication is via lots of little packets each of which is rather like an envelope with an address on it saying where it is going.
When your browser asks for a page from another machine it has to get a translation of the Domain Name such as pcurtis.com into an absolute address such as 321.654.987.121 to put on the packet asking for the specific data you want. It does that by sending a request to a Domain Name Server (DNS) at your ISP. If the DNS at your ISP does not have the conversion stored locally it will have to forward the request to another server which it judges more likely to know, and so on through a complex hierarchy - this is why the first access to a site takes longer than subsequent accesses to pages.
All Domain Names are held on at least two Domain Name Servers and yours have to be specified when you register the Domain Name and changed if you move service provider. Once you have initially set them up or if you change them it can take up to 24 hours for it to work its way through the system. If you change service provider there has to be a lot of cooperation between the your old and new service providers for the transfer to take place smoothly. Often the DNS is provided by the same provider as the server on which your site is hosted and most of it is set up for you automatically if you use the hosts own services as an agent to set up the registration.
Domain Name Registrars
The registration itself is by a different body for example .com domains are usually registered through Internic in the USA. and it can take a very long time to make any changes. You pay a yearly or biannual fee for the Domain Registration to the Registration body in addition to paying for the DNS and the hosting of the site, in some cases you may also pay an agent who handles the negotiations with the Domain Registrar and bills you.
Checking the Availability of Domain Names:
Any potential host or agent for Domain Name Registrations will have links or a form to check if your choice is available - many will suggest alternatives. If you want to check your chosen name yourself then go to http://www.nic.uk/whois.html for UK Domains or http://www.internic.net/whois.html for International Domains - these links will open in a new Window so you can get back here just by closing it down. You should not put www in front of the Domain Name you wish to check.
Registering Your Domain
In most cases it is nothing like as complex as it sounds above to Register a Domain Name and get set up if you do it all through the ISP who will be hosting your site - the difficulties come if you wish to change the host for your web site so you need to choose your initial host very carefully. I have registered names through Fasthosts and Freezone and in both cases it was very straight forwards. The procedure is similar in both cases, you first choose the hosting package you require and set up for on-line payment using a credit card. You then fill in a form with various details including the Domain Name you have chosen, your details and contact addresses. The details of the technical contact point and DNS details will normally be filled in for you and submit it. The Domain will normally be available for use within 24 hours.
Using Your Domain
Once the Registration is complete there will often be further steps where you associate the Domain Name with the address on the Server where your site will reside and in the case of Fasthosts you need to set up several other details of your chosen email accounts.
Both Freezone and Fasthosts registration service UKReg offer the ability to set up further Domain Names for a small addition sum and map them onto the same web space. For example you may have myfirm.co.uk as your chosen address but also wish to claim myfirm.com to avoid anybody else using a similar site address.
Changing Your Domain Host:
I have never had to do this yet although I have been looking into it for a small firm that wishes to reduce their costs. You first need to do a Whois lookup on the Domain Name to find out the details of the Registrar, Owner, Technical, Administrative and Billing Contacts and Host so you are sure of who to contact. Your new choice of host will probably be keen to give you details of how to proceed and to help as he will be gaining business but you will certainly have to inform the existing host and/or confirm that it is your wishes so all the various checks and balances can take place. It is all supposed to be easy and quick for UK domains and only take a few days whilst it can take weeks for International (.com, .net and .org) domains. There will almost certainly be a period when the existing host has released the name and before you have found out to set up on the new host during which emails etc can go missing and before you have the web site uploaded and connected so you will need to warn your regular contacts that there may be a disruption.