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Online Policy Group Services: Domain Tutorial

A domain is a way to identify a certain location on the Internet. Just as a postal worker uses street addresses to deliver mail to a specific apartment or house, email software uses domains to deliver email and the web uses domains to locate specific websites. is an example of a domain, the domain for the Online Policy Group. We send and receive email for the organization at the domain and you can find the OPG website using the domain.

Domain registration is the process of acquiring a unique address for you or your organization. Then, you can set up email and/or website hosting for the domain you registered so that anyone can email you and/or visit your website using that domain name. The person or organization that registers a domain is a domain registrant.

A typical web address looks something like this:

The web address has the following parts:

  • http: or https: stands for regular or secure hyper-text markup language (HTML) transfer protocol.
  • // indicates the top level of the web hierarchy.
  • www introduces many World Wide Web addresses.
  • The period or dot character (.) separates the sections of a web address or domain name.
  • onlinepolicy is the portion of the domain name unique to this particular website.
  • .org is a top-level domain (TLD) indicating what is often a nonprofit organization.

To register a domain, you have to choose a unique name and submit a request to a domain registrar, an organization responsible for maintaining official lists of domains.

Consider this analogy: whereas a website is the Internet equivalent of an apartment, a domain name is the Internet equivalent of the apartment's street address. Before you can start using the street address for an apartment, you have to sign a lease or an ownership agreement. That's like registering a domain for your website. Once you have a registered domain, you can request hosting for your website, albeit an empty one.

In the Internet world, you get to choose your address, or domain, if it is not already taken. When choosing a domain name, choose something short and easy to remember and one that accurately reflects your organization.

Some common top level domains are:

  • .com - Unrestricted use, intended for commercial entities, which anyone, anywhere in the world, can register.
  • .gov - Only for governmental organizations
  • .net  - Originally designated for organizations directly involved in Internet operations, i.e. network providers. It is increasingly being used by networks or coalitions of organizations, or by businesses when  the desired name under "com" is already registered by another organization. Its use is also unrestricted.
  • .org - Intended for miscellaneous organizations, including nonprofits.
  • Country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) are two-letter abbreviations of country names, for example .fr for France. For a list, click here.

For more information on TLDs, click here.

Example: Let's say your organization is the National Goat Liberation Organization and you wish to start a website on tin cans and their role in oppressing goats worldwide. You have decided to use "goatsandcans" as part of your web address. This would be the second-level domain. As a nonprofit organization, you should use .org as the top level domain. Together, "" would be your organization's domain.

Once you have decided on a domain name, you should verify that the domain is not currently in use before trying to register that domain. You can do this by visiting the Internic Whois web page using your web browser. Follow these steps:

  • Go to
  • Type the domain name (just the second-level and top-level parts) at the Whois prompt, for example ""
  • Click the Submit button

If the domain is available for registration, the Whois Search Results page will display: NOT FOUND

If the domain is not available for registration, the Whois Search Results page will provide some information about the registrant or registrar of that domain.

If no one has registered the domain you want to register, you can register the domain by clicking here for the domain registration form.

If you have already registered a domain with another registrar and you want to transfer the domain registration to the OPG domain registrar, click here for the domain transfer form.

Once you have chosen one of the above links, you will see a form that asks for some basic information about the domain registrant and the organization associated with the domain, if any. This information includes:

  • Personal information - General information about the domain registrant so that in the event of a problem, we can contact you.
  • Affiliation - If you are representing any organization (e.g. National Goat Liberation Organization) or group for the purpose of this domain registration, choose Organizational Use and fill in the organization's name. Otherwise, choose Individual Use. There is no formal definition for organization in this context, so incorporation or legal nonprofit status are not required.
  • Description of organizational or individual activities - A brief description of the activities of the organization or individual registering the domain (for example "All things goat-related").
  • Annual Budget - There are no restrictions to the use of this service based on your organization's budget, though any support is greatly appreciated.
  • Usage - Domain registrations provided by OPG are restricted to nonprofit use.
  • Domain name requested - This is the second-level domain, the unique part of the name.
    Note: The domain name should be a single word that is descriptive of the purpose of the organization or other purpose of the domain registration (for example ""). Please do not use spaces or non-alphanumeric characters other than dash (-) or underscore (_) for domain names. "goatsandcans" or "goats-and-cans" is okay, while "goats and cans" or "goatsandcans!" aren't.
  • Domain type - Choose .org or .net
    Note: We are no longer offering registrations in other top-level domains except by special request and with sufficient justification.
  • Domain service username requested - This is an online identity that you can to gain administrative access to your domain along with the domain service password. As the domain owner, you can sign in using this identity and are responsible for this domain.
  • Domain service password requested - Along with the domain service username, you can use this password to gain administrative access to your domain. Please keep this password in a safe place as you will need the password to make any changes to your domain registration. We ask you to type the password in twice to make sure that you specify the password you intended.
  • Additional comments - Type here any notes regarding answers to questions in the form or any special requests you may have related to the domain registration.

Note: Any information you give us is covered by our privacy policy.

Once you have registered a domain name, you may request web hosting with OPG as well. You can click here for a brief tutorial about website hosting.

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