A Timeline of the Domain Industry’s Top-Level Domains

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Have you ever wondered how domain names came to be?

TLDs, or Top-level Domains, are an essential part of any web address. Being the last part of a domain name, TLDs range from the most generic extensions like .COM, .NET, and .ORG to newer, more specialized options.

Below you will find the history of TLDs. Let’s take a look, shall we?

The History

Back in the 1980s, there was a great need for a system to categorize the Internet, especially considering its immense popularity. So in 1983, the Domain Name System (DNS) was created.

The DNS is a part of the Internet’s foundation. Think of it like a phone book for web addresses. In fact, it’s quite literally a directory of names with matching numbers. These numbers are IP addresses, allowing computers to communicate between one another.

DNS also made the Internet more user-friendly. Instead of memorizing a series of numbers separated by periods, users simply entered a domain name, which is much easier to remember. Then, the domain name would be automatically converted into an IP address. Finally, users would be directed to the information they were looking for.

Needless to say, another problem eventually arose—with the astronomical amount of hosts growing and growing with the momentum of the Internet, how were all these domain names going to be sorted?

So, TLDs were introduced.

Originally, TLDs were distinguished by country, category, and multi-organizations. But in October of 1984, generic top-level domains (gTLD) were established for “general purpose domains.” These included .COM, .EDU, .GOV, .MIL, and .ORG. Shortly after, .NET was added.

Among all reigning TLDs, VeriSign maintains authority over the .COM and .NET registry. Out of 12 companies, VeriSign is the only one to run two.

In 2000, Network Solutions was acquired by VeriSign. This was no ordinary merger, as Network Solutions was the main operator of the domain name registry since its founding.

In 2003, VeriSign reached more than 34 million registered .COM users.

That being said, let’s roll back a bit to the mid-1990s when the commercialization of the Internet hit full-force. As personal computers became widely available, the Internet was used to enhance the day-to-day lives of ordinary people.

With the Internet’s subsequent commercialization, businesses began to profit in unique ways. They could talk to their customers, online stores opened for business, there was online ordering for services like food, and if you were feeling a bit lonely, online chat rooms started popping up, too.

By 1995, there were 16 million Internet users globally. And every year after, it at least doubled.

Now let’s fast-forward to today. Domain names still hold as much importance as they did when they were first introduced. But people are getting a little bored of gTLDs—the more traditional or “legacy” TLD—contributing to the rise of the new gTLDs.

In 2012, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) approved an application process to create alternatives to .COM, .NET, and .ORG, among others.

As ICANN mentioned in their Applicant Guidebook, the approval was meant to “open up the top level of the Internet’s namespace to foster diversity, encourage competition, and enhance the utility of the DNS.”

Types of TLDs

The list of TLDs has expanded greatly since the start of the Internet, and all for good, different, unique reasons. The following is a list of the most common ones you’ll come across:

Generic Top-level Domain (gTLD) — “Legacy”

I’m sure you’ve heard of these before. They’re the most commonly used—known as traditional or legacy. Of all gTLDs, .COM is the most popular. Domains using this extension are at least three letters long and most often used for commercial sites.

The Significance of .COM

According to VeriSign, “.COM has … been at the epicenter of the digital revolution that has reshaped the way people work, live, play, and connected with family and friends.”

It’s hard to pin-point exactly why it stuck, but because it was so widely used by all sorts of websites, it just did. 

Short, memorable, and straight to the point. Effective and versatile. Maybe that’s why?

New gTLDs

In 2014, hundreds of new gTLDs were released, expanding a person’s ability to differentiate their brand and create a more meaningful domain name. Also, in case a Second-Level Domain was already taken (the middle part of a web address) using a .COM or .NET TLD, a new gTLD makes it easier for a person to create a domain name they do like.

Brand TLD

Something new, something innovative, and something fresh. 

Brand TLDs are a new implementation of ICANN’s new gTLD Program and allows branded corporations the chance to use their corporate name as their website’s TLD. For instance, Apple can use .APPLE as a suffix to their domain name instead of a gTLD like .COM.

Country-code Top-level Domain (ccTLD)

This TLD is generally used or reserved for specific countries or territories. For example, .US would be signify the United States. Here is a full list of the ccTLDs offered by 101domain, who currently has the most extensions available. 

Sponsored Top-level Domain (sTLD)

These specialized TLDs are designated towards particular audiences with strict rules of who can register and what the website’s functions are meant to be. They’re typically sponsored by a specific entity. Think of .GOV or .EDU if you’re stumped.

Restricted Generic Top-level Domain (grTLD)

A specific TLD, a grTLD is limited to people or entities which meet certain requirements. For example, a restricted gTLD would be .NYC. This TLD requires a valid New York City address in order to register.

Test Top-level Domain (tTLD)

A tTLD is just like it sounds—intended for the use of testing software. Set up by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) as .TEST, there are no intentions for it ever reaching the general public’s use.


In the late 1980s, this TLD (.ARPA) was created to transition from ARPANET hostnames to the new DNS system names.

What’s ARPANET, you ask? 

Also known as Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, it was initiated in 1966 by the United States ARPA. The first to use packet switching, it spurred what we now know as the Internet.

The End of a Timeline

With the supersonic speed of the digital world, even the TLD realm is ever-changing and ever-evolving, what with the adoption of new and brand gTLDs. As a result, it’s important to understand the history behind it and what went into the Internet’s creation. And so, I hope you learned something new today (I know I did).

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