In the earliest days of the internet there were no domain names. There were few enough websites on the internet that reaching the one you wanted to visit by typing an IP address didn’t seem to be a problem.
As the number of websites on the internet grew it became more and more difficult to remember a list of websites and the long series of seemingly random numbers that made up the IP address of each one.
This was no longer a problem after 1984, the year that the “name server” was invented. You no longer had to remember a long series of seemingly random numbers to reach a web server; you now could access it by a recognizable name.
The first domain names.
.com was intended for commercial sites (released in 1985)
.net was intended for network sites (released in 1985)
.org was intended for non-commercial organizations (released in 1985)
There were other extensions to be aware of, but they didn’t come up too often:
.edu is used for educational institutions, mostly post-secondary (released in 1985)
.gov is used for the US government (released in 1985)
As long as you remembered that the website of the White House was whitehouse.gov (as it is part of the government) and not a commercial or potentially pornographic website you knew what to expect.
Eventually many of the “good” domain names were claimed and in 2000 the following top-level domains became available:
More domain names.
.aero is used exclusively for the aviation community. (released in 2002)
.biz was intended for business sites. (released in 2001)
.coop is used exclusively for co-operative community. (released in 2001)
.info intended for informational websites, anyone can register one. (released in 2001 )
.museum exclusively for the museum community. (released in 2001 )
.name was intended for individuals. (released in 2001)
.pro was intended for professionals. (released in 2004 )
In 2003 the following were approved:
.asia a regional domain (released in 2006)
.cat is used exclusively to highlight the Catalan language and culture. (released in 2005)
.jobs is meant to help companies hire new employees. (released in 2005)
.mobi is to be used exclusively for the mobile internet. (released in 2005)
.tel was intended to be used for storing contact details. (released in 2005)
.travel was intended for use by the travel industry (released in 2005)
There are currently well over 100 million active registered domain names with these extensions.
Even more domain names.
In addition to all these there are also country-specific domains, such as .dk for Germany, .cn for China, and .ca for Canada. When these country-specific domains are included the total number of all active domain names world-wide is astronomical, and now “non-English-alphabet” domain extensions are also available.