Understanding URLs

Top-Level Domains

Unrestricted domains

To be able to use a domain name, a person needs to register it. Many of the top-level domains you see regularly, including com, org, net, and info, are open to anyone who wants to register them. You can see how the process works by going to a domain registrar such as Register.com.

You may have noticed that many businesses have .com domain names, and many nonprofit organizations have .org domain names. This is simply their own choice; the fact that a domain name ends in .org does not mean that a nonprofit organization is standing behind it. (Click the image below for an example of a for-profit company that uses a .org domain name.)

Craig's List

Restricted domains

Certain other top-level domains are reserved for particular uses. The .gov domain is reserved for U.S. governmental bodies; .edu is reserved for accredited U.S. institutions of higher education.

Why are these details important? It means that we can sometimes use the URL to confirm that a website or page is coming from a governmental or educational domain—and as we saw in the Sources of Information section, these are two relatively reliable sources of high-quality content suitable for research papers.

Don't carry this too far! Not all information in .edu and .gov domains will work for your papers, and in some cases, educational institutions and government agencies will use .com or .org domains.

Country codes

Sometimes you see top-level domains that represent nations—for instance, .us for USA, .uk for the UK, or .cn for China. While these often reflect what part of the world the information is coming from, in some cases countries have allowed their names to be registered widely. .tv, for instance, is the country code of Tuvalu, but is used by various websites worldwide, many of which have a video and/or multimedia focus.