The quickest and easiest way to register a domain name is to let your ISP do it, but that's not always possible. Don't despair. Doing it yourself is easier than ever with Web-based forms for entering the necessary information and email-based registration.

Identify the Registry
The domain name system is hierarchical, so you create subdomains within one of several parent domains, or top-level domains (TLDs). To register your domain in a TLD, you must find the appropriate registering agency, and many exist. For several common TLDs, such as com, org, edu, gov, and net, you register with InterNIC, an organization under contract to the US National Science Foundation. To register under a national TLD (e.g., mybritishcompany.co.uk) or within the geography-based US domain hierarchy (e.g., my name.sf.ca.us), you must approach the registry appropriate for these parent domains. For simplicity, I assume you'll follow the crowds to InterNIC.

Pick a Name
Most good domain names are already taken. So thinking up something clever is only the beginning. Be sure to choose the appropriate TLD. If you are registering a name for a commercial entity, you want a name like mycompany.com. If your organization is not-for-profit, try mycharity.org.

Suppose you run, say, an advocacy group for blandness. A good choice is vanilla.org. You must first check whether the name is available. You can execute one of the many variants of the program whois. The easiest whois program is the Web-based version that InterNIC operates at rs.internic.net/cgi-bin/itts/whois. The tutorial introduction link on that page is recommended reading, as is all help published by InterNIC. The interface is simple. You just type your candidate domain name in the text field and press Enter. Screen A shows the results of such a search. Vanilla.org is not in the whois database. The name's available! (By contrast, if you type in vanilla.com and vanilla.net, you'll find that both are already registered.)

Arrange Your Domain DNS
Although registering a domain name is simple, setting up DNS for your domain is not. And, you have to set up DNS for your domain before you attempt to register it. Ordinarily, your ISP will handle DNS for you. However, you will need to get the name of the ISP's DNS server.

Complete a Registration Form
Registration methods have come a long way. In the past, you retrieved a template registration form via FTP or a Web browser, filled in the form with a word processor, and mailed the completed form back to InterNIC. Today, you fill in a Web-based form (rs.internic.net/cgibin/itts/domain) that is checked and reformatted automatically into the template form. InterNIC then mails your completed form to you for final checking and submission. Although this technique is certainly not secure for authenticating submissions, it invites less trouble than just accepting the Web form. InterNIC recently initiated a new, much more secure system, Guardian, to ensure authentic submissions of changes to domain data.

The number of domains a given entity can have has been a touchy political issue. As far as I know, it is still not perfectly resolved.

As you fill out the Web-based form that you see in Screen B, click each heading for online Help and read the instructions carefully. Small errors or omissions will delay the processing of your domain request. Click Submit at the bottom when you complete the form.

Next, scan your email for the completed form. When it arrives, check it again carefully. Mail the form to hostmaster@internic.net. Use the subject line from the mail you received for confirmation. In our example, the subject is New DOMAIN VANILLA.ORG. This is important to facilitate InterNIC's automatic processing of your submission.

InterNIC will send an automated acknowledgment when it receives your domain name request. Keep it! The acknowledgment contains a tracking number that will speed inquiries you make about the request. Processing time has historically been variable. Sometimes InterNIC handles a request in a few days; sometimes it can take weeks. Always use the tracking number when you ask InterNIC what's what with your request.

Activate Your Domain
When InterNIC processes your request, you will receive an email message telling you the date your domain name will be activated in the root name serversĀ­that is, when it will first be announced to the Internet. InterNIC lists three contacts for each registered domain: admin, technical, and billing. The domain name service is a distributed database, and in a few hours to a few days after the activation date, every host system on the Internet will see your new domain name. Don't panic. Just wait a little longer.

And, of course don't forget that registering your domain will cost $100. You'll receive a bill.