So you've purchased a URL. What do you do with it?
First and foremost, look after it. Make sure you print and file the confirmation of ownership along with the username and password if you bought it online. Losing this information is like losing your passport - it can be expensive and time-consuming to get it back.
When you buy a URL you are buying only a name. On its own it isn't a website or even web hosting.
You can now start using it for your own email address. A POP 3 email account can be set up by the company you bought the URL from, and you can open it on any email package, such as Outlook Express. Many companies that sell URLs offer a number of free POP3 accounts as part of the package, so you can have several email addresses set up.
If you want to take the next step and start a website, you need to buy web services - a 'hosting package'. These can be very cheap, but before you buy you need to know what language you are going to have the website written in. There are different hosting packages for html and php sites, and you will need different services depending on whether you have a FrontPage, open source or SQL-based site.
When you buy web services they will link your URL to the IP address of the server where your website is stored and your email is collected. That link is held on a domain name server (DNS) record, a database that holds billions of IP addresses, URLs and links between them.
Whether you are going to hand-code a little website, use an open source tool or buy a content management system, the URL record is the basic foundation by which the rest of the internet - and that includes email - knows how to find you. Just think of it as your internet postcode.
- Sue Fidler is an independent charity ICT and internet consultant.