At Work: Finance and IT - IT intelligence - Sue Fidler on the role of the URL on the internet

The ubiquitous URL is more important than most of us realise. The uniform resource locator is a name that computers use to identify where to go to find or send something on the internet. An internet protocol or IP number is the address of a machine connected to the internet. Every PC has one.

When you buy a URL, it doesn't do anything on its own - it is just a name. When you buy web services, they 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 record - the DNS database holds billions of IP addresses, URLs and the links between them.

Confused? It's like using the postcode - the post office can find you, but the street name and town are much easier for us to recall. You could find a website from its IP address, but most of us would find the numbers rather hard to use and remember. By linking a URL to an IP address, we can remember a name and the machine has to find the IP address we want.

In addition, the URL forms the base for your email address. Part of your DNS record tells the world that any email addressed to somebody@myURL.

org should be sent to a certain server. Then your PC or network can talk to that server and get your emails. So the URL allows everyone using the internet to find you without having to remember the actual IP numbers.

Choosing a URL is crucial. Something obvious and easy to recollect can help your brand. Buying all the .org and .com variants means nobody can compete for the name. Most importantly, check that a strong URL is available before deciding on the name for a new organisation.

Once you have bought one, make sure you file the confirmation of ownership along with the username and password if you bought it online.

Sue Fidler is director of communications and solutions at the Charity Technology Trust.

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