1. General points on domain names

What is a domain name?

In order to be able to receive information sent via the Internet (e.g. a page displayed in the navigator), every computer must have a unique address consisting of series of numbers, the so-called IP address. They are substituted by names which are easier to memorise, so that users must not concern themselves with these numbers. These are known as domain names, which generally consist of sequences of letters separated by dots. The domain name system (DNS) is sub-divided into several levels. In the example www.admin.ch "ch" represents the top level domain and "admin" the second level domain. At the global level, administration of the DNS and the introduction of new top level domains (TLDs) are entrusted to the private organisation ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).

What types of top-level domains are there?

There are two categories of top level domains (TLDs): top level geographical domains (country code TLD, ccTLD), such as ".ch" for Switzerland, and generic domains (generic TLD, gTLD), such as ".com" or ".net". More than 250 countries or regions are designated by two letters on the basis of the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 Standard. This number increased significantly with the introduction of internationalised domain names (IDNs) (see FAQ on IDNs).

The generic top level domains generally designate the type of organisation which maintains a website, e.g. ".com" for commercial offerings.

Where can I find a list of registered top level domain names?

A list of registered top level domain names (ccTLDs and gTLDs) is available at

With whom and subject to what conditions can I register a second-level domain name?

In the great majority of cases, second-level domain names can be registered with registration offices, also called "registrars", accredited by ICANN and or by the registries (entities appointed by ICANN for the administration of top-level domains).

The applicant for a domain name is free to use the registrar of his choice. Many registrars are able to offer registrations in the same domain at different rates.

ICANN does not intervene in the choice of organisations involved in registration of geographical domains (ccTLDs). In this area, the national provisions are decisive.

What can I do if the domain name for which I am applying is already registered?

Every second-level domain is unique and can be registered only once under a top-level domain (TLD).

Registration rules vary depending on the domains. For example, registration of ".ch", ".net", ".org" or ".com domain names  is on a
"first come, first served" basis, i.e. the first person to apply for a domain name becomes its holder. However, applicants must satisfy themselves that no rights of other persons or organisations are infringed by the reservation of the name. During a registration submission the registrar is not obliged to verify the applicant's right to the name.

In the event of disputes relating to a domain name, the party whose rights have been infringed can try to initiate negotiations, resort to the civil courts or initiate the out-of-court arbitration procedure, to which the domain name holder must submit in accordance with the registrar's conditions.

Specialist staff
Last modification 17.11.2011

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