Friday, May 8, 2009

The true unsung hero of the internet.

How many phone numbers do you know? Off-hand I mean - in your head?

Not a lot I'll bet. Most people rely on their personal phone books on their cell phones, computers or paper.

I don't even remember my own cell number most of the times...and that's not (just) because I hate phone calls.

I don't try to remember my own phone number (or anyone else's for that matter) because I have a theory that my memory can only hold x bits of information. The space (very limited in my case) must therefore be put to good use. Why remember something you can look up quickly?

Ms Shirely

A patently obvious truth I think, but no matter how hard I tried I could never convince
Ms Shirley (my grade 3 teacher) of this. She refused to believe that memorizing multiplication tables was dangerous to my mental health. After all, why did god invent people who invented calculators if we are not supposed to use them? Her response to my argument was a quick smack to the side of the head. Every time.

(The good old bad days when corporal punishment was encouraged and dispensed with enthusiastic vigor.)

Now, in my (middle) age, I have proof that my theory is correct: the stuff I put in my memory either falls out, or pushes something else out. The bucket is full. And the multiplication tables are not even in yet.

Nowadays I try to only use my memory for important, life and limb preserving tidbits: those little do's and don'ts in a marriage that keeps your wife from lacing your morning coffee with fast acting laxative before that big meeting.

So. You and I don't know a lot of phone numbers. We rely on your phone books. We phone a "Sipho" or "Koos" or "Julius"...we never dial actual phone numbers even though the phone number is an absolute requirement. For all intents and purposes phone numbers became invisible.

Computer numbers

Did you know the same thing holds true for the internet? Every single computer in the network (including the one you are using now) has its own number...much like a telephone number...on the internet it is called an IP number. ("IP" stands for Internet Protocol).

To "talk" to any computer on the internet (to get a web page or send email or download information) you MUST first know that computer's IP number - much like a telephone number is required to reach another party.

Like a phone number, an IP number is also structured in a specific way. It looks like this: - also known as

The point of today's post is the fact that =, and you did not even know. How did this magic happen?

The answer lies in the Domain Name System. The true unsung hero of the internet.


The Domain Name System (DNS) is like a gigantic, global, invisible phone book for the internet. When you type into your web browser, your computer asks the closest DNS server who is responsible for .com domain names. Having received an answer, it asks the .com server who is responsible for When that answer arrives, the server is asked what the ip number is for the reply is saved by your computer for 8 to 12 hours, so that it does not have to ask the same question over and over again.

Then, IP number in memory, your browser politely taps on the shoulder and asks for the home page.

If you don't have a domain name, you cannot have a web site at (for instance) neither can you have an email address at, say, me @ cozahost. You must register (own) a domain name in order to publish services on it.

Register domain name

To register your own domain name is quick, simple and cost effective, but herein lies the problem: domain names are registered on a first-come first-served basis. Think for a second: what if your business is called, but you don't own that domain name? What if your grade 3 teacher registered that domain name and insist you learn your tables before she gives it back to you?

Sure, you can sue her if you have intellectual rights to the trading name, but that can cost you many thousands of rands and long delays while you suffer intense ridicule at every braai you are stupid enough to attend. And worse can get worser: your ex can register the domain name and publish an open letter explaining in great length and exquisite detail why you are the sorriest excuse of a sub-parasitic life form that ever slithered out of a parasite's behind.

If you don't own your organization's domain name you can be abused, threatened, ridiculed, defrauded, blackmailed and worse....anything up to (but excluding) alien abduction and anal probes.

I do mean to scare you. It's so simple to register your domain name, it's just silly not to. The cost and effort is minimal. The risk of loosing your domain name to an abusive 3rd party is absolutely not worth taking. Unless alien abductions are your thing.

To register a domain name is dead simple.

Go to our web site at to check if your domain name is registered or available, and follow the instructions.

Of course, you can register your domain name with any ISP of your choice, as long as you watch out for the common pitfalls. (For a list of 5 things to watch out for when you register your domain name, see the blog post here...)

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