A domain name is a unique identifier for your business or organization on the Internet. Most Internet Service Providers ("ISPs" for short) will provide you an address on their server for example: www.server.com/clientname identifying the client web pages as stored on their server. Its fast and convenient, but then, you advertise them every time you promote yourself.
You can also have your own domain name. A .com ("dot com") domain name costs $70 US for two years, with only two restrictions: nobody else can already have the domain, and it can't violate anyone else's copyright. The domain name is free if you qualify for a .ca domain. But then you must be a registered business, and the domain name must match or be a subset of your corporate name. You own domain gives you total control over your marketing identity. Unfortunately, many good domain names are gone, but in the next year a whole new series of domains is opening up (.firm, .store, .info...)
There is a no-domain name solution for hosting a site, too! The computer's "IP address", a 12-digit code (that looks like 255.255.255.255),will do, but your visitors will have a tougher time finding you, if they have to type in the digits. This only works if the site is getting linked from other popular sites or is well-referenced on search engines. The usual is the IP address is used to reference a site until a suitable domain name is registered and pointed to the IP address.
What is an appropriate domain name? Consider an organization, company, or product name (notice every movie has its own domain name?). Use your existing trademarks as your first try. Don't be surprised if the names are already taken. Just because you are McDonald's Restaurants, doesn't mean that Old McDonald the farmer can't use the mcdonald.com domain name--especially if he registered it first! To find out who is using a name, check with Network Solutions, which registers all domain names ending with .com, .net, and .gov, and maintains a database of domain names. You can check for available Canadian domain names (like something.ca. You may have to make several attempts to identify an unused domain name.
To get a domain name you have to apply with the top-level domain administering organization for the name. For example, to get a "com" domain, you have to apply with Network Solutions. To register Canadian domains ending in .ca, go to ftp://ftp.cdnnet.ca/ca-domain/application-form).
The hosting decision
There are several ways you can have a web site hosted: at an Internet Service Provider ("ISP"), on your own computer via an ISDN, ADSL or T-1 link (this is a hosting decision. Here is a chart summarizing these choices:
The ISP serve your own domain from its hardware, though, if you are connecting directly onto the Internet, you can host your domain from your computer.There are serious security issues to consider, meaning for most businesses, even if you have a permanent hookup to the Internet, you should let your ISP host your web site.
Several ISPs are now setting up "server farms" where your computer is at their physical location, but behind their firewall. This gives the public faster access to the information, since the only limit is the speed of access from the ISP to the Internet's backbone. Internal users can also access the computer using their Internet connections, though this is actually done using a password protected and encrypted "virtual private network" behind the firewall.