According to estimates by market analysts of Netcraft, there are approximately 200 million different websites on the internet today. And each of these incredibly many pages has a unique web address. While the first part of a domain before the dot can usually be freely defined by the domain owner during registration (provided the name is not already taken), there is a limited, albeit steadily growing, choice of options for the part to the right of the dot. This part of the domain name is called a domain extension or, according to the technical term, a top-level domain (TLD).
As the internet slowly but surely became a mass phenomenon in the 1990s and began to commercialize, the need for higher-level coordination for the allocation of domains quickly grew. Finally, for this purpose, in 1998 ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) was founded. At that time there were quite few available domain extensions. ICANN divided these mainly into the two categories of generic TLDs (gTLD) such as .com or .org as well as geographic country code TLDs (ccTLD) such as .ch, .de or .at. This subdivision is still in use today for the most part, even though the scope has grown massively, especially in the case of the gTLDs. In addition, today there are also sponsored domain extensions (sTLDs), each of which is represented by a sponsor.
Country code TLDs used for other purposes are not uncommon
The vast majority of countries in the world operate their own ccTLD. There are even some overseas regions of countries such as the USA, France or Great Britain that market their own TLD. As with .ch, the respective ccTLDs are mostly used by private individuals or companies based or operating in the respective region. However, there are also some ccTLDs that have a practical meaning in certain languages due to their letter combinations and are therefore often misused, as the following overview shows:
|.ag||Antigua and Barbuda||For uses in German-speaking countries that refer to the abbreviation “AG” under commercial law|
|.co||Colombia||For uses that refer to the abbreviation “Co.” under commercial law. Often also as an alternative if the desired domain name with .com is already occupied|
|.cv||Cape Verde||For Curriculum Vitae|
|.fm||Federated States of Micronesia||For radio stations|
|.io||British Indian Ocean Territory||For uses in the IT and technology field as an analogy for “input/output”|
|.la||Laos||For registrants from the Los Angeles area, USA|
|.li||Liechtenstein||For registrants from Long Island, USA or for persons with the last name Li|
|.me||Montenegro||For usages referring to the word “me”|
|.to||Tonga||For torrent (file sharing) or the cities of Turin, Toronto or Tokyo|
Examples of some country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), which are often used for completely different purposes. Sources: iana.org, wikipedia.org
There are also a few practical alternatives to .ch for Swiss companies and private individuals. Those from Schaffhausen could use St. Helena’s ending (.sh) and if you are from Lucerne you could use Luxembourg’s (.lu). These combinations do not fit for all Swiss cantons, but at least for some:
|.ag||Antigua and Barbuda||Aargau|
Country-specific ccTLDs that may be of interest to registrants from Swiss cantons. Sources: iana.org, wikipedia.org
What about .com? The most popular TLDs worldwide
What are the most common domain extensions today? In first place, with an estimated market share of around 50 percent, is the extension .com. After this, however, it is more difficult to say for sure, as there is no standardized survey on this. Depending on the source, .org and .net are way ahead. Among the country-specific ccTLDs, China (.cn), Germany (.de) and the United Kingdom (.uk incl. the well-known use of .co.uk) are in the top positions.
Our Swiss TLD .ch is not at the top of these rankings. The local market is too small for that. But in relation to the size of the population – to give an approximate indication – the extension .ch is comparatively widespread. In November 2021, SWITCH, the registry operator of .ch domains, recorded a total of 2,459,804 .ch domains. This makes 0.28 .ch domains per capita in relation to the population of Switzerland. This may not sound like much, but it is a top figure by international standards, as the following table shows:
Country-specific ccTLDs that may be of interest to registrants from Swiss cantons. Sources: hostsens.com, research.domaintools.com, nic.ch, wikipedia.org (as of Nov 21)
The curious success of a small Pacific island
A notable example of a widely used ccTLD is the extension .tk. This is assigned to the Pacific island of Tokelau, which is only about 10 square kilometers and belongs to New Zealand. Tokelau has a population of just under 1,500 but the island made it to a top spot among ccTLDs. But how did this come about?
In 2001, Dutch businessman Joost Zuurbier took over the rights to sell domains ending in .tk from the local government of Tokelau. Subsequently, Zuurbier relied on a marketing model in which domains could be registered either for free (right of use only, no ownership) or for payment (with ownership rights). The business model subsequently proved to be enormously successful. At times, there were almost as many registered .tk domains as there were domain names from Germany and China combined.
However, over time, the free offer also attracted many scammers. Today, .tk domains do not enjoy such a good reputation in the digital space, as they very often become the target of phishing attacks or are themselves used as a springboard for cybercrime.
Almost infinite choice with generic TLDs
There are now well over a thousand different variations of generic top-level domains (gTLDs). When ICANN started its work in 1998, there were only seven generic TLDs (.com, .net, .edu, .gov, .mil, .org and .int). Today, there is a very diverse range. For example, there are TLDs that are often used by companies that want to emphasize their business activities in general (.biz, .info or .top). There are also some options for technical use, with .app, .dev or .tech. Food service establishments often rely on .restaurant, .bar or .pub. Other notable gTLDs include .blog, .shop, .online, .site, .jobs or .club.
However, some TLDs, such as .beer, .ninja, or .fail, may well be used (intentionally or not) for a tongue-in-cheek purpose. Larger companies and brands now even have their own TLDs, as the examples of .ubs, .fiat or .google show. However, these are usually not freely available.
A special feature of the generic TLDs is the geoTLDs. These types of domains are intended to represent a specific geographic region or ethnic, cultural or linguistic communities. Well-known examples are .london, .berlin and even .zuerich, which has been available since August 2021 (read our blog article). GeoTLDs are intended to provide an alternative or additional means of promotion for registrants of a particular region in addition to country code TLDs. It is expected that there will be several more such geoTLDs in the near future.
Hostpoint is the place to go for domains
As the leading domain registrar in Switzerland, Hostpoint manages over 800,000 domains. In 2013, Hostpoint became the first Swiss provider to receive official accreditation as a domain registrar from ICANN. Today, Hostpoint is the point of contact for Swiss end customers in the domain business and offers all available TLDs.