The other day I was trying to get to a Web site and I typed the address without the leading “www”. Weird, but I didn’t get to the Web site I was looking for. I retyped it and included the “www,” and it worked fine. I didn’t realize you had to actually include the “www.” What’s going on here?
We guess you may have come across one of the few web sites in the world that don’t behave the same whether you type the “www” or not, but normally, whether you type “www.google.com” or “google.com”, you should end up at Google’s Web site. The trick here is that the domain name (in this case) is google.com, and the prefix (www) indicates to the “great traffic computer in the sky” exactly which part of Google’s Web site you want to visit. The “www” is an arbitrary name (originally used as an abbreviation for World Wide Web), and there’s nothing special about that set of letters, except that every Web site uses it, by convention. As you may know, in order to browse the Web, your computer must communicate with a server (and there are many of these) that converts domain names to Web addresses. For example, when you browse to www.google.com, a Domain Name Service (DNS) server converts the request for www.google.com to an address like 126.96.36.199, and your browser communicates with the server at that particular Web address. Anyone who manages domain settings can configure any prefix and associate it with any Internet Protocol (IP) address. For example, we tend to use webmail as a prefix for our online e-mail access, so we can browse to something like webmail.domainName.com to retrieve our mail.
Now, back to the original question: Just as www and webmail are valid domain name prefixes, so is nothing at all. Normally, companies configure their domains so that www.domainName.com resolves to the same IP address as domainName.com, but that isn’t a requirement. If you find a site where the two don’t take you to the same place, or where domainName.com (without www) doesn’t work at all, you might want to let the owners of the Web site know! You, as an end user, shouldn’t have to concern yourself with the difference—in a perfect world, typing www.domainName.com or domainName.com should take you to the same place!