Whether you're new to working with Domain of One's Own or a veteran, being able to clearly articulate— or even wrap your own head around— domains, how they work, and what users can do with them. While we already have some helpful guides on this, this article will explain domains specifically in a DoOO context to help focus the conversation.
What is a domain name?
A domain is essentially the address at which your website lives on the internet. More specifically, it's your website's human-readable address, so we don't have to memorize its unwieldy "natural" address, which is a long string of numbers.
It is important to recognize the difference between domain names and "hosting." While the domain name is your website's address, the hosting service (i.e. cPanel account) provides the repository where all of its files are stored. You really need both in order to get your site on the web.
Domain of One's Own Homepage URLs
Before we get into understanding end user URLs, we first need to understand the different domain possibilities for a DoOO homepage.
Sometimes a DoOO homepage will be set up as a top level domain, like stateu.org. Other times, it will be as a subdomain, like domains.stateu.edu. These options will likely influence the domain structures for your end users as well. For instance:
- If your homepage lives at stateu.org, end user accounts might live at *.stateu.org
- If your homepage lives at domains.stateu.edu, end user accounts might live at *.domains.stateu.edu
Alternatively, you may wish to choose a homepage URL that is entirely different from end user accounts, which would also be possible! For example:
- If your homepage lives at domains.stateu.edu, user accounts might live at *.stateudomains.org
For a more comprehensive breakdown of DoOO domain structures, head to our guide on Domain of One's Own Setup Features.
Top 3 things to understand about end user URLs
- The cPanel account is associated with a "primary" domain. By default, the primary domain will be whatever URL the end user chooses (or is assigned to them) when they're signing up for a DoOO account. That said, cPanel will allow the primary domain to be any subdomain or registered top level domain name that is pointed to the server and not in use elsewhere. More information about this can be found in our guide Changing a DoOO User's Primary Domain - Top-Level & Subdomains.
Above is the sign-up screen similar to what will be displayed at any given DoOO institution.
This screenshot shows the student's primary domain as it appears in their cPanel account.
- Multiple domains can be associated with 1 cPanel account. Along with the primary domain, users can create additional subdomains or point registered domains to one cPanel account to manage everything in a single space. (Please note this assumes that 1) these domains are pointed or created correctly, 2) these domains aren't in use elsewhere, and 3) there is enough storage available in the cPanel account.) With multiple domains in a single dashboard, users can do things like install applications in separate locations, manage DNS, set up domain redirects, and more.
Our guide on Subdomains and Subfolders explains how these structures work. A few things to note specifically:
- A subdomain is free to build on top of a primary domain; something like project.student.stateu.org.
- Separate apps can be installed on subfolders or subdirectories for free, which are literally folders within your primary domain: e.g. student.stateu.org/blog.
This screenshot shows multiple applications installed in the same cPanel account using either the primary domain, a subdirectory, or a subdomain.
The guide Adding a New Domain to cPanel shares how to add additional top level domains to any cPanel. This would be particularly useful for a student or professor who would like to manage a separately purchased and registered root domain in their existing DoOO cPanel account.
Finally, this guide on What to Consider When Organizing Faculty Sites and Coursework in cPanel walks you through when and how to use these different types of domains when setting up and organizing the sites in a DoOO cPanel account.
- Domains are essentially folders in cPanel's File Manager. Each File Manager will contain directories to folders and files where a website lives, as well as information about the site (error logs, for example). By default, a primary domain's directory will be in the public_html folder. Any newly created subdomains will likely live in a separate folder embedded in public_html or even directly in the home folder.
The above screenshot shows where in the File Manager you would find this account's subdomain.
The above screenshot shows where in the public_html folder you would find the primary domain's subdirectory.
When you go to your domain in a browser, the browser asks the server for the contents of its respective folder, then displays that content to produce your webpage. This is where you would go to check your error_log, manually manage updates, and much more. If you're interested, you can learn more about how to interact with your File Manager in our guide Uploading Folders & Files.
We hope this guide provides some more clarity about working with domains, especially as they relate to DoOO users and admins, but always feel free to reach out if you have any questions!