In the previous sections, when I talked about hosts, I referred to them by their IP-addresses. This was necessary to introduce the different kinds of addresses. When talking about hosts in general, it's more convenient to give them "names", as I did when talking about routing.
Most applications don't care whether you give them an IP-number or an hostname. However, they'll use IP-numbers internally, and there are several methods for them to map hostnames to IP-numbers, each one with its own way of configuration. In this section I'll introduce the idea behind each method, in the next chapter, I'll talk about the configuration-part.
The mapping from hostnames (and domainnames) to IP-addresses is done by a piece of software called the "resolver". This is not an extra service, but some library routines which are linked to every application using networking-calls. The resolver will then try to resolve (hence the name ;-) the hostnames you give into IP-numbers. See RFCs 1034 and 1035 for details on the resolver.
Hostnames are usually up to 10 characters long, and contain letters, numbers, dashes ("-") and underscores ("_"); case is ignorred.
Just as with networks and subnets, it's possible (and desirable) to group hosts into domains and subdomains. When getting your network-address, you usually also obtain a domainname by your provider. As with subnets, it's up to you to introduce subdomains. Other as with IP-addresses, (sub)domains are not directly related to (sub)nets; for example, one domain can contain several subnets.
Picture 1 shows this: Both subnets 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52 (and others) are part of the subdomain "RZ.UNI-REGENSBURG.DE". The domain the University of Regensburg got from it's IP-provider is "UNI-REGENSBURG.DE" (".DE" is for Deutschland, Germany), the subdomain "RZ" is for Rechenzentrum, computing center.
Hostnames, subdomain- and domainnames are separated by dots ("."). It's also possible to use more than one stage of subdomains, although this is not very common. An example would be FOX_IN.SOCS.UTS.EDU.AU.
A hostname which includes the (sub)domain is also called a fully qualified domain name (FQDN). For example, the IP-address 184.108.40.206 belongs to the host with the FQDN DUSK.RZ.UNI-REGENSBURG.DE.
Further above I told you that the IP-address 127.0.0.1 always belongs to the local host, regardless what's the "real" IP-address of the host. Therefore, 127.0.0.1 is always mapped to the name "LOCALHOST".
The three different ways to translate hostnames into IP-numbers are: `/etc/hosts', the Domain Name Service (DNS) and the Network Information Service (NIS).