To be connected to the Internet, a computer must be assigned a unique number, known as its IP (Internet Protocol) address. Each packet sent over the Internet contains the IP address of the computer to which it is being sent. Intermediate routers use the address to determine how to forward the packet. Users almost never need to enter or view IP addresses directly. Instead, to make it easier for users, each computer is also assigned a domain name; protocol software automatically translates domain names into IP addresses. For example, the domain name encarta.msn.com specifies a computer owned by Microsoft (names ending in .com are assigned to computers owned by commercial companies), and the corresponding IP address is 188.8.131.52. See also Domain Name System.
Users encounter domain names when they use applications such as the World Wide Web. Each page of information on the Web is assigned a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) that includes the domain name of the computer on which the page is located. Other items in the URL give further details about the page. For example, the string http specifies that a browser should use the http protocol, one of many TCP/IP protocols, to fetch the item.