Is www a Subdomain?

Published July 09, 2024

Problem: Understanding WWW in Web Addresses

Many internet users see "www" at the start of web addresses and wonder about its purpose and type. The question of whether "www" is a subdomain comes from confusion about how web addresses are built and what each part does to identify websites.

The Answer: Yes, www is a Subdomain

Technical Perspective

From a technical view, "www" is a subdomain. DNS servers treat "www" like any other subdomain. When a DNS gets a query for "www.example.com", it processes it as a subdomain of "example.com". This means "www" works like other subdomains in DNS resolution and routing.

Example: DNS Record for www Subdomain

www.example.com.    IN    A    192.0.2.1

This DNS record shows how the "www" subdomain is defined, pointing to the IP address 192.0.2.1.

Common Usage of www

The "www" subdomain is often used in web addresses. Many websites use it as part of their main URL, making it a standard in web addressing. Many domain registrars and hosting providers create the "www" subdomain when you register a new domain. They often set up a redirect from the "www" version to the non-www version of the website (or vice versa). This setup helps keep consistency in how you access websites, whether you type "www" or not.

Tip: Setting Up www Redirect

To set up a redirect from "www" to non-www (or vice versa), you can use an .htaccess file on Apache servers:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www\.example\.com [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://example.com/$1 [L,R=301]

This ensures users reach your site regardless of whether they include "www" in the URL.

The Special Status of www

Why www is Unique

The "www" subdomain is important in web addressing due to its history and user expectations. In the early internet days, "www" showed the World Wide Web service on a server, separating it from other services like FTP or email. It became common for website addresses, making many users type "www" before domain names.

This past use has linked "www" and websites in users' minds. Many people expect to see "www" at the start of a web address, even though it's not needed for most modern websites.

Tip: Check Your Website's www Status

To see if your website uses www or non-www, try accessing it with both versions (e.g., www.example.com and example.com). Notice which version loads and if there's any redirection. This helps you understand your current setup and decide if changes are needed.

Handling www in Website Configuration

When setting up a website, you need to decide how to handle the "www" subdomain. The two main options are:

  1. Redirecting www to non-www: Set up your server to send users who type "www.example.com" to "example.com".

  2. Redirecting non-www to www: Send users from "example.com" to "www.example.com".

This choice doesn't greatly affect website function, but it changes your site's URL structure and how users interact with it.

For SEO, choosing www or non-www doesn't directly affect search engine rankings. But consistency matters. Search engines see "www.example.com" and "example.com" as different URLs, so pick one version and use it always. This helps avoid duplicate content issues and keeps a clear online presence.

To use your chosen approach, use server configuration files or content management system settings to set up the right redirects. This sends all traffic to your preferred URL format, giving users a good experience and following SEO best practices.