The Trouble with Made-Up Example Sites and Domains

When people talk about building a website, it’s common to use an example name rather than the name of an actual website. And when people ask questions about their websites, they often use a placeholder instead of the real name. This all makes sense, but when it isn’t done right, it can lead to problems. To see why, let’s start with the story of a Web host and its employees.

The Curious Case of MySite

MySite is a Web host with a site straight out of the mid-2000s. Over the years, many of its employees have asked for help managing its own website in online forums.

One employee asked how to redirect to This seemed to work fine, until another employee reported that they could not access MySite via after completing a server migration. When MySite started using TLS for their site, someone asked why a wildcard certificate for * wasn’t valid for, and someone else wanted to redirect from HTTP to HTTPS. I guess something must have broken in the meantime, because at the time of writing MySite is not accessible via HTTPS.

This strikes me as odd, because these questions seem better suited for more experienced colleagues within the company, who would have more direct knowledge of its systems. I also feel like this is an unusual amount of transparency for a company to allow into its internal operations. What’s going on here?

Placeholders Collide with Reality

Of course, what’s really happening is that these people are using as a placeholder to represent their own websites, rather than as a reference to the actual MySite service. Unfortunately, this is the trouble you can get into when you use a placeholder name like this. If you make up something like, there’s nothing to stop someone from taking that name and turning it into a real site. And isn’t the only example: I’ve found posts with,, and, all of which actually exist.

(To prove my point, I’ve registered and redirected it to this post.)

Making something up for the top-level domain (the last part of the name, like .com or .org) isn’t a guaranteed solution either. The “New gTLD Program,” which began in 2012, has introduced over a thousand top-level domains, including .xyz and .website. As a result, and now exist (context for that second one), even though they could have been placeholders once upon a time.

Doing It Right

The right way to do this is to use names that are reserved specifically for examples. These include:

  • .example

Everything under these names is reserved as well, so you could use and as placeholders without worrying about them turning into actual websites.

(Aside from the .example top-level domain, .test and .invalid are also reserved in a similar fashion. All of these reserved names are described in RFC 2606.)

I hope more people start using these dedicated example names instead of made-up names that can collide with reality. The Stack Exchange network (which includes popular Q&A sites like Stack Overflow and Ask Ubuntu) has already blocked such “placeholder” websites from being posted, with a note suggesting some of the example names above. Maybe other technology forums can follow its lead.

(Update: Turns out Raymond Chen said the same thing twenty years ago.)

Reply to this post via e-mail or on: LinkedIn, Twitter.
Philip Chung
Philip Chung
Software Developer