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The Naked Domain Debate

There has been an interesting debate going on in the IT Space about whether websites should be preceded with www subdomain. It is definitely more conventional to precede the website address with www for practical reasons. but It is also true that users never type in www.facebook.com or www.google.com or www.microsoft.com. Users tend to type in the naked domain in the search engine at which point they are redirected to the www sub-domain. If the User happens to directly browse to the naked domain, the website enforces the canonical urls and redirects the user away from naked domains to the www sub-domain.

I like Naked domains from the user experience point of view. However we can not ignore the simple fact that from an infrastructure point of view naked domains make things more difficult. naked domains rely on Name Server A Records or AAAA records which require fixed static IP Addresses. The Fact is DNS servers handle www as delegation zone and that makes it easier to have a hierarchical structure in your NameServer system. Naked Domains definitely make working with CDNs more difficult as well because you can not point a naked domain to CNAME. but perhaps one of the issues that is often ignored is the cookie. Modern websites use a ton of  cookies for tracking and analytical purposes and by not using www subdomain one loses the flexibility to chose which sub-domains have access to a given cookie.

Consider this scenario: The Main website is hosted at http://example.com and then we have http://images.example.com for static content. Each Time that http://example.com makes a request to get an image.from example.com it forces the system to send (upload) the cookies to http://images.example.com which does not need these cookies at all. Well That is just wasted bandwidth. but there could be more important repercussions. consider the ARR cookie That Microsoft Azure inserts into websites for routing them to "best server". It is possible that such a cookie might behave inappropriately if you browse to de.example.com vs browsing on example.com.

Some pure business logic issues could also be at stake here. Suppose you have accounting.example.com and you have example.com;. you would not necessarily want the idenity cookies associated with these two domains to be mixed up.

The Verdict: Since Websites and Search Engines can automatically redirect users to the www subdomain there is really no inconvenience for the users to browse to websites with www subdomain. Thus It seems to make more sense to stick to www subdomain because of enhaned control over infrastructure and DNS routing.

Here is another great article that goes in depth about this topic.