your - where does this request get sent? what kind of machine is listening for this request?

How does the URL I type in lead to the eventual content I see in my browser? (2)

(Precise and detailed description of this process would probably take too much space and time to write, I am sure you can google it somewhere). So, although very simplified, you have pretty good picture of what is going on, but some clarifications are needed (again, I will be somewhat imprecise) :

Step 2: Your computer does follow the IP address received in step 1, but the request set to that IP address usually contains one important piece of information called 'Host header', that is the actual name as you typed in your browser.

Step 3: There is no nameserver involved here, the software(/hardware) is usually called 'webserver' (for example Apache, IIS, nginx etc...). One webserver can serve one or many different sites. In case there are more than one, webserver will use the 'Host header' to direct you to the specific content you want.

ICAAN 'owns' the domain names, and the registration process involves technical and administrative effort, so you pay registrars to handle that.

I'm trying to figure out how these all work together, and there are bits and pieces of information all over the internet.

Here's what I (think) I know:

1) When you enter a url into your browser that gets looked up in a domain name server (DNS), and you are sent an IP address.

2) Your computer then follows this IP address to a server somewhere.

3) On the server there are nameservers, which direct you to the specific content you want within the server. -> This step is unclear to me.

4) With this information, your request is received and the server relays site content back to you.

Is this correct? What do I have wrong? I've done a lot of searching over the past week, and the thing I think I'm missing is the big picture explanation of how all these details tie together.

Smaller questions:

a) How does the nameserver know which site I want directions to?

b) How can a site like GoDaddy own urls? Why do I have to pay them yearly fees, and why can't I buy a url outright?

I'm looking for a cohesive explanation of how all this stuff works together. Thanks!

How contents get loaded when I put a URL in a browser ?

Well there some very well docs available on this topic each step has its own logic and algorithms attached with it, here I am giving you a walk through.

Step 1: DNS Lookup : Domain name get converted into IP address, in this process domain name from the URL is used to find IP address of the associated server machine by looking up records on multiple servers called name servers.

Step 2: Service Request : Once the IP address is known, as service request depending on protocol is created in form of packets and sent to the server machine using IP address. In case of a browser normally it will be a HTTP request; in other cases it can be something else.

Step 3: Request handling: Depending on the service request and underlying protocol, request is handled by a software program which lives normally on the server machine whose address was discovered in previous step. As per the logic programmed on the server program it will return a appropriate response in case of HTTP its called HTTP Response.

Step 4: Response handling: In this step the requesting program in your case a browser receives the response as mentioned in the previous step and renders it and display it as per defined in the protocol, in case of HTTP a HTTP body is extracted and rendered, which is written in HTML.

How does the nameserver know which site I want directions to

URL has a very well defined format, using which a browser find out a hostname/domain name which is used in turn to find out the associated IP address; there are different algorithms that name-servers runs to find out the correct server machine IP.

Find more about DNS resolution here.

How can a site like GoDaddy own urls? Why do I have to pay them yearly fees, and why can't I buy a url outright?

Domain name are resources which needed management and regulation which is done ICANN they have something called registries from which registrar(like GoDaddy) get domains and book them for you; the cost you pay is split up between ICANN and registrar.

Registrar does a lot of work for you, eg setup name server provide hosting etc.

Technically you can create you own domain name but it won't be free off course because you will need to create a name server, need to replicate it other servers and that way you can have whatever name you want (has too be unique); a simple way to do that is by editing your local hosts files in linux it is located at /etc/hosts and in windows it is located at C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts but its no good on internet, since it won't be accepted by other servers.