In the effort to achieve Tbit/inch(2) recording densities, thermal fly-height control (TFC) nanotechnology was developed to effectively reduce the clearance (which is of the order of a few nanometres) at the head-disk interface (HDI) of hard-disk drives. In this work, we present a model of the HDI that can predict the dynamic flying and nanotribological contacting behaviour, allowing for accurate predictions and characterization of the operating regime as a function of TFC actuation. A geometric model for TFC is presented and an improved definition of contact at the interface is developed in the presence of nanoscale topographical roughness and dynamic microwaviness. A new methodology is proposed for the calculation of the nominal area of contact, which affects both near-and at-contact behaviour, while the stiffening of the air bearing force with TFC actuation is also accounted for. Slider behaviour is analysed by quantifying the approach, jump-to-contact, lubricant and solid contact regimes of operation and identifying the critical and optimum TFC actuations. The feasibility of near-contact, light molecularly thin lubricant contact versus solid contact recording is explored under the effect of the interfacial forces and stresses present at the HDI. The clearance and the state of vibrations are analysed and design guidelines are proposed for improved performance.