Domain name registrar explained

A domain name registrar is a company accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and/or by a national ccTLD authority to register Internet domain names. ICANN has authority over gTLDs, or Generic Top Level Domains. Examples of gTLDs include .com, .net and .org. ICANN does not have authority over ccTLDs, or Country Code Top-Level Domains, though it is quite common for domain name registrars to offer ccTLD registration services as well. Most official registrars provide DNS hosting service, but this is not required, and is often considered a separate service.


Until 1999, there was no Shared Registration System (SRS). Network Solutions (NSI) operated the .com, .net, and .org registries, and was the de jure registrar and registry. However, several companies had set up as de facto registrars, including NetNames, who invented the idea of a commercial standalone domain name registration service in 1996. Registrars formed another link in the food chain, introducing the concept of domain name sales, effectively introducing the wholesale model into the industry. NSI followed suit, forcing the issue of separation of Registry and Registrar.In October 1998, following pressure from the growing domain name registration business and other interested parties, NSI's agreement with the US Department of Commerce was amended, requiring the creation of an SRS that supported multiple registrars. The SRS officially opened on November 30, 1999 under the supervision of ICANN, though there had been several testbed registrars using the system since March 11, 1999. Since then, over 500 registrars have entered the market for domain name registration services.

Designated registrar

An end-user alone, cannot register and manage their domain name information with ICANN. A designated registrar must be chosen to have one's domain names registered and managed with ICANN on their behalf, usually over web hosting companies plans. Prior to 1999, the only .com registrar was NSI, but after the approval of the SRS, this opened up the opportunity for other companies to be designated as registrars, check providers offering domains hosting plans.

Only one designated registrar may modify or delete information about a domain name. The competition that SRS created enables the end user to choose from many registrars offering different services at varying prices. It is not unusual for an end user to wish to switch registrars. Thus, there is the domain name transfer clause.

When a registrar registers a .com domain name for the end-user, it must pay a maximum annual fee of US$6.00 to VeriSign and a US$0.25 administration fee to ICANN. VeriSign is the registry manager for .com gTLD. Low cost bulk registrars like Go Daddy and Tucows must manage their margin after paying these fees and their equipment cost. Therefore, the barrier for entry into the bulk registrar industry is high for new companies without an existing customer base.

Domain name transfers

Domain name transfers is the act of designating a new registrar with the authority to add, modify, and delete information about the domain name. The usual process of a domain name transfer is:

  1. The end user contacts the new registrar with the wish to transfer the domain name to their service
  2. The new registrar will contact the old registrar with this information
  3. The old registrar will contact the end user to confirm the authenticity of this request
  4. The old registrar will release authority to the new registrar
  5. The new registrar will notify the end user of transfer completion

After this process, the new registrar becomes one's designated registrar and all correspondence shall be done with them.

Transfer scams

With the introduction of SRS, many smaller registrars had to compete with the de facto standard, NSI. Some companies offered value added services or used viral marketing. Some companies decided to trick customers to switch from NSI - akin to what some phone companies do to get new customers.

Many of these transfer scams involve a notice sent in the mail, fax, or e-mail. Some scammers may even call by phone (as the contact information is available through WHOIS) to harvest more information. These notices would include information publicly available from the WHOIS database to add to the look of authenticity. The text would include legalese to confuse the end user into thinking that it is an official binding document. If one receives such document, one should notify the resident "computer guy" or IT support person.

Scam registrars go after domain names that are expiring soon or have recently expired. Expired domain names do not have to go through the authentication process to be transferred, as the previous registrar would have relinquished management rights of the domain name. Domain name expiry dates are readily available via WHOIS.

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