[Courses] [Domains] Registering a domain name

Mary mary-linuxchix at puzzling.org
Sat Jun 26 11:05:30 EST 2004

This is the fourth lesson in the domain name courses series.  Lessons for this
course are being archived at: http://www.linuxchix.org/content/courses/domains/

This lesson will discuss the process of choosing a registrar for your domain
name. This lesson is much shorter than the previous lesson about nameserving
(if I'd known it was going to be so long it would have been split into at
least two). This lesson covers:

 1. Registering a domain name
 2. Providing contact details
 3. Renewing a domain name
 4. Finding a registrar
 5. Choosing a registrar
 6. Changing registrars

In these last two lessons, input from people who have already registered
domains and who have chosen hosts for them (next lesson) on various options
would be helpful -- my comments can only be based on my personal experiences
with registration and hosting. Comments on your provider would be excellent.

--- Registering a domain name ---

Registering a domain name is at heart a regulated way of getting someone to
point queries for a domain at nameservers of your choice, which in turn lets
you point clients at servers of your choice for web, mail and so on.

This is almost always the process these days:

 1. Find a company which sells this service for the parent domain of your
 2. Go to their website and enter the domain name you wish to use
 3. Pay for a certain number of years use in advance by credit card

Once you have paid, you will normally be granted access to a web-based
administration panel -- each registrar seems to have their own. This panel
will let you update your contact details, renew your domain, and enter
nameservers for your domain.

It is likely to take a few days for whois information, nameserver information
and so on to be in place before your new domain begins working (assuming that
you have a host for it). This seems a long wait :)

--- Providing contact details ---

You'll generally be asked to provide a number of personal details about
yourself to our registrar, which may or may not be verified against your credit
card information.

Be warned that this information, including your address and telephone number,
may be made available in the whois database, see
http://www.icann.org/faq/#whois for reasons why. Some registrars will put their
contact details in instead, but this will make them effectively the controller
of your domain if disputes arise so avoid these registrars.

You'll actually be asked for four different sets of contact details:

 - registrant/owner: the person or organisation who the domain is
   for/controlled by
 - administrative: the person who will keep the records of domain control up to
 - billing: the person to send invoices and requests for renewal to
 - technical: the person who will keep the domain's nameserver delegation up to

In the case of a vanity domain, you will want to set all four to yourself (many
registrars will have a tool that helps you avoid putting the same details in
four times). In the case of a business domain, set the registrant to the
business itself and the other contacts to be appropriate employees of the
business. Make sure these people will know what to do with "please renew
example.com" notices.

The registrant, administrative and technical contacts will all in practise
have the ability to modify records for your domain, so don't set any of
these to anyone who you don't think should be allowed to "take over" your
domain. For example, don't set them to your hosting provider.

One important thing to note is that the email addresses you give them must be
kept up-to-date. They will use this email address to mail you your password,
and they will use it to notify you when you need to renew your domain.

I'm warning you about this because it's very common that you'll start using
user at example.com as your new email address and stop checking whatever address
you gave them originally. If you forget your password as well you will be
unable to log in and may be unable to prove you are the domain owner and hence
may be unable to stop the domain expiring. (They normally have a process in
place to handle this involving things like faxing them identification so all is
not usually lost, but it's a pain.)

Additionally, if you're registering a name for a business, you should make
sure that someone receives the renewal notices even if you leave.

One solution to this is, as soon as user at example.com starts working, change
your contact email address to that. If you're registering a domain for a
business, make the contact address something like domainadmin at example.com and
direct that address to yourself for now. If you leave, you or your replacement
can redirect the email address to someone else's mailbox.

This has its own problem: if the example.com nameserver information is broken
and you need to fix it you won't get email at user at example.com until it's
fixed and you won't be able to fix them without logging in.

So to be absolutely sure that you can always change information for your
domain you need to make sure of two things:

 1. Point the admin address for the domain at an email address you check and
    will still be checking in two or three years time. If you don't have one yet
    make sure you change the information when your address changes.

    If you're registering a business domain, make the admin address one that
    an employee of that business will be checking in a few years time.

    This will often but not necessarily always be an @example.com address. You
    need to decide this yourself.

 2. Record the admin password somewhere where you can find it again.

--- Renewing a domain name ---

The renewal process for a domain name, as brought up here before, is usually
simply a process of following notices that the registrar sends you. They will
generally start sending these with lots of time to spare: my registrar starts
sending them 60 days before the domain expires and sends one every 15 days after

If you allow your domain to expire, the parent nameservers will stop
redirecting requests to your nameservers fairly quickly and your domain will
stop working. However there is usually a grace period of a few weeks in which
your domain will be held for you and you may renew it and regain control.

After that grace period, your domain will be opened up for registration by
other people. Some registrars offer a paid "waiting service" where people can
submit requests to register a domain as soon as it is available, and many
opportunists buy up expired domains in the hope that the original owner or
someone wishing to capitalise on links to that domain will pay a premium for
it. If you allow your domain to expire and don't renew during the waiting
period, expect to have some trouble recovering the domain, or to not be able to
recover it at all.

Note that because your contact information is public, it is possible for people
to send you fraudulent notices. There is at least one well known scam involving
a registrar who sent notices to domain holders masquerading as renewal notices or
requests for payment but the forms provided were actually transfer requests, so
people filling them out transferred their domain to the other registrar. Make
the same checks you would for your online banking: check the URL where you are
providing your credit card details, check the website, and remember the name of
your registrar.

--- Finding a registrar ---

Most, but possibly not all, top level domains now have a process where there are
a number of approved registrars for subdomains. In addition, some registrars
will work with resellers who will generally provide their own web interfaces
but pass all requests onto their parent.

Here are ICANN's accredited registrars for the international top level domains:
http://icann.org/registrars/accredited-list.html , sorted by country here:

If you want to register a domain in a country's TLD, you will find information
linked from http://www.iana.org/cctld/cctld-whois.htm . Some countries have
also opened their subdomains up to multiple registrars, but I don't know of any
single place where this information is collated. You will need to investigate
on a per-country basis.

--- Choosing a registrar ---

The choice of registrar is crucial, but generally less difficult than choice of
host. There are a limited number of registrars and the service they offer is
not particularly varied. Here are the variables you might consider:

 - price
 - reputation
 - extra services (DNS hosting or mailbox hosting, for example -- but remember
   your host might do these too! don't pay for them twice.)
 - support (phone, chat...)
 - location (will be handy to have a local registrar if you ever want cheap
   phone support)

If you're dealing with a reseller make sure you also check that the registrar
they work with has a good reputation.

I don't know the reputation of many registrars, but here are the ones I've dealt with:

 Dotster.com: US based, no problems with dotster, good web interface, easy
 transfer process, offers mailbox hosting and DNS for a fee.

 Register.com: US based, no problems with register, good web interface,
 expensive, didn't seem to notice I'd transferred and kept sending me renewal
 notices, offers mailbox hosting, limited web hosting and DNS.

 tppinternet.com (a .au registrar): Australia based, slightly flaky in the
 early days of .au registration, web interface works but is not the best UI (or
 at least, their popups are easy to miss using Mozilla).

I hope others will respond with their experiences.

--- Transferring registrars ---

This process is less technical that switching hosts. Once you've registered a
domain if you want to use a different registrar for some reason (often price,
sometimes service) it is possible to change. There may be a waiting period
after initial registration though.  Most registrars will have a prominently
placed "transfer your domain!" link and often a special introductory price for
people transferring to them.

However, there are still preparatory steps:

 - make sure you are not using your original registrar's additional services
   (web hosting, mailboxes or nameservers).
 - make sure that your email address in the contact details at your old
   registrar is up-to-date

When you request a transfer, an approval email will go to the existing contact
address (the new registrar may also send a test email there before even
beginning the process). At least for the international TLDs, you need to
respond to that email fairly quickly or the transfer will not go ahead.

You will find it extremely difficult to transfer without an up-to-date email
address in the contact details so you must update it before beginning a

The full transfer process takes about as long as the initial registration
process -- a couple of days -- but your domain will continue working

Again, in the case of the country TLDs, the transfer process may not exist or
may be more difficult. In Australia it is fairly similar to the above, but
Australia has modelled its policies on the international ones. Choose your
initial registrar carefully.


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