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Domain Names

Posted 03rd October, 2018

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Domain names are the recognisable addresses online; they point to various IP addresses and web servers.

Contents

Domains are all in the following format:

domain dot top level domain
yournamehere .tld
fixed.net
msn.com
bbc.co.uk

TLD stands for Top Level Domain. There are thousands of variations of top level domain, from .com to .net to .ninja. You can see what domains are available by looking at domain providers such as GoDaddy or NameCheap. It is mostly irrelevant who you use for your domain name registration, as long as they are an accredited ICANN registrar. More details below.

The bit before the dot (.) is sometimes called the Second Level Domain (SLD). It can be whatever you like, but choosing the right name is important (for you, for search engines, for customers to remember you etc...)

Any domain will work with or without the www. The www is just a subdomain of a main domain. More on that under the DNS section.

Sometimes a TLD will appear to be second level in itself - e.g. yourdomain `.co.uk’. In this instance the TLD is the whole .co.uk string.

This guide gives an overview of the domain name industry, as well as registration procedures, transfer problems and common issues. For technical problems with domains (DNS, Propagation, Not resolving... ) see our separate DNS guide.

The domain lifecycle

Domains are registered for specific periods of time, almost always in one year increments, up to a maximum of ten years. You never permanently own a domain - you instead have a lease on the domain from the registry.

When a domain expires you have a grace period during which time only you can renew. If you fail to renew your domain, it can drop to the open market for a new registrant.

The domain industry

When you register a domain you become a Registrant. This means that you own the domain name for the period you have it registered for. You can check who owns a domain name by performing a whois lookup.

Registrars are the domain providers you use to register your domains with (for instance godaddy.com, namecheap.com, domains.google.com). These companies do not themselves administer the TLDs: instead they are intermediaries (essentially agents) between the TLD company (called a Registry) and the registrant end-user.

In some scenarios you may actually be dealing with a reseller for the registrar. This can also be found out with a whois lookup.

Each TLD is run by a registry. For instance, .com and .net are run by Verisign, .tv is run by the Tuvalu government, .ninja is run by the private company Donuts. Each registry can set the price for their domains, and negotiate directly with registrars.

Sitting at the top of this structure is ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, who regulate the process.

In reality your exposure to this process as an end client should be limited to a simple relationship with your direct registrar. The registration and renewal process is simple in almost all cases.

Simple, that is, until something goes wrong.

Things that can go wrong

The majority of issues with domain names stem from DNS related problems, caused because of a technical or configuration problem. For those, see our comprehensive guide to DNS and nameservers.

The following are issues that can occur with domain registration or transfers.

Domain Verification taking a site offline (ClientHold)

A failure to verify domain ownership will take a a website offline. Legislation was brought in by various countries that insisted registrars verified their users. This is done usually by an email sent to the domain name contacts. If this email is missed or ignored, if the message goes to spam, or if an email address is misspelt- then the domain will go offline after the verification period.

This sounds a simple reason, but often communication is weak: sometimes the only way to see for certain is to perform a whois lookup on the domain name.

Fixing this is relatively easy - either ask your provider to resend the verification email, or change the email address on file in order to trigger a new verification email.

The UK registry, Nominet, have their own processes where they will flag a domain as requiring further verification.

Domain Dropped

When a domain is approaching expiry, numerous notices are sent to the domain registrant contact. Usually this is at regular periods leading up to expiry: 90 days, 60 days, 30 days, 7 days etc. Post expiry, a domain will go offline somewhere between 0 and 60 days (depending on the registry / TLD). Your provider has a legal duty to notify you of an upcoming renewal.

Renewal can still be managed once a domain has expired, albeit there is occasionally a restoration fee levied. At some point, usually between 60 and 90 days after expiry, the domain will drop and go offline, pending deletion. Shortly after, it will be available for registration again on the open market.

Domain dropcatchers watch for these expiring domains, and attempt to snap them up when they become available. Equally some registrars will take your domain as it expires, and put them up for auction.

If you lose a domain as it has dropped, then legally there is not much you can do here - you may be able to ask a favour from your registrar, but if you have let the domain expire and not noticed as it went offline, this is a largely automatic process.

Domain captured by squatters

If a domain drops and is picked up by a dropcatcher, it could be sat on by a company with a holding page, essentially saying the domain is for sale. They will then try and charge you a price to retrieve the domain.

These squatters make money either by

  • registering domains that are accidentally dropped in order to sell them back
  • registering domains that have been intentionally dropped, and selling them to other parties
  • registering domains that have been intentionally dropped, and using them for SEO benefit

Given the nature of the squatter, they will likely not be willing to give the domain up for free. However, they are equally likely to be willing to sell the domain.

Supplier Uncontactable

If your registrar or reseller goes out of business, in theory you should be protected. Your domain name is in your name, not theirs, and the ownership data is protected in the whois.

However, this situation can be more complicated. Let’s say the reseller you use goes out of business and you cannot renew the domain name so it drops, or hasn't passed on the renewal to the registry; what position are you in then?

It is important to act quickly in this instance. Ask us for assistance.

Sudden Price Increases

Because a domain renews every year, your provider can increase the renewal price. As they are your agent, the domain is locked to them as a registrar.

The domain can be transferred to another provider, but the process is slightly complicated (see below). If you fear this is happening, you should move in advance: transfer fees are usually just a one year renewal price and include a free renewal.

Sometimes, a registry can increase the price, which would impact every registrar and reseller. Even if you transferred the domain, the price would increase. Notably one registry increased the prices of it’s domains about fifty times, justifying the increase by labelling the domain as premium. Unfortunately not much could be done in this instance apart from a goodwill gesture by the registry of a replacement domain.

Registration Restrictions

Domains can have complicated registration limits or procedures. French domains require residency in France and US domains require you to specify your ‘Nexus’. Bangladeshi domains require state approval.

Registry Shutting Down

This is exceptionally rare, but has been known to happen. CentralNic leased at least one of their TLDs from an individual (.gb.com). This went offline for 24 hours in 2011 due to a dispute, and then later was completely rescinded in 2017, taking offline every .gb.com domain.

There have been a large number of new TLDs created since 2016, and it is quite possible that a few of these will not be financially viable in the next few years.

Choosing a Domain

In theory you can choose any available domain you want - any TLD, and any word or combination of words before the TLD. We don't know if a TLD affects search engine rankings. Probably. Google’s algorithms are secret. It is is publicly stated that content and relevancy is far more important than the domain name.

Each will be accessible online in the same way, and each will have equal weight in search engines. However, it is clearly not the case that a customer will see sandras-gift-shop-1.ninja, in the way that they will perceive sandras.com. At the same time, sandrasgift-shop.com might be less desirable than sandrasgifts.shop. You need to find a domain that has the right balance for you.

Our advice is to only get a local TLD if you will deal locally. E.g. if you sell in London only you could get a .london domain, or a .de domain in Germany. If you are a global company or have global ambitions, and the .com/net are available or affordable, that in our eyes should be the preference.

Domains can be changed later and old domains can be redirected to the new domain. At fixed.net, we can help adjust your software configuration to run on a new domain and redirect traffic from the old one.

Domain Transfers

Domain transfers follow a regulated process. The aim is to ensure that no one can steal a domain name. With a few notable exception (e.g. UK domains), transfers are pulled from the new provider.

A detailed step by step transfer explanation can be found here . In brief:

  1. You should unlock the domain with the current provider, retrieve the authorisation code, ensure you are the public domain name contact, and remove privacy whois protection.
  2. Place an order with the new provider. You may have to pay for a one year renewal.
  3. Check your email for a confirmation link. Click it, then wait up to 7 days.

With a UK domain, all that is required is to:

  1. Place an order with the new provider. They will issue you with an IPSTAG. No renewal should be required.
  2. Give this IPSTAG to your old provider. The transfer should be instant. There should be no charge; if there is you can ask Nominet to change the IPSTAG for £10+VAT.

Transfer Issues

Common transfer issues can include the following:

  • The domain admin contact is not accessible.
  • Domain whois privacy is enabled and therefore obscuring the domain admin contact.
  • The verification email is going to spam.
  • The auth code is incorrect
  • The domain name is locked
  • The domain has only recently been registered or was transferred recently (60 days)
  • The domain is expired or pending delete.

Buying and Selling a Domain

With hundreds of millions of domains registered, and some sat on by domain squatters, it becomes increasingly frequent that you may want to buy an already registered domain from the current holder. The industry calls this the ‘aftermarket’. You could have got in touch with the current holder by doing a whois lookup, the web page may have had a splash page stating it was for sale, or you may have found the domain for sale on a listing website such as sedo.com.

Because the transfer process is designed explicitly so that person A cannot easily transfer a domain to person B in one step, buyers usually insist on an Escrow process. This means that purchase funds are deposited with a lawyer, who then releases them to the seller once the domain transfer has been completed. Most lawyers can do this, or a specialist company such as Escrow.com offers a service for this purpose.

Domain Sunrise / Launch

When new TLDs are launched by registries, they are usually phased out using a sunrise phase. This means that branded domains can be registered by those with trademarks. Following this, a landrush phase gives potential registrants the right to register names deemed important. Finally the domain is then released to general availability.

IDN Domains

The domain name system is built based on latin characters. To allow support of international characters such as Chinese and Arabic, International Domain Names were made backwards compatible with DNS. Essentially they are longer coded strings which a browser can interpret as foreign symbols.

Categories:DomainsDNS