How to Register a Domain Name
Everyone is familiar with internet domains — unique labels like 800.com that allow us to navigate the internet using easy-to-remember names instead of randomly generated IP addresses.
But how does someone actually get their own domain name? Are they all gone at this point? Can you only buy a domain from someone else, like with a house or stock?
The good news is that registering a domain name for yourself or your business isn’t as mysterious as it might seem. In this article, we’ll go over how to register a domain name as well as how domain ownership works.
Who is Involved in Domain Name Registration?
A registrant is a person or company that registers the domain name. Keep in mind that only the registrant has the right to use, sell, or renew the domain. If you’re registering a domain for your business, be sure that the registrant is the business rather than an employee. Otherwise, if your employee leaves the company later, they may take with them the exclusive right to use your domain.
If you already know something about the structure of the internet, then you may have heard of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN is the organization in charge of assigning, recording, and matching the IP addresses and domain names used across the internet.
As you might expect, it’s not easy to manage billions of domains and IP addresses, so ICANN delegates and contracts many functions to organizations known as registries.
ICANN works with special organizations to manage domain names for generic top-level domains (gTLDs). These are domains that can be used by anyone, such as for .com, .net, and .org domains.
The main role of a domain registry is to keep a database of all the registered domains for a specific gTLD, including the name of the registrant and how long the registrant has the right to use the domain.
Domain registrars are companies that work directly with registrants to lease domain names. When you register a domain name, you’ll be paying the registrar. In turn, the register will submit a record of the registration to the appropriate domain registry. Registrars also handle customer service issues when problems or conflicts arise.
How Do You Register a Domain Name?
Registering a domain name is easier than most people realize. All you need to do is contact a reputable domain registrar (ICANN maintains a list of accredited domain registrars). While domain registrars don’t need to be accredited, ICANN accreditation ensures that the registrar meets a minimum level of competence and customer service standards.
The next step is to link, or “point,” your domain to your website. This lets people who type in your domain name to be redirected to the computer or server that has all your website content. Your domain registrar and web hosting service can support you in setting this up.
That’s it! Your domain name is now active, and you can advertise your domain name and use it to start building your brand.
Once you’ve registered your domain, make sure that your contact information is up to date, including the registrant’s name and name. Otherwise, you may find yourself locked out of your own account when it’s time to renew or make changes.
Who Owns Your Domain Name?
Unfortunately, there’s no straightforward answer to this question. Here’s how domain name ownership works in a nutshell:
- If a domain name is unregistered or doesn’t exist yet, no one owns it. After all, it’s impossible to own something that hasn’t been created.
- Registered domain names are leased — not owned — by individuals or companies. When someone registers a domain name, the domain name registration records the name of the registrant.
- Registrants have the exclusive right to use the domain for the duration of the lease. Registrants can keep these rights indefinitely as long as they renew the domain lease.
- If a registrant doesn’t renew a domain lease, then the domain registry removes the record from its database, and the domain is available to the next person who wants to register the domain.
In one sense, domains are public property controlled by ICANN and its network of registries and registrars. When you register a domain name, you own the right to exclusively use that domain for a certain period of time.
In fact, domain name ownership works a lot like phone numbers. Once you get your first phone number, it’s yours to use and transfer as long as you keep paying for service. When you cancel your phone service, your phone number immediately becomes available for others to use.
How Long Does a Domain Lease Last?
According to ICANN policy, domain leases can last for a maximum of 10 years. However, leases can be renewed indefinitely. In other words, once you secure your domain name through a lease, you can effectively maintain control of the domain for life — or for as long as you remember to renew your lease.
Remember that only you, the domain leaseholder, can renew the lease. While most domain registrars will remind you when it’s time to renew, they won’t renew your domain lease for you unless you tell them to do so and pay the required fees.
What Happens When You Don’t Renew Your Domain Lease?
If you don’t renew your domain lease, then your registrar will inform the domain registry that the domain is no longer reserved. In effect, your domain name becomes available for anyone else to use. This is why it’s so important to stay on top of renewing your domain if you’re interested in keeping your domain name for the long term.
Long-Term and Lifetime Domain Leases
While most major reputable domain registrars offer 10-year domain leases at the most, a few registrars advertise lease periods for much longer — sometimes for up to 100 years.
How is this possible if ICANN only allows for ten-year leases? The answer is simple: when you pay a single fee for a lifetime lease, your registrar will lease the domain name for ten years at a time. When the lease expires, the registrar will automatically renew the lease for an additional ten years for the duration of the lease.
Most companies offering lifetime leases are legitimate businesses and will act in good faith to honor their agreement to keep renewing your domain lease. However, there are a few potential dangers in lifetime leases. First, if the registrar goes out of business, you’ll probably lose the value of your lease payment. Second, if the registrar does forget to renew your lease, there’s very little you can do if someone else leases the domain. While you may be able to get some money back from your registrar, only the new leaseholder for your domain would have the right to transfer it back to you.
In short, lifetime leases might seem like they solve a lot of problems when it comes to domain registration, but they rarely offer the high level of protection that’s advertised.
Every Business Should Register a Domain
While the domain name system (DNS) can seem complex and hard to navigate, there’s good news. By working with a single organization — a domain registrar — registering a domain is a straightforward process. Once you set up a domain lease, the registrar handles the rest, and you can focus on what’s really important to your business: using a domain name to build a brand.