Domain Names 101

What is a domain name?

Domain names are the friendly name you enter into your web browser or app when visiting a website or connecting to a server online. Think of typing "google.com", "parttimewebmaster.com", "example.com", or "sos.ca.gov". Wikipedia provides a very in depth definition of "Domain Name" if you are curious.


How to register a domain name?

Companies, called domain registrars, take your order and some money, and then you own the domain name. It's rather easy and quick. Companies actually accredited by ICAAN to sell domains are not nearly as common as companies that resell domain registration through one of these accredited registrars, so it's common to see varying prices and features.


Common registrars


Domain renewals

Typically domains are sold per year, with the ability for you to register for multiple years up front, or renew every anniversary. Depending on the TLD (.com, .net, .org, .info, .whatever), you may be not be able to register the domain for longer periods, or you may need to buy more years up front.


Domain transfers

Moving a domain to another registrar may not be as easy as changing hosts, but it is still possible. The process typically takes a few hours up to a few weeks, requires you to purchase a one year extension on the domain, and may not be possible if the domain was recently purchased, transfered, or had it's contact info changed.

  • The domain cannot be locked, or the transfer will fail
  • Ensure the domain has proper contact info that will reach you before starting the transfer
  • Don't start the transfer if the domain will expire in two weeks or less, instead renew the domain where it is, then wait 60 days to start the transfer. Bad things can happen when domains expire mid-transfer.
  • You will get multiple emails to approve the domain transfer. They may go into your spam box. You need to approve the transfer manually, and the option to do so may be hard to find or hidden.
  • You probably cannot renew or transfer a domain name if the 1 year extension will cause the prepaid time on the domain to exceed 10 years (5 for some TLDs)
  • You'll need to get the EPP code from your current domain registrar, then provide it to the new registrar as a part of the transfer order. If the code is wrong, the transfer will fail.

Stuff to know

  • Keep your contact info up to date.
  • Keep your domain in the locked status at all times, unless transfering to a new registrar.
  • Your registrar will verify your contact info once per year. If the info is wrong or you don't respond, the domain may stop working until you verify your contact info. This means your website, email, and everything else stops working... potentially for a few days.
  • Without WHOIS privacy, you will get email and paper mail from other companies trying to trick you into moving the registration to them, typically with hugely overpriced rates. Beware of scams.

WHOIS information and WHOIS privacy

The owners of a domain name are generally considered to be public informtion. Anyone can perform a WHOIS search to see the registered administrative, technical, and contact records for virtually any domain name. There are legitmate reasons why someone could need to contact you, so carefully consider the contact information you provide. The information must be accurate, and if you are not easily reachable, you may find the domain offline, expired, or hard to transfer to another domain registrar.

WHOIS privacy is an added service available at many domain registrars which uses another company as a proxy contact for your domain. Since virtually all of the information coming through your WHOIS record will be junk (or even scams), it's a good service to have. Just remember to disable the WHOIS protection service and verify that your contact info is up to date before transfering a domain to another registrar. Sadly, not all TLDs allow WHOIS privacy protection services.


Nameservers and DNS

Nameservers are typically provided by your web host and given to your domain registrar, so that any DNS queries for your domain are directed to your correct DNS servers.

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Life time nerd with 15 years experience in coding, web development, and web hosting. These days I run an automotive business, but still help people learn to manage their own websites.
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