What is a domain registrar?

Domain registrars are companies that enable domain names to be registered and leased on a large scale. They act as intermediaries between domain registries, which manage top-level domains such as .com, .org, or .net, and end users who are looking for a domain. Anyone wishing to reserve and lease domain names from a domain registry therefore contacts a domain registrar.

A distinctive domain name, along with attractive web design, is the key to success. Domain names are alphanumeric pseudonyms like google.com for numeric IP addresses like 192.168.1.1, so instead of IP addresses, users search directly for domain names. To reserve a domain, you need the help of a domain registrar, which is a company that handles domain registration and registration with domain registries.

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What is the difference between a domain registrar and a domain registry?

There are several levels to registering, organizing, and coordinating domain names. At the top is ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), which is responsible for monitoring and managing top-level domains and domain types such as .com, .org, and .net via IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority).

ICANN does not assign domains to end users, but rather assigns the right to use top-level domain extensions to domain registries or Network Information Centers (NIC). Domain registries thus manage the commercial allocation of domains to domain registrars. In addition, they keep records of which domains belong to which end users and organizations. If an end user wishes to reserve or lease a particular domain, this is done via a licensed domain registrar. The registrar, in turn, informs the associated domain registry about the reservation.

In the table below, you can find all the differences between a domain registrar and a domain registry:

Domain registrar

Domain registry

Accredited organization responsible for commercial marketing of domain names to end users on behalf of domain registries

Central body for registration and administration of TLD domains in the DNS

Acts as a commercial intermediary between registry and domain buyers

Delegates commercial allocation and usage rights for TLD domains to registrars (no direct contact with end users)

Responsible for the billing for sold domains and may provide additional support to end users

Can operate registrar as a subsidiary, but is not responsible for commercial, competitive allocation of domains

Acts as a contractual partner for end users and can be a subsidiary of a registry

Responsible for accounting, organization, and allocation of bought or still available domains as well as WHOIS server

Note

Although it is often referred to as buying a domain, it is more correct to see it as leasing or renting. When you register a domain, the registry transfers ownership to you as long as you pay a monthly or annual fee for maintenance, administration, and additional services. Please refer to our article “how to buy a domain”.

How do you become a domain registrar?

If you wish to become a domain registrar, you must first apply for accreditation with ICANN. This process consists of the following steps:

  1. Completing and submitting ICANN’s accreditation form
  2. ICANN verifies your information (this includes financials and IT infrastructure/scalability/DNS configuration)
  3. Signing/submitting Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA)
  4. Signing/submitting Registrar Data Escrow (RDE) Agreement (via ICANN Registrar Data Escrow Agent)
  5. Paying the accreditation fee
  6. Confirmation of accreditation

Once the accreditation process has been completed, you will be officially listed by ICANN as an accredited domain registrar. Now you can sell domain names to registrants through the appropriate domain registries.

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What are the signs of a good domain registrar?

Pay attention to the following points when checking the reliability of your domain name registrar:

  • Price: The costs for creating a website should not be underestimated. In addition to hosting and design, this also includes domain fees. Many good registrars therefore use tiered pricing models with a low starting price. Therefore, it makes sense to watch out for significantly overpriced domain fees. Average prices for domain registration are 15 to 24 dollars for .org and .com domains. Please refer to our article “what does a domain cost”.
  • Free WHOIS protection: Domain users, i.e. domain registrants, must store their contact data in the WHOIS database in accordance with ICANN. This includes name, address, telephone, and email. However, to protect the privacy of registrants, good registrars should offer free WHOIS protection, where your data is replaced by registrar data.
  • Flexible registration period: The length of time a user wants the domain for can vary greatly. This ranges from a few weeks to many years. Registrars should therefore offer flexible registration periods of a few months, a year, or several years. This way, users can find the right offer without having to register a domain for longer or shorter than necessary.
  • Automated renewals/reminders: For domains that are owned by registrants for two or more years, registrars should allow for automated renewals of the contract period. Additional reminders help alert users that the contract is about to renew so they can cancel it if they don’t want to continue.
  • Large selection of TLDs: The standard domain endings for top-level domains include .org and .com. However, since there are many other endings such as .info or .net, a registrar should offer a wide selection of TLD endings.
  • Restricted domains: Domains such as .biz for “business” are among the restricted domains and are only issued under certain conditions (in the case of .biz, for example, only businesses and companies may register). If possible, registrars should also offer these domains.
  • Other products and services: Services and products from a single source are the most convenient solution for end users. For this reason, registrars should offer all-in-one solutions or combination packages that include hosting, SSL encryption, website creation, or the possibility of multiple domain registration in addition to domain registration.

Beware of domain registrars with the following characteristics

To recognize questionable domain registrars at first glance, look out for the following aspects that indicate poor services:

  • Non-transparent pricing: Costs that are presented in a non-transparent and ambiguous manner on the website indicate untrustworthy providers. Pay attention to the fine print, where you may notice possible disadvantages when booking services.
  • Poor customer service: Customer support should be an integral part of a good domain name registrar. If there is no indication of customer service on the website or if there is poor support for when questions crop up, look for another registrar.
  • Cluttered user interface: A user interface that is complicated and confusing does not instill much confidence and may be representative of a registrar’s quality. So look for intuitive, appealing, and self-explanatory user interfaces.
  • Unwanted add-ons: Another indication of questionable registrars are add-ons and additional services such as hosting that are automatically added when the contract is signed and increase the price. Before signing a contract, make sure that all included services are clearly listed.

The best domain name registrar options

There are many domain registrars out there. We give you a handy overview to help you decide which registrar is best for you. Our domain registration tips and our domain provider comparison will help you even more when registering a domain.

IONOS

IONOS offers more than 600 top-level domains, flexible contract duration between 12 and 24 months, favorable entry-level prices, and uncomplicated domain registration for just $1 for the first year. You’ll also receive many extras such as hosting, website creation, SEO optimization, email inboxes, the highest data protection, and website builders.

Google Domains

Google Domains supports 300 domain extensions, including the most important top-level domains. The registration period is one year and renews automatically. Included services are WHOIS data protection, Google name servers, email forwarding, Google support, and domain/subdomain forwarding. Hosting and Google Workspace can also be integrated as add-ons.

Tucows Domains Inc.

Tucows Inc. is the second-largest domain registrar worldwide and has been ICANN-accredited since 1999. The domain registrar doesn’t actually sell domains directly, but they can be purchased from one of its affiliated domain partners. If your domain is registered with Tucows Inc. you benefit from WHOIS domain protection, although it’s possible to opt out if you prefer.