ICANN vs. Verisign, what’s the difference?

When it comes to the management and administration of the internet, there are many different parties involved, each of which are responsible for carrying out various tasks. Two organizations that are especially relevant for internet users in the U.S. are ICANN and Verisign. We’ll explain what they do and what differences there are between the two.

What is ICANN and what does the organization do?

ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is a Los Angeles-based non-profit organization that is responsible for the allocation and maintenance of internet addresses. The organization was initially developed under the name IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority. While IANA still exists, it is now one of many departments that make up ICANN.

In order to understand the difference between Verisign and ICANN, it’s important to first look at what ICANN does. ICANN’s main function is managing top-level domains (TLDs) and the domain name system. The organization’s scope of influence is vast as it is responsible for coordinating all existing web addresses. To this end, the organization ensures that only one version of each domain exists and that domains are clearly identifiable and can be accessed via a web browser. The organization, however, does not actively authorize web addresses.

Domain name management

Officially, ICANN is responsible for managing all TLDS; but their scope of influence varies depending on the TLD. As a result, ICANN has more control over some TLDs than others. ICANN primarily coordinates the allocation of unsponsored generic top-level domains (gTLDs), which include well-known domain extensions such as .com, .net and .org. It is also responsible for managing new generic TLDs like .web or .shop. Ultimately, ICANN is tasked with the accreditation of these domain extensions as well as establishing the allocation criteria.


The influence that ICANN has on country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) like .us or .ca is significantly lower. Even though the non-profit organization ensures that every registered ccTLD is connected to the internet, ccTLD registries determine the majority of the requirements for their respective country domains.

DNS operation

The DNS is a cornerstone of the internet. It translates web addresses, like www.ionos.com, into IP address that computers can understand. The domain name system is structured in a hierarchical manner and comprises numerous interconnected DNS servers. At the top are the DNS root servers, which serve as the starting point for searches through the DNS hierarchy.

Across the globe, there are hundreds of root servers, which can only be accessed via 13 IP addresses. While all of these addresses are managed by ICANN, they are operated by different organizations (universities, companies and government entities). These organizations typically take on all responsibilities related to operating the servers, which include covering the costs of the servers, maintaining the hardware and software, and selecting server locations.

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Domain name registration through ICANN partners

Authorized ICANN partners, which are commonly referred to as domain name registries (often simply as registries) or NICs (network information centers), handle domain registrations. Each top-level domain (TLD) is managed by a single registry. For example, the Public Interest Registry oversees the top-level domain .org. It’s important to note that a single registry can manage multiple TLDs. Verisign, for instance, is responsible for TLDS like .com, .net and .tv.

Registry operators that have been authorized by ICANN manage both the Whois server and some of the nameservers for the TLDs that they are responsible for. While a Whois lookup service provides information about domain availability and domain owners, nameservers maintain records for all domain names associated with a TLD, including their corresponding IP addresses. By maintaining these records, nameservers ensure that domains can be accessed.


Typically, registries don’t take on the actual registration process. In most cases, customers who are interested in acquiring a certain address need to do so through a domain registrar. There are, however, a few registries that offer this service and communicate directly with customers who want to register a domain.

What is Verisign?

Verisign is a global provider of domain name registry and internet infrastructure services. Headquartered in Reston, Virginia, Verisign is responsible for managing some of the world’s most recognized domain names. In addition to being the authoritative registry of top-level domains like .com, .net, .edu and .gov, the company also operates 2 of the 13 internet root servers.

The company, which was established in 1995, also offers domain registry services for internationalized domain names including fully localized domain names in Japanese, Korean and Hebrew. Verisign works together with around 2,000 ICANN-accredited registrars and provides a Whois lookup service for the different top-level domains that they manage. To secure an internet address with any of its TLDs, customers can apply to either a registrar or directly to an official website of their chosen domain.

What is the registration process for domains from Verisign?

When registering a web address that contains a TLD offered by Verisign, the registration process may vary depending on which domain registrar you decide to use. Generally though, the steps are as follows:

  1. After checking the availability of a domain with a domain checker, enter the domain you want in the form provided by the registrar. You’ll also need to provide some information about yourself, which is passed on to Verisign as part of the domain registration.
  2. The domain name you have selected is then entered into Verisign’s database. The personal information you provided is used to identify you as the domain owner. The domain name is then assigned a corresponding IP address.
  3. After the registration request has gone through, information about your web address is passed on to ICANN. ICANN manages the domain name system (DNS), which, when domains are entered into a browser, locates hosts and accesses the corresponding website. Once ICANN enters the domain you have chosen into the DNS, it will be activated. Upon activation, the domain can be used anywhere in the world.

The illustration below should help to give you a better idea of how this works:

Illustration of the domain registration process
Registrars, registries and ICANN are responsible for different aspects of the domain registration process.

ICANN vs. Verisign

ICANN is responsible for almost everything related to domain operation. Its primary task is to ensure that every domain that exists resolves to a valid IP address. This is only possible if the DNS is functioning properly, and each domain name only occurs once worldwide. In order to ensure that these two things happen, ICANN has delegated the necessary steps for these tasks to numerous other organizations. One of their partners is Verisign, which manages multiple domains including .com, .net and .gov.

ICANN and Verisign have very different roles when it comes to operating and managing domains. ICANN primarily establishes rules, delegates tasks and assumes ultimate responsibility for the successful functioning of domains worldwide. On the other hand, Verisign offers domain registry and internet infrastructure services. The table below provides a quick comparison of Versign and ICANN.

ICANN Verisign
Type of organization Non-profit Corporation
Primary responsibilities Management of TLDs (especially gTLDs) and DNS; ensuring that all domain addresses can always be reached Management of multiple domain names including .com, .net, .gov; provides internet infrastructure services; communicates with domain registrars and forwards the data to ICANN
Headquarters Los Angeles, CA Reston, Virginia
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