This post originally appeared on the Idealware Blog in January of 2010.
Domain Name Management: not a very sexy topic. This will be a rare post for me that won’t mention popular search engines, the latest “superphone“, content management or rumored tablets. But I hope I can provide a good glossary on a geeky subject that anyone with a web site sporting their organization’s name has to deal with.
You have a web site and you have a domain, and as long as the web site is up and running, everything is fine. But what happens if your domain is hijacked? What if you need to make changes to your domain registration, or register a new one, and your registrar is simply disinterested? What if they go out of business? Your domain name is a valuable property, and you should keep it in pro-active and trustworthy hands.
How Domain Registration Works
Domain registrars provide the service of keeping your domain name mapped with current information so that it can be found on the web. Domain names are meaningful aliases for numeric IP addresses, and aren’t technically required in order to host a web site. But, the internet would be hard to navigate if we could only find things by their numeric addresses.
The primary thing that a registrar does is to keep your contact (whois) data maintained; point your domain to the appropriate name servers; and allow you to move your domain to another registrar if you choose to.
In addition to domain registration, most registrars offer additional services, such as:
DNS Management (address mapping) for subdomains (which allows you to host your main domain on one server, but, perhaps, an online store called “store.yourdomain.com” on another server),Aliasing of Addresses (so that both http://yourdomain.com and http://www.yourdomain.com go to the same place),Backup Mail Handling, so, should your primary mail server go down, messages sent to you will be stored until they come back around;Web Forwarding, so you can, say, register yourdomain.org, yourdomain,.com and yourdomain.net, but forward all visitors to the .com and .net sites to your website at yourdomain.org.
SSL (Secure Socket Layer) Certificates, to encrypt sensitive data, like online donation forms.
Things to Look For in a New Registrar
- Are they accredited? ICANN, the organization that oversees domain management , accredits registrars. If they aren’t on ICANN’s list, they aren’t trustworthy.
- Do they add a year to the existing expiration date, or charge you for a full year as of engagement? They should do the former.
- Do they offer automated access to all functions (via web forms), including locking/unlocking domains, retrieval of authorization (EPP) codes, and modification of all whois records? (Some registrars prefer to list themselves as the technical contact. It should be up to you whether they can have an official name on your domain, not them).
- Do they list a telephone number, and is it promptly answered during business hours?
- Do they respond promptly to emails and support requests? The ability to communicate with your registrar is rarely needed, but, when it is, it’s critical – you don’t want them out of the loop if your domain is subject to an attempted hijack.
- Do they offer the ability to manage DNS for mail servers and subdomains? While this is an added feature, it’s common enough to be worth expecting.
- Do they have any additional services (examples above)? While these supplemental services are far from critical, they are convenient. More to the point, a company that is engaging in a robust suite of services is more likely to be focused on their business. The truth is that anyone can be a domain registrar, if they make the proper investment, but whether it’s a going concern or a neglected piece of extra income for them is a question you’ll want to ask.
Next week: Safely transferring domains and a word on web hosting completes the topic.