What is a Registrar and why should you care?

This is the first blog post we’ll be doing in a series of posts aimed at answering questions which come up regularly with new clients.

The following description may take some technical license, but I’ve tried to simplify the concept into the most basic of terms (it can get confusing).

So here are the quick goods:

  • A registrar is an online service where you register your domain name.
  • Your registration is for a set period and you must renew it or you risk losing your domain name.
  • In general, you should always register your domain name yourself. It’s very hard to get control of a domain name if it’s not set up in your name.
  • While your domain registration may be done by the same company that does your hosting, the registration of your domain and the hosting of your site are two totally different and independent things.

So, if domain registration is separate from hosting, how does it all work?

  • Someone types www.yoursite.com into a web browser.
  • www.yoursite.com gets looked up in the .com registry (run by Verisign, who get paid a fee by your registrar).
  • The .com registry then points to your DNS (domain name system), which, in turn, points to the address of your hosting server.
  • www.yoursite.com then appears in your visitor’s browser.

To simplify even further:

  1. The registrar is where you sign up and pay to own the rights to your domain (i.e. www.yoursite.com).
  2. Because registration establishes the ownership of your domain, you should do it yourself (or have it in writing from anyone registering on your behalf that it is YOUR property).
  3. The registrar then serves as a “signpost,” pointing to the location of your host so visitors can see your site.

.com? .net? .ca? Which should I register?

.com is definitely the most recognized type of domain and the one someone will generally assume your web site is under. We generally recommend that companies find the absolute best .com name they can get and then, if they are concerned, also purchase .net,  .ca, .mobi and other domains where it makes sense. This prevents someone else from having a domain which could confuse others).

Which Registrar Should I Use?

First off, you’ll want to register with a large and well known registrar to ensure continuity of service and ease of domain transfer (should you ever want to transfer). In the past, we’ve had some huge headaches getting access to and/or transferring domains which were registered with smaller registrars.

Following our experiences with various registrars, we usually register with Godaddy.com as they make it very, very easy to transfer domains in or out or to point to whichever host you want to use. They also have great notifications systems and auto-renew features. One thing that you’ll want to note is that you can safely say “no” to all the extra stuff they try to sell you as you go through the purchase process.

Lastly: Store Your Registrar Logins and Passwords Somewhere Safe!

From experience, here’s what usually happens:

  • You’ll register your domain.
  • You’ll get an email from the registrar with your account name and login password.
  • A couple years later you’ll want to change your host or do something requiring a change at the registry.
  • At this point you’ll:
  1. Not even be able to remember the name of your registrar.
  2. Once you remember your registrar, not be able to find the email containing your login and password.
  3. Have a lot of fun with customer service convincing them you are the legitimate owner.
  4. Get access to your registry settings.

I say the above tongue in cheek, but having gone through the four steps for my own domains (as well as client domains) I can assure you it’s quite likely it will happen!

Did this post answer your questions about registrars? Please forward any feedback to us directly through our contact form!

BTW – thanks to Wikipedia for providing a great resource for my fact-checking while writing this.


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