A domain name is an identification string that defines a realm of administrative autonomy, authority or control within the Internet. Domain names are formed by the rules and procedures of the Domain Name System (DNS). Any name registered in the DNS is a domain name. Domain names are used in various networking contexts and for application-specific naming and addressing purposes. In general, a domain name represents an Internet Protocol (IP) resource, such as a personal computer used to access the Internet, a server computer hosting a website, or the website itself or any other service communicated via the Internet.
The domain name lifecycle refers to the various stages a domain name goes through, starting from when it is first registered to when it finally expires or is deleted. Understanding the domain name lifecycle is important for businesses and individuals looking to register and maintain a domain name for their online presence. This article provides an in-depth overview of the domain name lifecycle, explaining the key phases from initial registration to eventual expiry.
Domain Name Registration
Domain name registration is the first stage of the domain lifecycle. Registration involves reserving a domain name for a specific period of time. The party that registers the domain name is considered the domain name registrant or domain name holder. Registration also gives the registrant the right to use the domain name address in associate records in the DNS.
The domain name registration process typically involves three main parties – the registrant, the registrar and the registry. The registrant is the individual or organization that wishes to register the domain name. The registrar is the company that provides the interface and support for the registrant to register and manage the domain name. The registry is the organization that maintains and updates the authoritative DNS records for the top-level domain associated with the domain name.
To register a domain name, the registrant first checks to see if the desired domain name is available by searching domain name registries or using a “whois” service. If available, the registrant selects and pays an ICANN-accredited registrar to process the domain registration. The registrar communicates with the appropriate domain name registry to reserve the name on behalf of the registrant. The registry adds the domain details to the central DNS registry so that Internet queries for the domain name are properly resolved.
Common information supplied when registering a domain name includes:
- Domain name
- Registrant contact details (name, address etc.)
- Administrative contact details
- Technical contact details
- Billing contact details
- Name servers
- DNSSEC records if enabled
The registrar will typically provide the registrant with credentials to manage DNS settings and renewal information for the domain via a web-based domain management dashboard. Once registration is complete, the registrant can utilize the domain name for email, websites and other services.
Domain Registration Periods
A domain name registration is associated with a registration or renewal period which is typically 1-10 years. The registration fee paid covers this initial registration period. The duration depends on the top-level domain and policies of the registrar. For example, .com and .net domain names can be registered for 1-10 years. Top-level country code domains like .us or .uk usually have registration periods of 1-3 years.
Longer registration periods are generally preferred since they offer greater stability and lower long-term cost to maintain the domain name. However, shorter registration periods allow one to easily change registrars or get out of an undesirable domain name. Selection of registration period length involves balancing cost savings, retention goals and flexibility.
Registrars will often provide notice when the domain registration is close to expiration so the registrant can renew and extend the registration period. This renewal notice period is usually 1-3 months prior to expiration.
Managing Domain Names
After registration, the registrant or administrative contacts can login to the registrar’s domain management control panel to manage various domain settings and DNS configuration details. Typical domain management functions include:
- Updating registrant contact information
- Changing domain name servers
- Modifying DNS records (A records, MX records, CNAMEs etc.)
- Enabling domain privacy/proxy services
- Renewing the domain registration
- Transferring the domain to a new registrar
- Locking/unlocking the domain transfer functionality
- Resetting authorization codes
Good domain management practices include keeping registrant contact information up-to-date, setting appropriate domain privacy levels and implementing DNSSEC authentication. Creating backup copies of critical DNS zone files is also recommended to prevent loss of DNS data.
A domain name transfer involves moving a domain name from one registrar to another. Reasons for transferring a domain include getting better prices, improved customer service or more advanced domain management tools.
The domain transfer process is facilitated by the registry and involves these steps:
- The registrant requests the domain transfer unlock at the current registrar. This disables transfer locks and generates an authorization code.
- The registrant requests the new registrar to initiate the domain transfer using the authorization code.
- The registry emails a transfer confirmation notice to all contacts.
- If no one objects to the transfer within 5-7 days, the registry updates the sponsorship details to the new registrar.
- The gaining registrar enables DNS services and the domain now points to the new registrar’s name servers.
Registrants must ensure all information is up-to-date before a transfer. The transfer locks ensure security by limiting transfers without explicit authorization. After a transfer, the domain expiration date and registration period remain unchanged.
To maintain uninterrupted use of a domain name, registrants need to renew the domain name before the current registration period expires. Renewal extends the validity and usage rights to the domain name for another registration term.
The renewal process is usually initiated by the registrar sending renewal notifications starting 60-90 days before expiration. To renew, registrants can login to their registrar account and purchase an additional registration term. Auto-renewal options may also be available to automate the renewal process through the registrar.
If a domain expires without renewal, the domain enters a grace period where all services are disabled. After the grace period lapses, the domain registry removes the domain name from the DNS, deletes the associated records and makes the name available for anyone else to register. Failing to renew a domain in time can thus lead to loss of the name, interruption in services and associated costs to re-establish services under a new domain.
If a domain name expires without being renewed on time, the name enters a 30-day redemption or hold period. All services like website hosting and email will be disabled during this period. This grace period allows the previous registrant to still renew the domain name and retain ownership.
Redeeming an expired domain involves paying a redemption fee in addition to the renewal cost to activate and extend registration. If the previous owner renews within this period, services are restored and the domain is extended without changing ownership.
However, if the prior registrant does not redeem the domain before the redemption period expires, the domain name will be deleted and released to the public for new registration. The previous registrant will lose all rights to use the domain name. Therefore, redeeming your domain during this period is your last chance to reclaim an expired domain.
If an expired domain name is not renewed or redeemed, the domain enters deleted status. In this state, all records of the previous domain registration are removed from the domain registry and the name becomes available for anyone else to register.
Domain names are typically in deleted status for around 30-40 days before being released for new registration. However, some registries may allow explicit redemption of deleted domains for an additional fee even during this period.
Once the deleted domain is released from all restrictions, the registry will allow a new registrant to register that domain name. The new owner will have full rights to use the domain name as per standard registration terms and conditions. In essence, the domain lifecycle starts over again from the beginning with the new registrant.
Preventing Expired Registrations
Here are some tips to avoid having your domain name unintentionally expire and lapse into deletion:
- Use automatic renewals offered by your registrar to renew domains without manual intervention.
- Set calendar reminders for your domain expiration dates so you get advance notice.
- Keep payment information up-to-date so renewals can be processed.
- Use registrar lock services to protect domains from unintended deletion.
- Maintain accurate contact information in case the registrar needs to communicate.
- Monitor expiring domains by checking registrar accounts frequently.
- Set up expiration notifications to get emails before domains lapse.
- Redeem expired domains promptly within the redemption period if you miss a renewal.
Understanding the domain lifecycle enables you to proactively manage your online presence. Key stages include initial domain registration, ongoing management, transfers, renewals, redemptions and eventual expiry. Having clear insight into this lifecycle allows you to select optimal registration periods, ensure domains do not unintentionally expire, redeem lapsed domains and overall reduce the risk of losing access to your domains. By leveraging domain lifecycle best practices, you can stay in control of your domain names and maintain uninterrupted online business operations.