Understanding the registry, registrar and registrant hierarchy

The domain industry is complex, technical and sometimes unforgiving. Part of what makes it unique is the multilevel channel involved in creating a domain from scratch to making it viewable on your browser. Unfortunately, the creation and distribution of domains are far from straightforward. They involve multiple parties, doing different things, in different ways, with different agendas. A change made by one party may profoundly impact the entire channel.

To help you better understand the landscape of the domain industry, here’s a quick snapshot of what it looks like: 

ICANN → Registry → Registrar → Reseller → Registrant


ICANN

It all starts with ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. This not-for-profit entity is comprised of individuals from law enforcement, intellectual property law, government, and private businesses. ICANN coordinates the management of all technical elements of the Internet’s naming system. They also impose rules and regulations that ultimately affect the whole channel.

Registry

A registry is an organization that creates and regulates domain extensions. Verisign, for example, is the registry operator for .COM domains. Others, like Radix own and operate popular new extensions like .WEBSITE and .TECH. Registries are the ones who create and enforce the requirements for these individual domain extensions.

Registrar

A registrar is an ICANN accredited organization (like us) that has the authority to issue domain licenses to registrants. Some supply domains directly to the public (retail), while others work with resellers (wholesale), who then facilitate sales to registrants.

Reseller

A reseller is a business that sells domains directly to registrants (end-users). Hover is a great example of a reseller. They focus on providing a straightforward experience for customers to purchase and manage domains. Other resellers place an emphasis on additional services, such as hosting and website building.

Registrant

Registrants are people or businesses that own and register domain names.

 

Still lost? Think of it this way…

The Government (ICANN) regulates the production, distribution, and quality of milk. Farmers (registries) need to raise cows to produce milk and supply it to distributors (registrars). The distributor then stocks the grocery stores (resellers) with milk, which is purchased and consumed by customers (registrants).

Why is all this important?

Now that you have the basic concept, you’re probably wondering “why should I care?”. Well, simply put, a working knowledge of how the channel functions will help you make better decisions, and plan strategically. It will also help you understand why we make the decisions we make as a registrar. We know we’re not earning gold stars when we send a last minute email outlining unwelcomed changes that may alter your business processes. We’re not fans of it either, but the reality is that some changes are beyond our control. When they happen, we do our best to inform you well in advance, while implementing solutions that minimize their impact and ensure you are well prepared.

For example, let’s say ICANN enforces a new domain expiration policy that changes how the expiring of domain names works. Maybe one consequence would be that when a domain expires, there is a short window where the public can bid for the expired domain. This change would trickle down to the channel, affecting each party. For registrars like us, adjustments to the expiration flow would need to be made to accommodate this change. For resellers, it would be important to make it explicit to customers that if they don’t renew in time, their beloved domain would be up for grabs to the highest bidder.

Changes in the channel can be advantageous or disruptive. Wherever you fall in the channel, it’s critical to evaluate decisions, consider who they will impact, and prepare for the unknown. Sure the industry is complex, technical and sometimes unforgiving, but if it wasn’t, where would be the fun in that?