The domain registration process

Registering a domain is an essential part of establishing an online presence. But how exactly do you register a domain? This article explores the domain registration process, providing an insight into all the actors who are involved, as well as a summary of what happens in the background once you have selected your domain name.

How it works

Step 1: The registrant will choose a domain and check that it is available to register.

For most ccTLDs, registrants (individuals who want to register a domain name) can go to the registry or a registrar website and do a search to check the availability of their chosen domain name before registering it. 

domain browserMost registries and registries have a search tool on their websites to help users find available domain names to register. On the registry website, this search tool will often then point to a list of the registry’s trusted registrars, through which the registrant has to go through to register the domain.

In some countries it is possible to register domain names with characters from different scripts such as Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, or Latin alphabet characters with diacritics, such as é or ç. These are called Internationalised Domain Names (IDNs). For more information on these domains, see our dedicated page here.

Step 2: The registrant will then need to choose a registrar to register the domain.

A registrar is a company that sells domain names (often offering multiple different TLDs), in addition to the other main services it provides, such as web hosting, website building/design or email. Registrars have a contract with registries, who give them the authorisation to sell their domain names, as long as they fulfil the terms of their contract.

Alternatively, the registrant can buy the domain from a reseller, is a third-party company or individual that is authorised by a domain registrar to sell domain names to end-users. In some cases, a reseller may act as an intermediary between the registrant and the registrar, handling the registration process on behalf of the registrant. It is worth noting that while a reseller may facilitate the domain registration process, the ultimate responsibility for the domain and its management remains with the registrant. If any issues arise with the domain, the registrant will need to contact their registrar directly to resolve the issue, even if the reseller was involved in the initial registration.

At this stage, the registrant will be asked to provide contact information and pay for the registration. In many cases, registrants will also be asked to go through additional steps to prove their identity or to meet other technical or presence requirements. Each TLD’s specific obligations and requirements can be found on the registry website. To find a list of CENTR member registries with links to their websites, see our Members page.

registration link actors

Step 3: Potential checks

If the domain name is available, and the registrant passes the potential checks, the registrar will provide the registry with the details of the domain name, and the domain will be added to the registry’s zone file. A zone file is a text file that describes a DNS zone - it is essentially a list that contains the mappings between domain names and IP addresses and other resources.

The DNS servers will be updated, and the domain name will be mapped to an IP address. The registrant will be notified that their domain has been successfully registered and activated.

It is worth nothing that there is another zone file that is related to domain names, the DNS hoster or registrar zone file, which is maintained by the organisation that manages the domain name registration and DNS hosting for a particular domain name. This zone file contains domain content, including IP addresses, hostnames, mailserver addresses etc.).

Step 4: Domain renewal

After 1 year (or depending on the period they register the domain for) the registrant can renew their domain name. If they do, nothing changes. If they do not, the domain name is released, ready to be registered by anyone.


Domain names and intellectual property rights

In principle, any domain name is available for registration unless it contradicts national law. Registered trademarks are also protected online, i.e. also in the domain name sphere. Therefore, even where a trademark owner has not registered a related domain, the trademark is still protected. Some registries also restrict the registration of certain domains, such as 1 or 2 character domains (e.g. a.eu or hi.eu).

Whilst the fact of registering a domain name is not necessarily considered to infringe on intellectual property rights (IPR), at a later date, the registry can be made aware of an IPR infringement associated with the use of a domain name.

It is not for ccTLDs to decide whether a domain name infringes on IPR, however many European ccTLDs explicitly prohibit the use of domain names that may infringe on IPR in their Terms and Conditions. In addition to this, many registries have alternative resolution procedures (ADR) in place, which enable the resolution of potential IPR disputes regarding domain names through third-party experts without going to court.