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The Three R's of Domain Names

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If you've ever written into our support channels we may have talked to you about interacting with a registry or talked about the registrant details in your whois record. We might have even talked about an upstream registrar. Even if you haven't heard us use these terms, you've likely interacted with, or even served as one of, these entities. Let's take a look at the fundamental pieces involved in registering domains. These three R's aren't reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic; they're registrant, registrar, and registry, and besides the similarities in names, they're very different groups.


The registrant is the person or entity seeking to register a domain for a certain period of time. A registrant will work with a registrar of their choice to register a domain. The registrant is the person or company that registers a domain name and enters contractual ownership agreement with the registrar. It is highly likely that if you are reading this post, you are a registrant yourself.


A registrar provides the ability to register domains to the general population. Registrars can provide the registration of several different top level domains (e.g. .com, .hot, .pizza, .shoes, .etc) by integrating with multiple registries. Generally speaking, the only way for a registrant to register and start using a domain name is by using the services of a domain name registrar.

Among registrars, there are two categories: ICANN accredited registrars and resellers. Accreditation is a process that is worthy of a whole blog post on its own, but we can talk a bit about the difference between the two now. Basically, an accredited registrar has met certain standards and follows specific registry rules about how domains can be managed and registered. Smaller domain registration providers are often actually resellers of domain registration through larger organizations that are accredited registrars. Accredited registrars will integrate directly with registries, while resellers of domains will integrate with the accredited registrar for which they resell domains.

DNSimple has been an ICANN accredited registrar since 2013, but is also a domain reseller.


A registry is the authority which manages the registration of all domains in a specific top level domain (TLD). Each registry is required to maintain a master database of domain names registered with it, set rules and policies for domains in the TLD, and sets prices for registration. It also maintains a zone file that describes the domain name space for which that particular registry is responsible. A single company may run multiple registries, but each registry is its own entity and manages only a single TLD. Except for a few exceptions, a registry only provides direct services to registrars. Organizations like Verisign, Hexonet, and Donuts are examples of companies that run registries.

Putting it all together

Now that we have some shared vocabulary, let's take a look at an example domain registration in which, Ada (our sample registrant) comes to DNSimple (our heroic registrar) to register (a spectacular domain name). At this point, Ada doesn't need to worry about the registry since DNSimple will take care of it for her.

Ada's first action will be to log into DNSimple and provide some information, specifically the domain name and her contact information. In our case, DNSimple provides the name servers to be used on the domain to be registered, but in some cases, this may be asked during the registration process from the registrant.

Since DNSimple is reselling the .pizza TLD, we contact our upstream registrar, enom, with the information Ada provided us plus whatever else they need for the registry. At this point, enom will submit a request to Donuts who runs the registry for .pizza. If the domain is available for registration, the .pizza registry will enter the information into their database so that other computers on the Internet can find the domain. At this point, the domain is registered for the term requested and can begin to be used.

As you can see, the process is fairly straightforward to understand, but as is always the case with multiple actors can become quite complicated when implemented. Fortunately, we're always trying to make the entire process of registering domains simpler, here at DNSimple. If there's something in particular you would like to know more about this process or a further simplification of our domain registration process you could think of let us know!

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Joseph Caudle

Teacher of people and computers. Fond of subtle distinctions.

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