A domain name is the alpha-numeric name that is used to access a website instead of an IP address. The first domain was registered in 1985. Back then, the World Wide Web did not exist in the form we know it today. Few people had Internet access, and even fewer were interested in acquiring a domain name. This is not the case today – millions of domains are registered every day.

Here is an example how different the registration periods can be. The eligibility requirements vary as well.

Hundreds of domain extensions exist these days and some of them have their own peculiarities when it comes to their registration or renewal. As the vast majority of domain extensions follow the same rules, such differences sometimes confuse people. There are different registration requirements, different registration periods, etc. The amount of information can be overwhelming for people that have never had a domain or people that want to register domains with different extensions. As a result, there are some misconceptions that many people believe are true. One of the most popular ones is that a given domain name will be their own forever once they buy it.

This is why, there is often a misunderstanding between registrar companies and their clients once a domain name expires, let alone if another person registers it again later. It is not uncommon for people to think that somebody stole their domain name. In this article, we will look at the typical life cycle of domain names and we will give you a few tips what you can do if you do lose your domain name.

Can you really own a domain name for life?

This is a straightforward question and the answer is – no. Domain names are a service, so they have a start date and an expiration date. When you make a payment, you become a “domain holder” once a registrar company delegates you the exclusive right to use a domain name. Legally speaking, there is no such thing as a domain “owner”, although this is a popular term people use.

In the general case, the minimum registration period for domain names is one year and the maximum period is ten years. Of course, there are some exceptions - .com.au domain names, for example, can be registered only for two years at a time, while .hk can be registered for no more than five years. Nonetheless, they all follow the same life cycle, which we will discuss below, and they all expire at some point.

Some companies use cheap marketing trips to find customers

From the point of view of a regular user, a domain name is just some letters. In reality, maintaining the Domain Name System involves quite a lot of – infrastructure. There are scaling, support, database management, and administrative expenses, etc. This is why, a one-time payment for a domain name is not a viable solution and the system would not exist if domains could be registered “for life”. The only way for such a system to be sustainable is to have an annual fee for the domain names that will cover the costs.

If you do not renew your domain name annually, it will expire and it will stop working until it is renewed. Worse, the domain name may be snatched by another party, and you may lose it. That's why it is very important that you always renew your domain name(s) before their expiration date.

We will look at what happens after the expiration further down. What matters here is that domains do expire and if they are not renewed for some time, they are released to the public. There is no such thing as a “domain for life” and if you come across such a statement, it is just a misleading marketing trick. It can be quite frustrating, but if you forget to renew your domain name and somebody else registers it later, it is not “your domain” that the other person has taken.

So, where exactly do your annual payments go?

The Domain Name System is managed by a number of organizations. Some of them adopt policies or maintain the domain databases and infrastructure; others facilitate the registration process and work with end clients. They all fund their operation primarily by charging an annual fee for each domain name.

The one on top is ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. It develops and enforces policies on domain names, IP addresses and the root domain server system. Below them, you will find a number of registries – organizations that maintain the domain databases, including registered names, owner information, etc. Each domain extension is managed by its own registry. This is the organization that sets the annual wholesale price of all names registered with that extension. Verisign, for example, is the registry for .com, .net and a number of other extensions.

Neither ICANN, nor registries sell domains directly or offer any type of customer support. This is why, there are also registrar companies that handle registrations and orders, and, of course, resellers that make it even easier to search for an available domain name and register it.

A simplified tree structure of the Domain name system key players

All companies and organizations above make it possible for any person around the world to register a domain name with their preferred extension so that they can take their place in the online world. The only sustainable business model for all of them to fund their operations is to offer domains as an annual service. If you are interested in more details how the price of domains is formed, you can check our article:

Stages in the domain life cycle

Now that we have established that domains should be renewed annually, let‘s have a look at the different stages of their life. Most, if not all extensions, go through these stages and only their duration may vary. It is important to keep an eye on your domain and make sure you do not let it expire, or you risk losing it.

  • Available. Any domain that does not exist in the public pool of registered domains falls in this category.
  • Registered. This is the time when the domain name is active. This period starts the moment the domain is registered or renewed and lasts the number of years you have ordered the domain name for. A 5-day period after the initial registration, when the domain can be deleted under some circumstances, such as a misspelled word exists with some registrars and is also included here.
  • Expired. The vast majority of domain extensions can be renewed at the regular price during the first 45 days after the domain expires. Some registrars limit this period to 30 days, which is still in accordance with the rules. This is the so-called renewal grace period. During this stage, the domain name exists, but its records cannot be modified and your website and emails will not work. It is not recommended that you rely on this period to renew your domain. Some registrars may resell expired domains, or require redemption fees to renew them, once they expire. Always renew your domain before it expires.

If you have a domain name registered with us, you can easily enable an automatic renewal through your Account panel. Do not risk losing your domain because you could not renew it on time.

  • Redemption grace period. If your domain is not renewed on time, it is considered that you are renouncing your ownership and the registrar company can take over the domain and use it or auction it. This is done rarely, though. Usually, you can still renew your domain during this period, but at a much higher price. The Redemption period usually lasts for 30 days.

    Some registry organizations that handle country-code extensions skip the renewal grace period and set a redemption status to the domains the day they expire. Sometimes they call this period Quarantine. If you own such a domain, you should be even more careful not to lose it as if you let it expire, it will be harder to get it back.

Do you know?

The moment a .de domain expires, the registry organization takes over it. If you want to renew it, you have to obtain a transfer code from the registry and you can transfer and renew the domain with any registrar company. The extension does not have a standard Redemption/Quarantine period, or at least not in the sense other TLDs have.

  • Pending Deletion. If the domain name is not renewed during the renewal grace period or the redemption period, it enters a 5-day deletion period. After that, it will be released back to the pool of available names and anybody will be able to register it. This is the point where your domain name stops being yours.

What if the domain is sold or another person registers it?

If you do not renew your domain name in time and either the registrar company sells it in accordance with the policies governing the particular domain extension, or the domain gets deleted and then registered by another person, you still have a few options to try to get it back. Here are some of them:

  • Contact the current owner. Some people buy or register domains with the idea to sell them at a higher price. If this is the case, and you are willing to pay the price, you can easily get your domain name back. If the person bought the domain for a project, they may not be willing to sell it, or may ask for a higher price. You can negotiate and point out what content the domain has opened through the years as an attempt to make the other person reconsider if they want this particular domain, or if they can go for another one.
  • Check domain marketplaces. Sometimes it may be difficult to contact the new domain owner directly, so you can check popular marketplaces to see if the domain is listed for sale on one of them.
  • Keep an eye on the domain. The current owner may lose interest in the domain or may forget to renew it, just like you did. This option is not viable for an important domain as you will have to wait for at least a year, but if you want a particular domain name back for a personal project, you can wait.

You will find more information in our article:

Wrap up

Keeping your domain name active is very important. If you let it expire, your website and emails will stop working. If you run a corporate website, for example, not renewing your domain for a longer period of time can even result in losing it, which can have a detrimental effect on your business.

This is why, you should be familiar with the typical lifecycle of domain names. Having at least a rough idea of what happens and when it happens will help you to keep your domain name in good standing. Of course, not all top-level extensions follow the exact same rules, so you should always make sure that you get familiar with the policies of the particular extension you use.

Should you lose your domain nonetheless, you should not despair as you will still have different options to recover it. While there is no guarantee this will happen, there is usually a good chance that you will be able to get your domain name back, albeit at a higher price. We have mentioned a few tips what you can do, but we hope you will never reach a point where you will really need them.

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I started working in the web hosting business in 2004 - 16 years ago. My other interests are mountain biking, fine woodworking and raising my kids to be good persons.

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