You browse websites every day by typing their domain name in the browser address bar (or by clicking it in your bookmarks). This is the alphanumeric name that you see instead of an IP address. If you own a domain, you are probably familiar with how it works, what DNS records are, how to create an email address with it, etc. Do you know who you should contact if you have a question or some issue comes up, though? It isn’t necessarily the company you bought the domain name from.

In this article, we will look at the main players in the domain name industry. These are the organizations that govern various aspects of the service – registration, management, disputes, etc. This information can help you to contact the right organization without wasting time if anything comes up with your domain name.

Short history

The domain name system has gone a long way to become what it is today. Some of the organizations that have taken part in its creation no longer exist; others are still around but have different responsibilities.

In 1958, the US Department of Defense created ARPA - the Advanced Research Projects Agency. ARPA's mission was to build a communication network that could withstand an attack. In 1965, two computers were connected in the first-ever network. Later, more computers were connected across the USA, laying the foundation of what we call the Internet.

As the network expanded, each computer received a unique number. Eventually, a new system that could accommodate all the new machines was needed. As a result, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) was created.

In the 1980s, it became clear that a different approach was required. In 1983, Paul Mockapetris, a computer scientist and an Internet pioneer, proposed what the Domain Name System should look like. In 1984, the first name server was created in the University of Wisconsin. It could convert text into numbers, marking the beginning of a new era.

The first TLDs were created in 1985, and the first domain name ( was registered. Only several more domain names were registered later that year. was the first .com domain name that was registered.

Back then, the National Science Foundation was still overseeing the domain name system. Things changed in 1993, when the private company Network Solutions, Inc. signed a contract with the US government to take over the domain registry. A curious fact is that until 1995, anybody could register a domain name for free, even with a simple phone call. In 1995, Network Solutions started charging $100 for a two-year registration. The company also started censoring domains it deemed inappropriate.

The high price and the controversies resulted in the creation of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in 1998. The organization took over the address and domain administration from Network solutions. The latter split its business operations into a registry and a domain registrar. In 2000, the company was acquired by VeriSign, who took over the .com, .net and .org TLDs. New registrars appeared on the rapidly expanding market after that.

Interested to learn more about the history of the web hosting industry? Find out more in our article.


Who they are

The International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is the main governing body of the domain name system. Formed in 1998, it is a not-for-profit, non-governmental corporation that oversees various aspects of the Internet. ICANN consists of a Board of Directors, three supporting organizations, and four advisory committees. The organizations develop policies on the management of IP addresses, generic and country-code TLDs, while the committees provide advice on these policies and include a larger community - governments and international treaty organizations, root server operators, security organizations and the “at large” community (average Internet users).

A map of the countries that have a representative in the Governmental Advisory Committee.

ICANN has many responsibilities. It adopts and enforces policies that have an impact on the entire domain industry. Among other things, it selects registry operators that manage each top-level extension, negotiates contracts with them to make sure the rights and responsibilities of each side are clearly defined, decides if and what TLDs should be introduced, and accredits domain registrars that sell domains to end customers.

How they affect you and/or your domain

  • They draft and adopt policies that affect all domain names.
  • They approve new TLDs, most of which you can use to register a new domain name.
  • They accredit registrars that you can use to register/transfer a domain name.
  • They can help with transferring a domain if a registrar goes out of business.
  • They do not sell domains, resolve issues, or interact with domain owners in any way.


Who they are

In simple terms, a registry organization maintains a particular top-level extension. This includes developing and enforcing extension-specific policies, and maintaining a database of all registered domain names under that particular extension along with information about their owners, etc. There are two types of registries depending on the type of extensions they manage:

  • gTLD registries. As the name suggests, these organizations maintain generic extensions. Some of them like VeriSign (.com, .net) and Afilias (.info) have been around for a while. Others are either newly established companies or subsidiaries of existing ones. They manage the so-called new gTLDs. Branded TLDs like .google are an example of new extensions managed by a subsidiary of a larger existing company. Generic TLDs like .xyz or .tech are examples of extensions that are governed by newly created organizations.
  • National registries. These organizations are de jure independent, but they are usually government-led organizations that maintain the original country-code extensions like .de, .uk or .mx and new ones like .london. Country-code registries abide by the rules set by ICANN regarding the administration of top-level domains, but they also adopt country-specific policies that may be unique for a particular extension. If you want to register a domain name for example, you will need a valid Australian business number.

Registry operators have certain responsibilities. They make it possible for domain names to be reached from all around the world as they maintain a “zone file” for every existing domain. A zone file contains information about the authoritative name servers for each domain – the “space” where all DNS records for the domain are stored.

Registries are for-profit companies that sign long-term contracts with ICANN to provide administration services for a given extension. In accordance with these contracts, they can increase their prices every now and then – usually every one or two years.

You can find all agreements between ICANN and registry operators here: gTLD Registry Agreements (

Most of the money you pay for your domain name goes to the registry operator. All other organizations up or down the ladder take only a fraction of the end price. If there is any price increase, it is usually because the registry operator has increased their prices. At the time of writing this article, VeriSign charges $9.59 for .com and $10.91 for .net domain names.

How they affect you and/or your domain

  • They oversee the administration of one or more extensions.
  • They set an annual fee for each domain registration. Most of the money you pay goes to them.
  • They maintain a record that you are the owner of your domain name.
  • They maintain a zone file that “tells” computers where your domain name is hosted.


Who they are

A registrar is a company that offers domain registrations. It facilitates the process of reserving the desired domain name with the respective registry, and its management afterwards – renewal, owner information updates, name server changes. Registrar companies are accredited by ICANN to accept orders, support domain owners if needed, verify the domain contact information, take part in handling disputes, etc.

Each registrar offers registrations with a number of domain extensions. Sometimes registrars may partner with each other, and one can register domains with a certain TLD through the other. No registrar offers all existing extensions, although the larger ones have an impressive portfolio.

GoDaddy is the largest registrar with over 71 million registered domains. Source: Domain Name Wire

The accreditation process for a company that wants to become a registrar and offer a particular TLD takes a few years and there are many requirements the company should meet before the application is approved. This includes proof of operational and technical capabilities, a business plan, and general information about the applicant. As of 2024, there are over 2400 accredited registrars.

Here are some of the options that registrars provide.

If you are interested, you can find a full list of all accredited registrars here: List of Accredited Registrars (

How they affect you and/or your domain

  • Offer registrations. You have bought your domain through a registrar (if not through a reseller).
  • Provide support to customers. If you have any issues, you can ask for support, unless the domain was purchased through a reseller.
  • Provide access to manage your domain name directly (contact information, name servers, lock, transfer code).
  • Validate the domain contact information annually in accordance with ICANN policies.
  • Charge you a registration/renewal fee higher than the fee the registry takes.


Who they are

If you own a domain name, it is very likely that you have registered it through a reseller. This is an individual or a company that sells domain names for profit by reselling the services of one or more registrars. A reseller is the middleman between registrars and end customers. Most registrar companies have a reseller program.

There are thousands of resellers out there. It is easier for a reseller to reach local customers or to offer phone/chat support. This is the reason why registrars often offer better prices to resellers than to direct customers. Many of the hosting providers on the market are domain resellers as well.

How they affect you and/or your domain

  • They can reach more people than registrars; it is very likely that you purchased your domain through a reseller.
  • If this is the case, you can renew it or manage it through them, not through the actual registrar.
  • Resellers offer first-line support. If there is any issue, they will communicate with the registrar on your behalf to resolve it.
  • They should provide an easy way to renew, lock/unlock or update your domain name.
  • They cannot hold your domain name “hostage” if you have other unpaid services such as a hosting plan.


Who they are

A registrant is the legal owner of a domain name. Regardless of who has placed the order for the registration/renewal, the registrant is the person who owns the domain and decides if it can be transferred between registrars. Many TLDs are transferred with a transfer code, which only the registrant can obtain. The registrant can be an individual or an entity. Registrants have certain rights and responsibilities, which you can find here: Registrants' Benefits and Responsibilities - ICANN

You should remember that if you pay another person to register a domain name for you, they should use your contact information. Otherwise, they will be the domain owner, not you.

How they affect you and/or your domain

  • The registrant is the legal owner of the domain name.
  • They are legally obliged to keep the domain contact information valid and up to date.
  • Registrants can list other people as administrative or billing contacts for their domains.
  • They must comply with the terms and conditions of the registrar.
Source: ICANN


The entities we have listed above are the main players in the domain name industry. They draft policies and define the way domains work and develop. There are other organizations that are indirectly related to domain names as well. You may come across some of them or you may even have to deal with them at some point, so we have listed some of them here.


The World Intellectual Property Organization resolves various disputes, including whether a given domain name has been registered in bad faith and includes a registered trademark. When a complaint is received, a panel of one or three judges is assigned. WIPO contacts all interested parties and requests information from all of them before they take a decision. All parties must comply with that decision.

Privacy service providers

Some TLDs allow the WHOIS information of a registered domain name to be hidden from the public. For that purpose, the contact details of a privacy protection provider are used. Often, registrars offer that service along with domain registrations, but privacy protection could be provided by a reseller or by a third-party provider as well.

We offer privacy protection for free with all gTLD names registered through us.

Proxy/Trustee service providers

Many country-code extensions have various eligibility requirements, and one of the most common ones is to be a citizen of the country the extension serves. Since many people that reside elsewhere want local domains, there are proxy providers that offer to register a domain on behalf of a client using their own local information. A few examples of such extensions are .fr, .de, and .jp. While using such a proxy service is generally safe, the legal owner of the domain will be the proxy provider, not the actual client. This could be a problem if some issue comes up and proof of ownership is required.

Web hosting providers / DNS hosts

While these types of companies are not related to domains directly, they are the ones that make it possible for a domain name to open your content. Whether you use the domain for a standard website or for a serverless app, you need a provider that manages its DNS records and provides disk space or a service. We mention such providers in this article as sometimes a domain name may be suspended solely because of the content it opens (malware, phishing content, copyright content, etc.). In this case, you may have to talk to your hosting provider and resolve some issue before you talk to the other organizations up the ladder.


The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority is a department of ICANN. It oversees the allocation of IP addresses and the management of the DNS root zone. It also maintains a database of all permissible characters for internationalized domain names and manages special purpose domains such as or You will not have to contact IANA about your domain name at any time, but they are one of the players that make it possible for your domain to be available online.

Why is it important to know who is who?

If you own a domain name, various questions or issues may come up. Knowing whom you should contact will allow you to act fast and to avoid contacting different organizations until you find the one you really need. Lots of entities are involved in the process of creating and maintaining an extension, registering a domain name and making that domain accessible online. Not knowing whom to contact may cost you time and money. Here are a few possible situations when it will be useful to have at least basic knowledge about the responsibilities of each organization.

  • You may have paid another person to register the domain and build a website for you, and this person may have left at some point. You should know whom you should contact about gaining access to your domain (if possible), or you will risk losing it.
  • You may notice that somebody is using a domain similar to your domain or to your trademark. You will know how to proceed if you want to open a dispute and stop the domain from being used, or even take over it.
  • Or you may receive a dispute notification informing you that you are in breach of a trademark. You will have an idea what will happen and what parties are involved in that dispute.

There are many other issues that can come up, some more complicated than others. Knowing whom you should contact or who is responsible for a particular issue can save you a lot of time and money.


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