How Do I Permanently Buy a Domain Name?
You can’t. Was that too upfront? It’s the truth, though – domain names are just not designed to work that way. While big and small businesses have been trying to permanently own their domain names for decades, ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, has made it impossible for anyone to own a domain name for life.
In fact, even when you “purchase” a domain name, you don’t really own it. It’s more like leasing the domain name. You head over to a domain company to register a domain for a year (or up to ten years), but you’re only renting it – it’s not really yours. Domain names are like the addresses for websites, so while you can rent yourself an address for a couple of years, and then renew the lease before it expires, you can’t really own the address itself. Yep, domain names are elusive like that.
But it’s not all bad news! First off, there’s a good reason why the ICANN designed domain names in this way. Secondly, there is a way in which you can get as close as possible to being the permanent “tenant” of a domain name. Read on to find out why domain names were designed to work this way, and how you can make sure that you’ll remain the legal registrant of your domain name for as long as possible.
Why You Can’t “Buy” a Domain for Life
First off, remember that you’re not actually buying a domain. Rather, you’re registering it. So, who is renting out all these domain names, and who’s in charge of deciding how they work?
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a non-profit organization founded in 1998, that is in charge of managing the global Domain Name System, or DNS. The Domain Name System is an integral part of how the internet works today. The DNS connects a domain name with the appropriate IP address of a website, so instead of typing in a bunch of numbers into your browser’s search bar, you get to just type in a domain name – like google.com.
Now, ICANN decides how domain registering works, which domain extensions can be introduced to the pool, and so on. ICANN also gives accreditation to domain name companies, or domain registrars, so that they can sell – that is, rent – domain names to individuals.
So when you head over to a domain registrar, you get to register a domain name under your name (or privately) for a period between one to ten years. So why can’t you register a domain for life?
Infrastructure Requires Money
There’s a growing number of registered domains and built websites every day. As of December 29th, 2020, there are almost 152 million registered .com and 13.3 million registered .net domains. Not to mention that there are 1, 517 different TLDs (top-level domains), i.e. domain extensions that people get to choose from.
In fact, every few years, new gTLDs (generic top-level domains, like .com or .io) are introduced to the pool. You can check out the full list of domain extensions on the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) website. Those new domain extensions are delegated to registry operators, or administrators, that charge a fee to domain registrars who want to sell domain names with that extension.
The point is – there’s a growing number of registered domains, and someone needs to make sure that the registration of those domains is above-board and properly accredited. This means that over time, the cost of managing the global Domain Name System – or ICANN’s cost – increases.
Additionally, the cost of managing domain registrars increases, too.
Basically, ICANN collects a set fee for each domain from the registrars, sometimes referred to as “domain tax”. ICANN needs to collect money in order to manage the infrastructure of domain names. Registrars need to collect money to maintain the infrastructure of the registries, as well as to pay this tax.
Now, if the domain tax charged by the ICANN were to grow, it would be necessary for domain companies that a certain domain expires more quickly. This is because that would allow them to adjust the prices according to the increase in tax imposed by ICANN. In other words, for a registrar to stay afloat, they’ll need to charge for domains according to the changing demands of the ICANN.
In the end, the way the internet works has been tailored to suit the growing daily demands of internet users.
Who Actually Owns a Domain Name?
No one. It’s all very tricky. Just as you registering the name is basically leasing it from the domain company, so the domain company leases it, i.e. pays for the right to lease it from ICANN. But it doesn’t stop there – the domain name company also has to pay a fee for the different domain extensions (top-level domains) that they use. So for instance, the Donuts startup has been given the rights to administer the .rocks top-level domain by ICANN. Each TLD is given to a certain registry operator, and then a domain company (i.e. registrar) also has to pay a fee for the TLDs they want to offer to their clients.
So, you pay your registrar to lease the domain name for a period of up to 10 years. The registrar, in turn, pays charges to ICANN (domain tax) and to registry operators that work with specific TLDs. In the end – no one actually owns a domain name.
How You Can Get as Close as Possible to Owning a Domain Name for Life
If you’re worried about the price of your domain skyrocketing or others beating you to the punch and buying it from under your nose just as you’re about to renew it, don’t worry – there’s a way to make sure none of this happens.
It may dawn on you to become a domain registrar yourself so the domain remains your own for as long as you wish. However, this is not a great solution as it’s a lot of work and very costly. You’d need to pay an annual accreditation fee to ICANN, a yearly fee for each domain you run (currently $0.18), and also a commercial insurance policy which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. And of course – you’ll also need to pay a fee to the administrator of each domain extension you have in your arsenal. Google is its own registry, for instance, but Google is also one of the biggest, richest companies in the world.
Luckily, you don’t have to do any of that. If you want to avoid a rising recurring fee and protect your brand, here’s what you can do:
- Register for a longer period of time. When you register a domain, you get the option of locking it down for a period between 1 to 10 years. You’d get options like 1, 2, or 5 years with some domain companies, but others will also offer 10-year registration. This means that you get to pay for the domain upfront, so you won’t have to deal with yearly price changes (usually increases). Plus, it ensures that you have nothing to worry about for at least 10 years. But then what?
- Set your domain account to auto-renew. If you pre-fund your account with your domain registrar and set it to auto-renew, just before the 10-year period is up, your domain will be re-registered under your name automatically. This way, you don’t have to worry about anyone snatching it up from under your nose.
- An alternative to auto-renew is expiration protection. Some domain companies offer expiration protection instead of – or in addition to – auto-renewing the registration of a domain under your name. Domain companies that offer domain expiration protection basically won’t sell your domain to anyone else for up to a year after your registration expires, even if they can’t charge your payment card. This gives you a bit more time to get your finances in order and renew your domain registration.
A Few Words Before You Go…
While you can’t really permanently own a domain name, you can take solace in the fact that no one really owns a domain name, anyway. But there’s something wonderful about the vibrancy and flexibility of the internet, the way it shapeshifts and evolves to suit the needs of the users.
In other words, this design actually makes sense when you think about the fact that the growing demands of the internet require a system that’s also manageably scalable. So, taxes are paid to the ICANN, domain extension fees are paid to registry operators, and domain lease is paid to domain companies – just so that everything can keep functioning properly.
As we’ve covered, though, this doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the security of being in charge of your domain for as long as you wish. All you have to do is register and pay for your domain for the next 10 years, and then turn on auto-renew. Your domain company will charge your pre-funded account and make sure the domain remains under your name before it expires and someone else gets a hold of it.
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