Quite a while back I did a column about registering your own domain. It’s a fairly straightforward process. Perhaps a little more complicated than buying an online fishing license, but not much more. However, a lot of people choose to have someone do it for them. This can lead to challenges down the road.
You know how it is. Everyone needs a website these days. So, you’re at the board table with your non-profit group talking about needing a website and someone says, “I can do that.” Next meeting they come back and the domain is registered. They’re the tech savvy person in the group so they get the website setup and everything is awesome.
Then they leave.
This is not when the problem happens. When the problem happens is months or even years down the road when the group wants to change. Perhaps they are expanding, joining another group, disbanding, who knows. But the website needs to change. And the person that left is the only person with the password. This is still not the big problem. It’s a problem, but solvable.
No, the big problem happens when you need to move to a different web host.
Websites on the Internet are registered with a domain name. Ferniefix.com, for example, is a domain “FernieFix” under the top level domain (TLD) “.com”. The .com TLD is operated by a number of organizations, but it’s all organized by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN takes their job very seriously. For many organizations their domain name is integral to their business and losing control of it could literally mean an end to their business. For this reason the domain dispute resolution section on ICANN is extensive.
The domain name is how people find your website, but the domain registration is how computers find it. Your domain is registered with a domain registrar. One of the pieces of information that the registrar has is the domain name resolution servers (DNS). These are the servers that can provide the IP address of the server pointed to by the domain name. For example FernieFix.com lives at 18.104.22.168. When you type ferniefix.com into browser it asks the .COM TLD for a DNS server that knows where ferniefix.com lives. It gets back dns.site5.com. It asks dns.site5.com for ferniefix.com and gets back 22.214.171.124.
Okay, so that’s what’s happening behind the scenes. All this was setup when the domain was registered. And now you need to change it. Except that the domain was registered in the name of the person that registered the name for you, and they are unavailable. What can you do?
Well, there is a long, drawn out name resolution dispute process that will take many letters and weeks of effort. And in the end you may still be unable to take control of the domain if you cannot provide sufficient evidence that you are the rightful owner.
What’s the solution? Register the domain in the name of the organization. There are four registrations associated with a domain. The owner, the administrative contact, the technical contact, and the billing contact. The owner is the most important with regards to controlling the domain. The administrative contact is who any communication about changes to the domain will go to. Technical issues that the registrar has with the domain will be sent to the technical contact. These are things like improper mail exchange setup. Finally the bill for renewing the domain will be sent to the billing contact.
Make sure the owner is the organization. Make sure the administrative, technical, and billing contacts are all roles within the organization and not specific individuals. So, emails to the administrative contact should be set to go to email@example.com and not firstname.lastname@example.org. Same with the others. Any person or business that registers the domain for you can set it up this way.
This way, when your organization grows and changes your domain will be able to grow and change along with it. Not sure how yours is setup? Now is the time to find out. Fix it before it becomes a problem later.
ps. If you have any specific questions for the Answer Guy send them to email@example.com. Chances are good that if you want to know others do too.
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