UGTS Document #48 - Last Modified: 8/29/2015 3:23 PM
Domain Name Transfers

Domain name transfers between registrars are a tricky subject because the registrars have a strong incentive to make it difficult for you to complete a transfer, while at the same time they must comply the with ICANN domain transfer regulations, also described on Wikipedia.  The simplified version of these rules translates into a general checklist to follow BEFORE INITIATING A DOMAIN TRANSFER:

BASIC DOMAIN TRANSFER CHECKLIST:
  1. CHECK THE TIMING.  The domain must not be a new domain created within the last 60 days, or transferred to the current registrar within the last 60 days, or the contact information changed within the last 60 days.  DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CHANGE ANY CONTACT INFORMATION JUST BEFORE TRANSFERRING A DOMAIN - LEAVE IT ALONE, EVEN IF IT IS BROKEN, AND FIX IT AFTER THE TRANSFER.
  2. CHECK THE EMAIL ADDRESS.  The current registration will have an administrative contact email address.  When a transfer is initiated, the person who has this email address will receive an email asking them to confirm or deny the transfer, with a timeout period of several days.  Write down this email address, and make sure that you are able to receive email at this address beforehand.  If no response is received, the transfer will be accepted by default (per ICANN regulations).  Note that changing the contact information may prevent a successful transfer, so DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CHANGE THIS ADDRESS, unless you have an additional 60 days to wait, or there is no other way to get the email sent to the current address.  Also note that often the email contact for the domain you are transferring will belong to the domain being transferred. This is not a problem, since the domain will not be transferred until after all the authorization emails are sent and you have received and responded to them, and no additional emails need to be received after the transfer begins.
  3. DISABLE THE TRANSFER LOCK.  If the current registrar has a transfer lock on the domain (all major registrars do this by default), you must first unlock the domain to allow it to be transferred.  Most major registrars allow you to turn the transfer lock on or off within about 1-2 minutes through their web interface, and will notify you by email when the lock status has changed on one of your domains.
  4. GET THE EPP CODE.  You must obtain the current EPP authorization code from the current registrar for the domain.  This code is the critical password that prevents your domain from being maliciously transferred away from you without your consent.  You are also protected by the domain's transfer lock and the requirement that you must be able to receive the authorization email and respond to it.  Most major registrars will let you get the EPP code from their web interface, and will email the code to you.  You can ask for this code at any time, even if you don't plan to do a domain transfer.
  5. DISABLE PRIVATE REGISTRATION.  The domain must not have private registration enabled (such as DomainsByProxy).  If it has been enabled, you must first turn it off at the current registrar, or the transfer will fail.
  6. CHECK THE ACCOUNT STATUS.  The current registration must be in good standing - verify that you do not owe money to the current registrar.  You cannot start a transfer in order to escape outstanding payment of money due - the current registrar will reject the request.
  7. RECORD ALL DNS INFORMATION.  Before you go any further, get a listing of all the DNS records setup at the current registrar for the domain, and print this page to PDF.  You will need this information in case the new registrar does not automatically create these records for you as part of the transfer, or in case anything else goes wrong and you need to re-create them.
  8. INITIATE TRANSFER.  Login to the new registrar with an account appropriate for the owner of the domain name.  Create a new account at the registrar if needed first.  Then initiate a transfer on the domain.  Payment will be due at the time the transfer is requested, so decide beforehand if this is to be handled as a reimbursement or as a charge directly to a card or paypal account owned by the owner of the domain.
  9. WATCH FOR EMAILS.  You should get notifications from both the old and new registrars within 5 minutes.  Watch to see that they don't go to your junk email folder.  Respond to them as necessary.  At the old registrar, your domain should also now show status of Pending Transfer.
  10. APPROVE THE TRANSFER.  Accept the transfer at the old registrar.  For the major registrars, here is where to do that:

    GoDaddy - My Account, Domains, (top button) Domains, Pending Transfers, (link) transfer details, Accept.

    Note that after approving the transfer, the domain will immediately no longer be listed under the list of your domains at the old registrar.
  11. SETUP NEW DNS.  While waiting for emails, make sure you know where to setup DNS records for the domain at the new registrar.  As of 2012, this was where to go for the major registrars to setup DNS:

    GoDaddy - My Account, Domains, select domain, DNS Manager, Total DNS control
    NameCheap - My Account, Managed Domains, select domain, (left menu) Host Management / All Host Records

    Create all DNS records in advance if possible.  If not, create them immediately after the transfer completes.
  12. TEST DNS.   After setting up the new DNS records, wait about 10 minutes, and then verify from an external test that the DNS records are present on the new nameservers for the domain. Network-Tools is a good choice for such a test.

If a transfer fails due to one of the reasons above, you must first fix the cause of the failure, and then retry.  Only the first cause is a show-stopper - if you are within the 60-day no-transfer period, all you can do is wait.  And to repeat - if the email address in the contact information for the domain is not correct, don't attempt to change it.  Simply start the transfer and let the request time out after a few days when no one responds to allow or deny the request.  The second cause (incorrect/broken contact information) will slow down a transfer greatly, but will not stop the process.  Most registrars will allow you to re-submit a transfer request at no change, because they would like to obtain your business.

As of Jan 2011, there were about 94.35M registered domain names on the internet, by about 900 registrars.  A monthly report in CSV format can be downloaded from ICANN which you can then load into Excel and reformat as needed.  The report from Jan 2011 shows that the market share by number of domains by registrar was as follows, with the top 5 accounting for 53% of the market share, the top 20 for 77%, the top 50 for 89%, the top 100 for 95%, and the top 200 for 98.5%.  Domain name registration is a very wide market, and competition is very fierce, with many good choices available, but also a fair number of poor choices.

  • GoDaddy - 29.8%
  • Enom - 8.7%
  • Tucows - 6.5%
  • Network Solutions - 4.9%
  • 1 & 1 Internet - 4.0%

Given that the total number of registered domains is about 100M, and each domain has a $10/year renewal cost, the total market revenue from domain name registration is about $1B a year, which is comparatively not much.  Most registrars make their money from webhosting and email hosting services.  It is a little like the gas station / convenience store model.  Gas stations make money from their convenience stores, and not much from selling gas.

Domparison lists a domain name pricing comparison for various domain name registrars.  The average cost to register a domain is about $10 per year from most registrars, with initial registration and subsequent renewal costing about the same per year.  A good registrar will provide DNS services for free with registration, and private registration typically is an optional service costing about $3 per year per domain.  Email and webhosting services are never provided for free and they cost much more (typically at least 5 times more per year for webhosting, and 2-3 times more for email hosting, at mininum).