Advice Buying

Transferring A Domain Name – Easier Than You Think!

This is the first in a series intended primarily for those outside the domain community, providing guidance related to finding, registering, evaluating, buying, transferring and using domain names. 

Many times in life we resist doing things because we regard them as being too complex or time consuming. When our views about complexity are misguided we may make poor decisions and miss out on opportunities.  I think that is the situation with respect to purchasing and transferring ownership of domain names. 

Many, incorrectly, think the process must be complex and involve lengthy delays. Neither is true, and this post will lead you through the few simple steps to move ownership of a domain name.

The Situation

Let’s say that Alice has a domain name currently registered at the fictitious domain registrar Acme Domains. She sells (or gives) the domain name to Brian. What steps must take place for the transfer of the domain name from Alice to Brian?

The Simple Steps

So here are the detailed steps to transfer the domain name. I am assuming that no third party escrow has been used and Alice and Brian together carry out the transfer. For high value domain names using an escrow service is essential.  

I divide the process into many fully described steps, but in practice both Alice and Brian only need to spend a few minutes total work each, and the whole transfer can be finished typically within two hours. Really!

  1. The first step is Alice logs into her account at Acme and unlocks the domain name. The purpose of the lock is to prevent malicious transfers and it is normally set on by default. The details of unlocking vary with registrar, but are always simple. You can log in and unlock a domain name in a minute or two. Don’t worry, your domain name can’t be taken unless someone knows a secret code and you confirm the transfer.
  2. The second step is Alice gets the transfer authorization code from Acme for her domain name. Sometimes this is done from her registrar’s website when logged into her account, but usually it is done by sending the code via email to the administrative email account for the domain name. Therefore before she requests the authorization code she should make sure the email on the domain name contacts is indeed still her email address. There may be a few minutes delay, but you should have the authorization code (a string of letters, numbers and symbols) within an hour, often almost instantly.
  3. Brian needs to decide where he wants to have the domain name registered.  If he already has domain names registered, he probably will want it transferred to that registrar. If this is the first time he is registering a domain name he will need to register for an account. A later post will cover considerations that go into choosing a registrar. Let’s assume that Brian has decided he wants the domain name registered at the fictitious registrar Better Domains. 
  4. Assuming that Brian has paid her for the domain name, Alice transmits the authorization code to Brian
  5. Brian signs into his domain account at his registrar Better, and initiates a transfer by specifying the domain name and the authorization code. Note that almost always Brian will need to pay for an additional year of registration with his registrar (Better) at this time. Note that the registration cost he will pay is the transfer rate, which in many cases is higher than the new registration rate.
  6. At this point Brian’s registrar Better will contact Alice’s registrar Acme and say that a domain transfer has been requested for the domain name. 
  7. Once it receives this notice Alice’s registrar Acme will send her a message saying a transfer has been requested, if she does nothing the transfer will take place in 5 days. The email will provide a link if she wants to cancel the transfer for any reason.  
  8. This does not mean you need to wait 5 business days for the transfer.  Often the page mentioned in the email to cancel a transaction (sent by Acme to Alice) will have two choices, the other is to immediately approve the transfer. With some registrars Alice logs into her account to approve the transfer. Unless there is some reason to delay, Alice should approve the transfer. Alice approves the transfer, and it will take place, the domain disappearing from her account.
  9. Once the transfer is complete his registrar (Better) will send Brian a notice telling him that the transfer is done and the domain name is in his account. Sometimes the registrar will  place restrictions on use of the domain name  for a short period, but it will appear in his account.

During the past month I have had occasion to do 3 domain transfers involving 4 different (receiving + sending) domain registrars altogether. In all 3 transfers the domain had been moved in less than 90 minutes from the time when the process started. 

An Even Easier Way – Push

So the above is pretty simple, but is there an even easier way?  Indeed there is! If Brian was happy to have the domain name registered at Acme, the same registrar as Alice had used, they could carry out the transfer using a process called push. In this case the steps would be the following.

  1. Brian opens an account (this is free) at Acme.
  2. Brian tells Alice what his account name is (not his password just the name of the account).
  3. Alice tells her registrar Acme that she wants her domain name transferred to Brian’s account.  Exactly how this is done varies with registrar, but is simple and fast.
  4. Acme send Brian an email asking whether he wants to accept the domain name. He responds yes.
  5. The domain name is transferred to Brian’s account

At least one major registrar operates slightly differently,  in that the receiving party requests a transfer, but otherwise the process is the same. 

There are actually several reasons why push may be better. One is that it is even simpler and faster. But the main advantage is that you do not need to add an extra year of registration. If the domain name is already registered for years, or you do not need it for an extended period, this can result in savings. Another reason is the domain lock restriction outlined below.  

The 60 Day Lock

In order to prevent a series of rapid transfers of domain names between registrars to hide an ownership trail, ICANN has a rule that normally once a domain name has been transferred to a new registrar it can’t be transferred again until 60 days have elapsed.

This is called the ICANN 60 day lock.  For newly registered domain names this 60 day rule is absolute, as I understand it, but when it is a case of transfer of a previously registered domain name it is at the discretion of the registrar.  You can request a transfer earlier, but many registrars will require you to wait the full 60 days.  

One huge advantage of the push route is that you do not need to wait the 60 days to push to a new owner. 

Use A Registrar Marketplace

While handling a domain name transfer is not difficult, if you are selling the domain name to someone that you do not know it may be better to sell it through a registrar marketplace and they will handle the transfer for you.  Many registrars offer such a service.  While the terms vary, in general they take a commission of about 10% but handle all aspects of the transaction for you. I frequently use the Namecheap Marketplace for transactions (more than 30 times so far!), and have recently started using the Epik, NameSilo and Dynadot Marketplaces as well.

Here are the steps for selling and transferring a domain name via a registrar marketplace.

  1. The seller (Alice in our case) lists the domain name on the marketplace at her registrar. It varies with the registrar how this is done, but usually you just log into your account, go to the listing for that domain, and make a selection to sell it and set the price and description.
  2. If the buyer and seller have been in contact, the seller can send the buyer the link to the marketplace listing. Alternatively the buyer can simply search for the name on the public marketplace.
  3. The person buying the domain name (Brian in our case) creates an account at the marketplace registrar (free) if they do not already have one, or logs in if they have one, and purchases the domain name at the marketplace, paying with one of the accepted forms.
  4. The domain name will be transferred to Brian’s account, and Alice will get a notice that the domain has sold and the net proceeds of the sale price will be placed in her account. Most marketplaces place a hold on the funds for a little while (5 days at Namecheap Marketplace) to allow for any problems with payment.  

The registrar marketplace route provides additional convenience and security.  The commission is deducted from the net proceeds to the seller, and is not an additional fee paid by they buyer. You can decide if that is worth the commission charged for the service. 

One Last Thing – DNS

Normally when the domain name transfers the domain name server (DNS) settings are maintained at their previous values.  So after the domain name is in Brian’s account he has one  last thing to do – set the DNS settings. DNS tells the internet where a request to that domain name should take the user. 

If Brian is ready to begin hosting his new domain name creating a website, he should set the DNS to the values that his hosting account provider specifies (e.g. I have hosting at HostPapa and the addresses are ns1.hostpapa.com and ns2.hostpapa.com).  

If Brian wants to list the domain name for sale, he may wish to set it to landers at a marketplace (e.g. for Undeveloped they are ns1.undeveloped.com and ns2.undeveloped.com). 

If he simply wants to hold it, he can use the nameservers from the registrar.  If he uses the default DNS settings from the registrar, he can also readily set forwarders so that someone who enters the domain name is taken to some existing website. So don’t forget to set the DNS settings. Your registrar will have a help document explaining exactly how. 

Discussion

While the steps in transferring a domain name apply when a domain name is sold, the steps are the same if you decided to move one of your domain names to another registrar, for example to obtain better rates.

If you have invoked two factor authorization at your registrar there will be additional verification steps in unlocking, obtaining the authorization code, and confirming the transfer, but they will not add significantly to the complexity or time required for a transfer. 

As mentioned at the outset, this is the first in a series intended primarily for startup, business or organization leaders, or individuals, from outside the domain community. In the next posts in the series we plan to look at how to determine the best rates on renewal costs for your domain name, and how to choose which registrar is best for you.

About the author

Bob Hawkes

Domain analyst and commentator with particular interests in quantitative analysis, new uses for domain names, nontraditional end users, and bridging the gap between the domain community and end users. Background in science, research, education, outreach and communications, as well as almost two decades running a small home-based business. My first domain name acquisition was 2001. I hold a modest domain portfolio with legacy, country code and new extensions. Based in western Canada, but my domain outlook is global! My goal is to provide fresh insights and an evidence-based balanced outlook on the domain industry.

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