Q's about domain registration

How does this work exactly?

Just for the heck of it, I typed some goofy sounding domain names in the browser address bar and I get of two responses:

“(this domain name) is available from (something-something.com)”

or

“(url) cannot be found, please try again/check your spelling, etc)”

If I get the second response, does that mean the domain name is up for grabs and I can take it? How would I register it? Who would I regeister it with?

http://www.register.com/whois_lookup.cgi

Type in desired domain name to see if it is already registered.

I did and was informed that the domain wasn’t regsitered and gave me some options to do so. When I get the first response, I am told I can register the name with the owner.

Is register.com THE domain registration place or just one of many?

There are numerous domain name registrars. Search “domain name registrar” on Google.

It’s one of many. I use godaddy.com myself.

The “this domain is available for sale” is most likely a domain bought by someone else looking to sell it for a profit. The error doesn’t necessarily mean the domain is available (although it very well could be), it just means that whoever owns it isn’t pointing it at a website yet.

Surely there is some single repository of registered domain names otherwise how can you know if a particular one is available or not.

There is such for every top level domain. However, the central registry can only be accessed by the public through domain name registrars.

So who or what is the central registry and why isn’t there direct access to it? I would think that sort of thing would be public information.

Depends on the top level domain extension. For all practical purposes you do have access to it through any registrar whois. The main importance of the central registries is that when a domain name is registered, immediately the registrar sends this information to the central server so the server won’t allow someone else to be able to register that domain name. It is theoretically possible 2 different people would try and register the same domain name within seconds of each other.

So who or what is this entity? Doesn’t it have a name? Does it have it’s own domain name? Does it have a web site?

There is no such single entity. What entity is in charge depend on the TLD (top level domain). As an example, for .us domain names those are managed by Neustar. The Neustar website relevant to the .us domain name is at http://nic.us.

The registry has the master list, the registrars allow you to actually get a name. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you can register direct with the registry like this is a good thing. The registry may run a registrar service to access their registry but it isn;t neccessarily priced competitively.

For example, Network Solutions runs the registry for .com names. Just about any registrar can allow you to register a .com name. But if you go direct to Network Solutions as a consumer and want to register one through them you’ll be paying anywhere from twice to six times as much as you would anywhere else. You may think that doesn;t make sense, but Network Solutions started out being the only game in town, so could charge whatever they wanted, and then when competition came in, they stayed at their normal price to keep all the business people who only trust them. If anything, their service is much worse than you get elsewhere at a cheaper price.

Ah, that’s what I was getting at. So who is Network Solutions? Are they a private company? How did they get to be the custodian of all the .com names?

I assume that Network Solutions maintains the database of all the .com names and all of the other domain name register companies pay a fee to them to access the database. Is that right? If so, isn’t Network Solutions a monopoly? Is there an entity that regulates them?

Man, you have a lot of questions… Let’s see how briefly I can do this…

Network Solutions is a private company. The people involved ran the .com registry back before the Internet was commercial and when names were free. When they realized they could make money off of it and that they were allowed to charge as a way of seeing that people were serious about having the names they registered they formed a full company. ORiginally they were the only ones you could register them through and they were a complete monoply. The government broke them up and made them let other registries sell names too. But they still run the database because, by its nature it has to be run from one master authority and the regulators (with their palms greased by political donations) do not have the will to take it from them. The US government commerce department has ultimate control, thanks to the Internet’s beginnings as an offshoot of US military and educational interests. People from other countries keep trying to get them to hand over control to a non-governmental control group, or an international one, but they won’t let go. They created a group called ICANN originally with the hopes to put them in charge of it, but their members were appointed, and then when they allowed voting from the Internet-savvy public from around the globe, some people got seats to represent normal folks, but they were completely ignored and then ICANN just decided to never have elections again. They are basically worse than useless, as they usually have no spine to tackle Network Solutions and break open meetings laws and so forth, so the Commerce Department retained control and even recently took some of their power away.

Ah, good answer, Dan. One last question. I suppose there is something like Network Solutions for each of the other top level domains (.net, .org, .us, etc.). Are they all run pretty much the same way?

Network Solutions also does .net… They used to do .org as well but that was taken from them. Some other groups do some of the others, and I think NetSol is a major shareholder in at least one other one. Country code level domains are parceled out to official government representatives of the affected country, or the business that country sells those rights to.

Most registrars sell names for most if not all of these domains, and then they just hook into the database of the company running the appropriate one when they sell one and take their profit. Thanks to competition, in a lot of cases they don’t make hardly any profit from each sale but hope to make it up in volume.