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Cloudflare Registrar: what happens when you register a domain?


5 min read

Every website, large or small, started with an idea, rapidly followed by registering a domain. Most registrars offer promotions for your initial domain registration and then quietly hike the price with each renewal. What they don’t tell customers is that the price they pay to a registry, for your registration, is set by the registry. In some cases, we’ve found registrars charging eight times the wholesale price for a domain renewal.

Today, we’re launching Cloudflare Registrar, the first domain registrar you can love. Cloudflare Registrar will never charge you more than what we pay to the registry for your domain. No markup and no surprise fees. For eight years Cloudflare has built products that make the internet faster and safer. It's time for us to start where your internet journey starts, your domain.

A quick introduction to domain registration

When you register a domain, you become the owner, or registrant, for that domain for a set period of time. Now that you are the registrant, you can create an authoritative record that tells the world the nameservers for your domain. The domain name system, or DNS, uses those nameservers to direct traffic to the IP address of your server.

When you put your site behind Cloudflare, you change your nameservers at your registry to ones we provide. Once we are responsible for your authoritative DNS, we can deliver the features that make your site faster and safer.

Your registry keeps the authoritative record for your nameservers. Each top-level domain (TLD) has a single registry that is responsible for maintaining those records. For example, .com is a TLD. Verisign is the exclusive registry for .com. As the TLD’s registry, Verisign stores the contact information and the nameservers for every .com domain in the world. As the registrant for a domain, you can tell your domain’s registry which nameservers DNS should use.

So where do registrars fit in this relationship? Domain registrars communicate your ownership, and subsequent changes, of a domain to the registry for that TLD. Registries trust registrars to only accept changes from the domain owner and to accurately convey that information so that the registry can update their record. While there is one registry for every TLD, hundreds of registrars are able to register a domain.

What about transferring domains?

Domain transfers tell your registry that a different registrar can now set those authoritative records for you. The relationship is based on trust. Registries only trust one registrar, at any given time, to make changes on your behalf.

Transferring a domain to a new registrar informs the registry that they should instead trust that new registrar to modify information. The process requires some steps at both your new registrar and the one you are leaving. Each registrar handles transfers a bit differently, but in general they follow a pattern based on rules set by ICANN, the organization responsible for regulating domain registration.

1. Tell your new registrar that you want to start a transfer

To transfer a domain, you first need to select your new registrar. You will start by inputting the domain you plan to transfer. The new registrar will query your domain settings to see if it is available for transfer.

If you registered or transferred your domain in the last 60 days, you cannot transfer it just yet. Your new registrar will also check to see if your domain is locked at your old registrar.

2. Unlock your domain at the old registrar

Registrars include a lightweight safeguard to prevent unauthorized users from starting domain transfers: registrar lock. You might also see it written as domain lock. When enabled, the lock prevents any other registrar from attempting to initiate a transfer.

Only the registrant can enable or disable this lock, typically through the administration interface of the registrar. To proceed with a transfer, you will need to remove this lock if it is enabled.

3. Grab your authorization code

Next, your new registrar needs to confirm with your old registrar that the transfer flow is authorized. To do that, your old registrar will provide an authorization code to you. You will need to take that to your new registrar who will use it to confirm the transfer is authentic.

When you have completed the steps above, your new registrar can process the transfer. ICANN requires that any transfer also extend the expiration date of your domain by at least one year. That’s one year from your current expiration date, not one year from the date of transfer. For example, if you transfer a domain on October 10, 2018, but it expires on March 10, 2019, your new expiration date will be March 10, 2020.

Just like domain registration, domain renewal pricing is set by the registry. Some registrars charge up to 30 times the price they billed at registration for renewals.

Domain registration without markup

Many registrars thrive by raising renewal rates or adding fees for services you can find for free. However, no registrar has a better method for connecting to a registry. They all follow a standard established twenty years ago. If a company can’t deliver unique value in a space, you shouldn’t have to pay above market rate for those services. Cloudflare Registrar will only charge you what the registries charge us. In a marketplace built on upsell and bait-and-switch, we’re selling domain registration at the wholesale price.

More than ten million sites rely on Cloudflare for performance and security. The majority of those use our free service. We don’t charge anything to add DNSSEC to your site or to rely on us to provide SSL for your site. When we democratize features that help the Internet operate, we can drive costs down further and improve the level of service for all users. Selling domains at the wholesale price pushes back against a group of companies who do the opposite and find every opportunity to charge more for basic features.

Broadcasting the registrant contact information, via the WHOIS service, can invite mountains of spam to your personal addresses. Cloudflare Registrar will be offering personal data redaction on WHOIS, that meets current ICANN guidelines, for free. Your privacy should not come at a markup.

Cloudflare Registrar's supported TLD list can be found here. We're working to expand this selection.

Early access program

We will be rolling out access to Cloudflare Registrar in stages, based on factors like how long you’ve been a Cloudflare customer. To claim your place in line, sign up for early access here. We’ll show you your position and let you know when you can start transferring domains.

Want to get access earlier? We would like to invite you to donate to Girls Who Code, a nonprofit which works to close the gender gap in the technology industry. By donating through the early access link above, you can support their mission and get access to Cloudflare Registrar earlier.

Sign up for Early Access!

What's next?

Make sure to claim your spot in line, and then move up, at the link here. Watch your inbox for your invitation to get started. We’ll notify you when it’s time to move to the first registrar you can love.

At launch, you’ll be able to transfer domains that are active in your Cloudflare account. Want to be able to transfer all of your domains? Be sure to start adding them to Cloudflare.

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