A domain name registrar is an organization or commercial entity, accredited by a generic top-level domain registry (gTLD) and/or by a country code top-level domain (ccTLD) registry, to manage the reservation of Internet domain names in accordance with the guidelines of the designated domain name registries and to offer such services to the public.
Until 1999, Network Solutions (NSI) operated the com, net, and org registries. In addition to the function of domain name registry operator, it was also the sole registrar for these domains. However, several companies had developed independent registrar services. One such company, NetNames, developed in 1996 the concept of a standalone commercial domain name registration service to sell to the public domain registration and other associated services. This effectively created the retail model into the industry and assigning a wholesale role to the registries. NSI assimilated this model, which ultimately led to the separation of registry and registrar functions.
In October 1998, following pressure from the growing domain name registration business and other interested parties, NSI's agreement with the United States Department of Commerce was amended. This amendment required the creation of a shared registration system that supported multiple registrars. This system officially commenced service on November 30, 1999 under the supervision of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), although there had been several testbed registrars using the system since March 11, 1999. Since then, over 900 registrars have entered the market for domain name registration services.
Of the registrars who initially entered the market, many have continued to grow and outpace rivals. Go Daddy is the largest registrar. Other successful registrars include eNom, Tucows, Melbourne IT. Registrars who initially led the market but later were surpassed by rivals include Network Solutions and Dotster.
Each ICANN-accredited registrar must pay a fixed fee of US$4,000 plus a variable fee. The sum of variable registrar fees is intended to total US$3.8 million. The competition created by the shared registration system enables end users to choose from many registrars offering a range of related services at varying prices.
Domain registration information is maintained by the domain name registries, which contract with domain registrars to provide registration services to the public. An end user selects a registrar to provide the registration service, and that registrar becomes the designated registrar for the domain chosen by the user.
Only the designated registrar may modify or delete information about domain names in a central registry database. It is not unusual for an end user to switch registrars, invoking a domain transfer process between the registrars involved, that is governed by specific domain name transfer policies.
Many registrars also offer registration through reseller affiliates. An end-user registers either directly with a registrar, or indirectly through one or more layers of resellers. As of 2010, the retail cost generally ranges from a low of about $7.50 per year to about $35 per year for a simple domain registration, although registrars often drop the price far lower – sometimes even free – when ordered with other products such as web hosting services.
The maximum period of registration for a domain name is 10 years. Some registrars offer longer periods of up to 100 years, but such offers involve the registrar renewing the registration for their customer; the 100-year registration would not be in the official registration database.