How to transfer your domain name between hosts

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Switching the registrar for your domain name can be a hassle because of checks in the system against fraudulent domain transfers of ownership, which used to be a regular occurrence in the earlier days of the commercial Internet. The current system has two main protections: a domain name lock at your current registrar that prevents changes by any party, and an authorization code for transferring a domain name that is typically mailed to the administrative address in a domain name registration. Make sure that your registration record has a current email address for you; otherwise you add time and frustration to making the transfer.

You can’t transfer a domain within 60 days of registering it. GoDaddy claims on its transfer support page that changing other details of your registration can also put a 60-day lock in effect, but that is not ICANN policy, and you may need to call GoDaddy—not email the company—to make it start the transfer. (Failing that, you can complain to ICANN.)

If you’ve opted for “private” registration with a domain host, that adds another step that you need to take care of first. Private registration, which has a murky but acceptable status in the domain world, puts your domain in a kind of escrow in which the DNS host registers the domain in its name, even though you own it. Those trying to pull information out of the public registration records can’t get at your mailing address, phone number, or email.

You must turn off private registration and wait for the central registry for that TLD to update its records with your actual details before proceeding. The rest of the steps are the same.

Here’s the sequence you need to follow at your current registrar:

  • Remove private registration if you have it (as noted above), and wait for confirmation that your domain name registration is now in your name and with a current email address.
  • Unlock the domain name, if it’s locked, which is now standard policy at most registrars. You have to be logged in on your registrar’s website to the account, and follow its instructions to unlock the domain. Unlocking happens immediately, unless something is broken, as this status is reported directly to the TLD’s central authority.
  • Request an authorization code to make the transfer. That code is nearly always sent via email; some Web hosts display it on a special webpage instead. (For some TLDs, you may not need a code, but simply approve the transfer via a link sent via email. For others, the process of getting a code is somewhat involved.)

To transfer a domain, you have to log in to your current DNS host's Web site, and confirm that you want to unlock the registration, shown here at Dynadot.

At your new registrar, you follow these steps:

  • Set up an account. (You likely have already done this if you read my advice earlier.)
  • Follow the prompts to transfer a domain, not register a new one. If you failed to unlock the domain or your current registrar didn’t follow procedures, you won’t be able to get beyond this step until that’s done.
  • Choose domain services, if options are available, and pay for the domain. ICANN rules essentially require that domains are paid for in advance of the transfer.
  • Enter the authorization code you received in email when prompted.

Your new registrar will provide information about how long to wait for a response, and you may receive several emails from the old and new registrars about status.

Assuming that you are also hosting your domain at the new registrar, you should now be able to enter all the information you need to for your DNS records. If the new registrar is hosting DNS, email, and your website, the host may already have all the correct values in place for you, or offer a Web app assistant that sets these values. Check your account configuration page at the host, as well as their FAQ, wiki, or support site to get those details.

Master of your own domain

Switching your domain registration and hosting isn’t a simple matter, even though it should be the equivalent of a change-of-address card at the post office. Instead, you must reach your hands deep down into the ancient guts of the Internet to effect what you want. With preparation, deliberation, and an attention to detail, you can swap your registrar without a hiccup.

[Glenn Fleishman registered his first domain names in 1994, including ones that later went on to fame and fortune, like out.com, faucet.com, and film.com. He is a senior contributor at Macworld, and often writes about Internet plumbing. His latest book is Take Control of Your 802.11n AirPort Network, updated for Lion.]

[Updated 12/26, 11:41 PT to simplify and update the introduction.]

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