Domain allocation: how are Neustar and ICANN involved?

When registering a domain, internet users generally rely on a web-hosting provider. These companies are not only responsible for allocating domains as well as other services too: from e-mail addresses to web space for creating an internet presence. In order to have the authority to register a domain, providers have to be licensed as registries. Neustar, for example, is the registry responsible for allocating the popular top-level domains: .biz, .co, .nyc, and .us. Neustar is just one of the many companies that support ICANN, which coordinates the allocation of domains all around the world. But what exactly are the responsibilities of these organizations? And how does domain allocation work?

What is ICANN?

The Los Angeles-based non-profit organization, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), is responsible for the allocation and maintenance of internet addresses. Developed in 1997 under the name IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority), the rapid expansion of the internet’s services led to the original company eventually being incorporated into ICANN in 1998. IANA still exists today, making up just one of ICANN’s many departments.

ICANN’s main functions include administrating top-level domains (TLDs) and domain name systems. The company therefore has a massive influence; it coordinates all existing internet addresses and ensures that only one version of each domain exists, and that they are clearly identifiable and can be accessed via a web browser. It does not actively authorize all the addresses, however.

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  • .com
  • .shop
  • .net
  • .online

Domain name registries: partners of ICANN

Domain registrations are administrated by authorized ICANN partners. Certifying customers as domain owners is a task that is outsourced to awarding authorities known as domain name registries (or simply registries) or the NIC (Network Information Center). All TLDs are therefore managed by registries; for example, the Public Interest Registry is responsible for the allocation of the .org TLD. It’s also possible for a registry to coordinate multiple TLDs. Verisign, for example, is responsible for the TLDs .com, .net, and .tv.

The registries authorized by ICANN operate the Whois server as well as the name servers for TLDs. A Whois service provides information about the availability of a domain and any domain owners, while name servers collect and maintain all domain names with the respective ending, in addition to their corresponding IP addresses. 

There is one task that registries don’t undertake, however: the actual registration process, i.e. communication with customers applying for an internet address. Only a few registries accept applications for domain registrations. For this task, another party comes into play: a domain name registrar.

The domain name registrar: registry members

Registries determine the entities that manage customers registering for domains. These entities are domain name registrars, or simply registrars. Registrars are responsible for the bureaucratic side of the domain registration. They usually offer users the choice between self-hosting or working together with an internet provider. Customers can therefore easily order the required online storage space for their website and obtain an e-mail address corresponding to their domain. When developing a web presence, customers generally go to a registrar to get all the necessary services for getting their web project up and running.

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Differences between the administration of generic and country code TLDs

ICANN’s primary function is to coordinate allocations of non-sponsored generic top-level domains (gTLDs), which include such popular domain endings as .com, .net, and .org. The company also manages new generic TLDs such as .web and .shop. ICANN is ultimately responsible for authorizing all of these domain endings and defines their award criteria.

ICANN’s influence on country-code top-level domains, like .uk or .ca, is somewhat reduced. The non-profit organization is involved in activating registered ccTLDs and transfers the registration process to external domain registrars. However, the difference is that ccTLD registries determine the majority of the requirements for their respective country domains, unlike gTLD registries, which have to follow ICANN’s policies in most respects.

ccTLD registries can decide their domain allocation criteria independently. These criteria involve factors like domain locking periods and rules for spelling (i.e. minimum and maximum characters and special characters.

What is Neustar?

Neustar is a telecommunications company that is responsible for allocating popular TLDs including .biz, .co, and .nyc and the ccTLD, .us. Its primary tasks include administering these domains as well as acting as a ‘registry gateway’ to the ccTLDs, .cn (China) and .tw (Taiwan). Additionally, the company also provides back-end management of the TLDs, .travel and .tel and the prefix, .4u. As the central domain name registry for all internet addresses with these domain endings, it also has the task of managing other directories. Neustar’s services also includes providing information for a Whois search, and customer care in a wide range of areas.  

Neustar provide details of the different awarding criteria for each of these domain endings on their website. For example, .co follows international policies and has flexible requirements, whereas the eligibility of a .us domain is limited to groups and individuals with a base in the United States.  

Based in Virginia, USA, Neustar is a global company with hundreds of registrars based all around the world. To secure an internet address with any of its TLDs, customers can apply to either a registrar or directly to their chosen domain’s official website.

Domain allocations from Neustar registrars: how it works

When registering a web address with one of the Neustar TLDs, the application process varies depending on which registrar you choose. In principle, however, the registration always follows the same essential structure:

  1. After checking the availability of your chosen domain with a domain checker, enter this domain in the registrar’s order form. Customers are also required to provide some personal information, which is passed on to Neustar as part of the domain registration.
  2. Your desired domain is then entered into Neustar’s database. The personal information identifies the customer as the domain owner. The domain name is then assigned a corresponding IP address.
  3. After the registration application has gone through, information about your web address is passed on to ICANN, which manages the domain name system (DNS) that calls up the website when its domain is entered into a taskbar. Once ICANN has entered the domain into the DNS, the customer’s chosen domain is activated, and can be used anywhere in the world.

ICANN is the global umbrella organization of all registries, and Neustar is just one of the hundreds of registries managed by ICANN. Registries accredit organizations or companies for domain registration: these are known as registrars. Registrars mediate between customers applying for a domain and the registry responsible for managing the respective TLD. Although registrars and registries take on a significant part of the domain allocation process, ICANN is the entity that ultimately ensures all registered web addresses are made publicly available. ICANN is thus responsible for the final step in the domain registration process, whether it’s a gTLD or a ccTLD.

No matter which TLD a customer reserves, registrations always expire in a similar way. Generally, customers aren’t conscious of the registration process that occurs between the registrar and registry; this task is undertaken by the registrar responsible for securing the domain name, without the customer needing to lift a finger. All the customer has to do is find the right name for their future web presence – find out some useful tips and tricks on how to do that in our article on domain registration.

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