The simple answer to Life, The Universe, Everything… and transferring domains
Ok maybe not all of those things…in fact only transferring domains really, but as I sat down to write this post it seemed like I was trying to fit the proverbial camel through the eye of the needle.
As part of a major revamp I updated and re-wrote the UK2 instructions on how to transfer domains (as our process will be slightly changing soon). So I thought I’d also post a more general discussion in our blog for those of you who are confused with the options and methods out there (as it’s quite complicated). I’m grossly simplifying with this explanation I know, so please don’t get upset if I’ve glossed over the finer points!
Let’s begin by discussing what options there are for a domain transfer as there’s more than one way to move your domain or the services attached to it (or to skin a cat).
There’s basically two parts to what most people understand as a domain names;
1. Domain registration – this is the actual registering of the domain at the registry itself and all it does is reserve the domain for you (the registrant).
2. Hosting – This is the part that includes all the services like e-mail, websites, e-commerce carts etc and is where it becomes more complicated… As these two things are separated it means you don’t have to have your websites/e-mail or indeed anything hosted on that domain at the same company that registered it for you – most people do this for convenience as much as anything else, but they don’t have to.
I don’t get that, a domain is all one part surely?
Ok, dodgy analogy coming up (thanks boss 😉 ) .Think of it like someone who goes to work in another country (bear with me!)
Say you are British and you want to work in Austrailia, it’s not a problem, you just have to get a working visa and then you can work over there even though you are British. The same principle applies to domains, as long as you can ‘point’ your domain to another company (by changing nameservers or editing DNS entries) another company can provide particular services for you.
You can also choose to emigrate too at a later date which would be similar to moving first the hosting (for your website or e-mail etc) to a different company and then moving the registration at a later date. Phew! Hopefully that tenuous analogy helps :).
Still with me?
Now not every domain company offers you the ability to transfer in this way, but behind the scenes that is what happens effectively. Some only offer to transfer in your domain in its entirety which is where you get involved in authorisation codes and unlocking, but we’ll come back to that later…
What are the nameservers?
You’ve probably seen references to these before if you’ve ever transferred a domain. Standard practice is for the company that registered your domain to automatically assign their own nameservers to manage the domain as soon as it’s registered. These nameservers actually ‘announce’ to the net where things like web browsers or e-mail servers (or anything else) should look to find the right place to ask for your website or to send mail to for your domain. When Servers (like our Dedicated Servers)are acting as nameservers they keep a small database of where different services should point to for this purpose, called DNS zones.
This shows a typical DNS ‘Zone’ file, which is what a nameserver holds – you don’t have to understand it all but just know that on the left is listed what you want to actually point (e.g. www is website for example), in the middle is the type of ‘record’ or service (e.g. MX is always mail), and on the right is the address of the server that is handling that service for this particular domain.
So when a company asks you to change nameservers it’s so that they can hold this record and host your services because they will fill all the fields in to be pointing at their own servers.
In a real world example if you typed in http://www.uk2.net to your web browser (such as firefox, or internet explorer) your web browser would try and find the server that held the website information for http://www.uk2.net and download this to your computer so you could view it. It would do this by finding the physcial server address that was listed in your DNS zone file against the ‘www’ or ‘A’ record – In practice it’s actually vastly more complicated than that but at the most basic level this is what the DNS zone is for.
So what does that actually mean?
Well this is what enables you to have your domain registered with one company and the services (again e-mail, Webhosting etc) handled by another, but it also means (because the DNS zone is a database) that you can individually point services to different individual servers at many different companies if you wish… but that’s rather more advanced 😉
Transferring a Domain entirely
Stick with me as this is the final part. Now that I’ve covered transferring just the services for a domain but keeping the registration where it is it’s time to cover moving the actual registration and renewal of a domain.
Now all domains follow the ‘hosting’ principles above but unfortunately as each type of domain often has a different registry the way to move it sometimes differs between different types. In general though there’s two distinct camps you need to worry about.
Lucky for us the UK has one of the, if not the easiest way of transferring it’s domain registrations. Good news for everyone with a .co.uk, .org.uk, .ltd.uk or .me.uk domain as all they have to do is either contact their existing registrar (the people they bought the domain from or currently administer it) and ask them to change the IPS tag – every .uk domain registrar has a tag (ours is UK2NET) that identifies where it’s being held – Up to 24 hours after changing the tag the transfer is completed 🙂
You can also contact nominet directly (who issue the .uk domains) and ask them to change the tag instead, though this will cost you £10 +VAT (payable to nominet). You also need to make sure the company you are transferring to knows it’s arriving of course (by placing an order with them), but otherwise it’s very simple.
These domains (e.g. .com, .net, .biz) require what’s known as ‘unlocking’. This is where you ask the existing registrar to unlock the domain for transfer and they will issue you with an authorisation code. This is a safety precaution as generally the registries (like nominet) don’t deal directly with customers so it’s difficult to avoid hi-jacking of domains without this mechanism…
Once the domain has been unlocked if you place an order with another registrar (company), using the authorisation code to transfer, they contact the registry involved and tell them they have a domain transfer request. The registry then checks whether the domain is unlocked and if so issues an e-mail to the admin contact listed for that domain. The final step involves the admin contact following the instructions contained within the e-mail to prove that they do, in fact, actually want to transfer… simple eh? 😉 If the domain is locked the registry will just ignore the transfer request. Again in practice it’s more complicated than this as there are different levels of domain registrars, but in simple terms this is what happens when a transfer is requested.
If only they all worked like the .uk’s our lives would be much easier!
Hopefully if anyone has read this and was unsure of anything this has made understanding the differences transferring domains between companies a little easier. For more detailed instructions on how to transfer specific domains to UK2 please see our knowledgebase article here. This will be updated soon after we’ve finished our development work.