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Domain transfer 101

Most people tend to stick with the domain registrar they first used because they don't understand the transfer process. Some people actually fear that if they stumble, they may lose the domain. That's not likely to happen, but that's not to say that the process is entirely straightforward. For a worry-free domain transfer, follow these steps.

Pre-transfer checklist

Before starting a domain transfer to a new registrar, log in at your old registrar's Web site and locate the domain management control panel. If you've forgotten where you registered the domain, go to BetterWhois.com and enter the domain name there. This will kick up the WHOIS record -- which shows the domain registrar of record and the domain registrant (that's you).

At your old registrar, check all these items:

  • Check the dates. Make sure the domain you're about to transfer isn't about to expire. The transfer process may take two weeks to complete even if everything goes smoothly, and may go up to four weeks if you hit any stumbling blocks. Give yourself plenty of time. Also, your domain must have been at the current registrar for at least 60 days before you can transfer it.
  • Make sure the contact information is correct. Be especially sure that the e-mail address for the domain administrator is current -- you'll be handling a fair amount of e-mail during the transfer process. If you used anonymous registration at your old registrar, you'll have an unfamiliar-looking e-mail address in the Admin Contact field. Contact the old registrar's technical support to make sure this won't cause a problem with the transfer.
  • Turn off domain locking. Most registrars put a lock on your domain record to prevent unauthorized transfers. Of course, these locks also prevent authorized transfers, so turn this off before you get started.
  • Locate the AUTH code. If you're dealing with a .com, .net, .info, .org, .biz, .name or .us domain, you'll need a transfer authorization or AUTH code from your old registrar. It saves time to get this together before you start a transfer. Different registrars handle AUTH codes in different ways. For example, 1&1 Internet lists the AUTH code in the domain admin page; GoDaddy makes you click a link and sends the code via e-mail. Other registrars may make you open a support case or call their billing department to get the code.

The transfer process

Your new registrar handles all the heavy lifting during the transfer process.

  • Re-register your domain name. Click on the Transfer A Domain link at your new registrar. Enter the domain name(s), and follow the registration and payment steps the registrar puts before you.
  • Pay attention to your e-mails. In the next few days, you should get e-mail messages from your new and old registrars. Pay careful attention to them. Some may be plain receipts; some may be notifications, but at least one of them will be a call to action. It will contain a link you must click to acknowledge that you are the administrator of record for an existing domain, and you authorize its transfer to another registrar. On the acknowledgment Web site, you will need to enter the domain's AUTH code.
  • Wait for a week or two. If you followed the e-mail instructions to the letter, your new registrar will send a confirmation of successful transfer within two weeks.

Post-transfer details

  • Close out your old account. If you ordered any hosting or optional extras at your old registrar, make sure you cancel them before the next billing cycle.
  • Update your name servers. The domain record at your new registrar should be identical to the record at your old registrar -- including the name servers. If your domain was hosted or forwarded at your old registrar, you'll need to update those records to point to servers at your new registrar.

Matt Lake has covered the domain registration industry ever since it became a multi-vendor market in 1999, and since then has test-driven dozens of domain registrars.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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