Key Stakeholders of a Domain Name System

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ICANN Logo image on dark blue background. Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

Welcome to the second installment of our knowledge series for domain name investors, and domain name enthusiasts.

Have you ever wondered who manages and coordinates the massive network of domain names and IP addresses that form the backbone of the internet? 

In this article we’ll be exploring the key stakeholders that form the backbone of the domain name system. We’ll delve into the role of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and discuss the responsibilities of Registrants, Registrars, Resellers, and Registries. 

By the end of this post, you’ll have a solid understanding of the domain name system’s inner workings and the key stakeholders that make it all possible. 

What is ICANN?

ICANN stands for ‘Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ and this is a non-profit, internationally organized corporation responsible for the Internet Protocol (IP) address space allocation, root server system management functions and the management of generic and country code Top-Level Domain name systems (gTLD and ccTLD) .

Basically, ICANN coordinates the Domain Name System (DNS), which translates domain names into corresponding IP addresses and connects you to your desired website. 

The DNS also ensures the proper functioning of email, so they help ensure that the email messages you send actually reach the intended recipient.

ICANN’s Role in Overseeing Policies in the Domain Name Industry

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) not only coordinates the Domain Name System (DNS) but also plays a critical role in overseeing policies that govern the domain name industry. 

Understanding the relationship between ICANN, registries, and registrars is essential to appreciate the full extent of ICANN’s influence on the industry.

ICANN’s Agreements with Registries and Registrars

Registries and registrars are crucial players in the domain name system, and their operations are governed by agreements that they sign with ICANN.

A Registry Agreement is a contract between ICANN and registry operators, outlining the responsibilities of the registry operator, which include maintaining the top-level domain (TLD) registry, ensuring the security and stability of the domain name system, and complying with ICANN policies.

There is also the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, which is a contract between ICANN and domain name registrars. This outlines the registrar’s responsibilities, which include managing domain name registrations, updating WHOIS data, maintaining domain name records, and adhering to ICANN policies.

These agreements ensure that registries and registrars adhere to the rules set forth by ICANN, and helps maintain the stability and security of the domain name system.

ICANN’s Oversight of Domain Name Registries

ICANN oversees the formation and operations of domain name registries to ensure they comply with the policies set forth in the Registry Agreement. These responsibilities include:

Evaluating new gTLD applications: ICANN reviews and approves applications for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) to ensure they meet the necessary technical, financial, and operational requirements.

Monitoring registry compliance: ICANN monitors the performance of registry operators, ensuring they comply with the terms of the Registry Agreement and that they maintain a stable, secure, and interoperable domain name system.

Dispute resolution: ICANN is also responsible for managing disputes between registry operators, registrars, and domain name registrants (the difference between these is explained further below), ensuring a fair resolution in line with its policies and procedures.

ICANN’s Oversight of Domain Name Registrars

ICANN’s oversight of domain name registrars ensures that registrars maintain a high level of service and comply with the policies set forth in the Registrar Accreditation Agreement. This includes:

Accrediting registrars: Domain name registrars need to be accredited by ICANN before they can operate. This ensures they meet the necessary requirements to provide domain name registration services.

Monitoring registrar compliance: ICANN monitors the performance of registrars, ensuring they comply with the terms of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement, that they provide accurate WHOIS data, and that they maintain domain name records.

Registrar dispute resolution: ICANN is also responsible for managing disputes between registrars, resellers, and domain name registrants, to ensure a fair resolution is sought between the parties.

So, as you can appreciate, ICANN plays quite a crucial role in overseeing the policies that govern the domain name industry and overseeing the operations of the main parties within the domain name system.

A Brief History of ICANN

Let’s take a journey through ICANN’s history to understand its significance in the development and management of the internet.

1980s: The Emergence of IANA and ISPs

The first published reference to IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) was in December 1988, however, IANA’s role of administering registries of top-level domain names and IP addresses had existed since the early days of ARPANET

The importance and public recognition of the IANA agency became evident in the late 1980s because that’s when the first Internet service provider (ISP) companies started being launched.  These companies provided service to regional research networks.

1990s: The Rise of the World Wide Web and ICANN’s Formation

In 1998, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) created ICANN as a non-profit organization to take over the functions of IANA. 

2000s: The World Wide Web Takes Center Stage

In the early 2000 various proposals emerged to move internet governance from United States control to a global, multi-stakeholder organization. 

The U.S. Department of Commerce stopped controlling ICANN in October 2009, and in 2011, ICANN approved a new gTLD program, allowing applicants to apply for ownership and operation of new gTLDs. 

With just over 1900 applications filed, as of 2013, ICANN started delegating these new gTLDs to the root DNS zone. Today there are thousands of different top-level domains. Here is the official list of TLDs.

On March 14, 2014, the U.S. Department of Commerce announced its intent to transition key Internet domain name functions to a global multi-stakeholder community.

Checkout our domain names history knowledge article for a journey through the birth of the modern domain name infrastructure.

ICANN in Transition: The NETmundial Initiative

The NETmundial Initiative aimed to involve all global stakeholders in internet governance, including government, industry, civil society, and academia. 

This initiative was proposed at the Global Multi-stakeholder Meeting on the Future of Internet Governance conference held in April 2014. 

Understanding ICANN’s role in the management and coordination of the domain name system is crucial for anyone involved in domain name investing. I believe that having a solid grasp of ICANN’s history and its ongoing transition will help you make informed decisions when transacting in domain names.

inforgraphic showing the key stakeholders of the domain name system and how they interact


The Other Key Players of the Domain Name System

Apart from ICANN, there are four other key players involved in the worldwide domain name system. These are Registrants, Registrars, Resellers, and Registries. 

In this next part we will try to get a better understanding of the roles these players have in the domain name system.

Registrants: The Domain Name Owners

A Registrant refers to an individual or entity that has secured ownership of a domain name.

Let’s say John Brown owns a small business called “John’s Bakery” and wants to create a website for his business, so he registers the domain name ‘’. 

In this scenario, John Brown is the Registrant.

In order to acquire a domain name, the registrant usually submits an application through a domain registrar or one of their affiliated resellers. 

The registrant must adhere to the terms and conditions set forth by the chosen registrar when registering their domain name. These conditions usually involve three main things;

  1. paying registration fees, 
  2. providing precise information, and 
  3. keeping the submitted data up-to-date as needed.

As a domain name investor, you will be a registrant. Knowing your rights and responsibilities as a domain holder will help you manage your portfolio effectively. You will need to comply with the terms and conditions set by the registrar.

Registrars: The Domain Name Salespeople

A Registrar is an organization accredited by ICANN and certified by the registry operators to sell domains.

To continue on the previous example, John Brown chooses to register his domain name through a company called Namecheap which is an ICANN-accredited domain registrar that provides services to customers to register and manage their domain names. In this example, Namecheap serves as the Registrar.

If you’re just starting out with domain name investing than I would recommend buying your domain through Namecheap. They have a reliable service with domains at very reasonable prices, and their interface is very easy to navigate and understand.

Registrars are obligated to follow the agreement they entered into with ICANN, as well as their agreements with registry operators. 

The registrar’s duties include maintaining WHOIS information, submitting necessary data to domain registries, enabling public access to WHOIS queries, safeguarding the details of registrants through escrow, and adhering to the stipulations around the end of the registration term.

Choosing the right registrar is vital for domain name investors. Understanding the services, fees, and terms of service offered by different registrars will help you find the best fit for your needs. 

In addition, knowing the accreditation status and compliance with ICANN policies of the registrar will ensure the safety and stability of your domain name registrations.

Here’s a list of domain name registrars ranked by market share.

Resellers: The Domain Name Middlemen

Some registrants might opt to secure their domain via a reseller instead of directly through a registrar.

Suppose John Brown had decided to purchase his domain name and web hosting services through a local web design company, which is a reseller of a larger domain registrar like Namecheap or GoDaddy. In this case, the local web design company would be the Reseller.

Resellers are organizations that have either an affiliation or contractual agreement with registrars and frequently provide additional services such as web hosting and email accounts. 

Reseller Programs, like the one offered by GoDaddy, and include domain names, web hosting, and email hosting. 

Reseller Agreements require resellers to abide by the terms set by the registrar(s) they represent, but they do not receive direct accreditation from ICANN. The responsibility for the domains sold by resellers lies with the sponsoring registrar.

Many domain name investors choose to work with resellers instead of directly with registrars, as this can be easier for them. Understanding the relationship between resellers and registrars will help you make informed decisions when selecting a reseller for your domain name investments.

Becoming a domain name reseller, operating under one of the accredited registrars, can be quite a lucrative business for self-employed people. Here’s a guide on how you can set up a domain reseller business.

Registries: The Domain Name Database Managers

Registry operators are responsible for maintaining the registry for each TLD.

For John Brown’s domain ‘’, the top-level domain (TLD) is .com. The registry operator responsible for managing the .com TLD is Verisign. Therefore, Verisign is the Registry in this example.

Registry operators must adhere to the Registry Agreement they signed with ICANN, which details their obligations within the domain name system.

The duties of domain Registries include processing registration requests (from either registrars or registrants), managing a database containing registration information, and supplying name servers that disseminate zone file data (details regarding the domain’s location) across the internet.

In order to facilitate the sale of a registry’s domains, a registrar must enter into a Registry-Registrar Agreement. This agreement establishes the terms and conditions of the relationship between the registry and the registrar.

Understanding the policies and procedures of different registries can help you determine the availability and requirements for domain names under specific TLDs, which could impact the value and marketability of your investments.

An overall understanding of these key players is crucial for anyone looking to venture into domain name investing because each player has a specific role and responsibility in the domain name ecosystem. 

Knowing the functions and interrelationships of these players will help you make informed decisions and navigate the industry more efficiently. 

chart illustrating the Key Stakeholders of a Domain Name System


By familiarizing yourself with ICANN and the roles of the other key stakeholders within the domain name system you’ll be better equipped to make informed decisions and capitalize on opportunities within the industry. 

As you continue to grow your domain name investments, keep this knowledge in mind and stay up-to-date with industry developments to stay ahead of the curve.

In the next knowledge article we will dive into another critical tool for domain name investors: WHOIS lookup. I will introduce you to WHOIS lookup, its importance, and how to use it effectively to research domain names and gather valuable information. 

For the full list of knowledge articles head on to our Domains Investment Hub.


I am a branding and naming consultant with 16 years of experience. I believe in building a strong brand name that identifies your visions and that of your business. A brand identity motivates you and your team to achieve success.