In the previous article we looked at using a WHOIS service to see if the domain name(s) we want to buy are available. The best practice is to purchase domain name(s) from an Accredited Registrar who also provides you with a dedicated Domain Name account. But before you do that, it's important to understand how to manage a domain name account. This article explains the importance of the Account Holder, the four legally recognised WHOIS contacts and how to set it up so that you have both the legal rights and control over your domain names in a domain name account.

The Account Holder

When you first purchase domain name(s) from an Accredited Registrar, you should get a domain name account where you can manage the domain names that you have purchased, or any that you buy in the future. The person that first sets up the account with the Accredited Registrar is known as the Account Holder.

The Account Holder is NOT a legal entity of the domain name

It is the duty of the Account Holder to complete the contract with the Registrar by agreeing to the various terms and conditions, making the first annual payment and filling out the name and contact details for the 4 legally recognised WHOIS entities of the domain name which are:

  1. Registrant ("owner")
  2. Administrative Contact ("decision maker")
  3. Billing Contact
  4. Technical Contact

If the Account Holder does not provide details of the four legally recognised contacts, then the Account Holder will assume these roles by default.

Powers of the Account Holder

The Account Holder has super powers and can perform all but one of the functions associated with the domain name account, and that is, they cannot in their own right finalise a request to sell, or transfer the domain name. Only the Administrative Contact can give final approval.

If you are the Account Holder, and you want to be legally recognised as the owner of the domain (registrant) and have final say on transfers (administrative contact), then you should nominate yourself as both the Registrant and the Administrative Contact. If you prefer to handle the Billing yourself, then you can nominate yourself as the Billing Contact, except for .ie domain names where the Accredited Registrar will be the Billing Contact. The Technical Contact can also be you, or a technical person/entity that is does this work for you.

  • The Account Holder has no legal rights on the domain name, but has "super powers" in the domain name account
  • The Registrant is the legally recognised owner - this can be a company name, or an individual
  • The Administrative Contact has final say over domain transfer (whether to another registrar, or to a new owner)
  • The Billing Contact pays the fees (except .ie domains, where the Billing Contact is normally the Accredited Registrar)
  • The Technical Contact is restricted to technical functions in the domain name account such as changing nameservers to point to a new webhost
This seems like a crazy set up. What gives?

Historically, the original .com domain could only be bought by companies, not individuals. There was no such thing as an Account Holder. Companies filed their paperwork with DARPA to be registered, listing their WHOIS entities as contactable departments in the company.

  • Registrant - that would be the company name
  • Administrative Contact - the company's legal department
  • Billing Contact - the company's accounts department
  • Technical Contact - the company's IT department

As far back as 2013, an ICANN expert working group proposed scrapping the WHOIS system for domain names. We're still waiting.

What you'll do in the Domain Name Account

This is not an exhaustive list by any means. For simplicity I'm just mentioning the things you're most likely to do in managing a domain name account.

Contact Information
Add/edit contact details for the 4 Legal WHOIS Entities
WHOIS Privacy
Can be applied to obscure the names/contact details for the 4 legal WHOIS entities
Add/edit/delete nameservers of the domain name. This allows you to point the domain name to a web host of your choice
Domain name transfer
Final approval of a domain name transfer (either to a new Registrar, or to a new owner) will fall to the Administrative Contact of the domain
Registrar Lock
This is a safety feature to prevent the records being changed. Usually only the Account Holder has control of this feature
The Billing Contact will pay the registrar's fees for the domain name. No pay, no domain name!

Who can do what?

Each registrar is different, so the table below is a generalisation for illustrative purposes. Hopefully you get the idea that while the Account Holder can do almost everything, the other four Contacts cannot. This table assumes that the Account Holder has nominated contacts other than herself in each of the four domain contact roles.

means this is their normal function
means some registrars include this function if Access Rights have been given by the Account Holder
means not normally

# Change A/C Details Registrar Lock Control Change Nameservers Approve Transfer Pay the Registrar
Account Holder
Admin Contact
Billing Contact
Technical Contact

The only way you can ensure control over your domain name is to register it yourself with an Accredited Registrar that provides you with an independent domain name account. That way you are the Account Holder. And for legal rights of your domain name, you should also nominate yourself as Registrant, Administrative and Billing Contact. Note that in .ie domains, your Accredited Registrar will normally be the Billing Contact.

What's Next?

The final article of the Domain Name series is Purchase your Domain Name from an Accredited Registrar. So let's do it!