Long-term planning is a crucial part of any successful business. Buying a domain name for 10 years is common practice with website builders or business owners who want to go all-in on a business idea and don’t want to worry about renewing every single year.
Why don’t registrars give an option larger than 10 years? Is buying a domain name permanently possible?
This is a question that comes up a lot and the answer is clear: a domain cannot be bought for life, it can not be bought permanently.
There are several reasons for this, so let’s jump in!
Why You Can’t Buy a Domain for Life
While the idea of being able to buy a domain for life is certainly appealing, and convenient, there are several practical reasons why this isn’t possible. It doesn’t matter if the domain name is a trademark or your name, there are time limits to how long a person can have a domain locked up for.
The limits actually vary depending on what the TLD is, but many follow similar rules to the .com which has an upper limit of 10 years.
The international body that regulates domains, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), sets the limit for leasing at 10 years. In theory, a person can continue to renew indefinitely or add another year to push it back up to 10 every single year.
Why these limits?
There are several reasons. One of the goals of ICANN is the democratization of names. They don’t want someone to be able to buy up thousands of names and then those names can never be released again.
What if a person who protects their privacy passes away? Those names could be simply lost forever.
A person could also put an unrealistic price on a premium domain name and then keep it for life without it ever coming back into the market for others to possibly build a site out of it.
There’s also an important technicality to understand here:
You don’t technically “buy” a domain name – you lease it.
When you “buy” a domain name from a registrar like GoDaddy, you get the sole rights to hold or use that domain as you see fit. That name isn’t going to be pulled away from you, for all intents and purposes you own it – but technically it’s a lease through the registrar.
This is due to the rules of how domains work and that offers the protection of making sure that domains are kept in an open market and not grabbed and hoarded through things like inheritance.
Are You Actually Buying Or Leasing a Domain Name?
Technically when you purchase a domain you’re not buying it, you’re leasing exclusive rights from the registrar. This is a company like GoDaddy or NameCheap that customers interact with directly.
This is only one part of the hierarchy. To understand how the full process, it looks like this:
- ICANN sets the governing rules enforced by a registry
- A registry overlooks one or more TLDs
- The registry does business with registrars, which offer domains to the general public
- A registrant is a person who “buys” a domain from those registrar companies
This GoDaddy article goes into this system more in-depth and in detail.
The question of owning a domain name or leasing a domain name isn’t helped by unclear language. Some registrars discuss selling a domain as “transferring ownership” which while true from a practical standpoint, is not from a technical one.
In short, you’re leasing exclusive rights to use a domain name from a registrar. Once you have made that transaction you can continue to renew the domain but you don’t own it. Although for all practical purposes, you have control as if you do.
How To Get a Domain Name Permanently
While there is no way to 100% get a domain name permanently, there’s no reason you can’t own a domain for decades. After all, there would be chaos if Google, Forbes, or Microsoft all were forced to lose their domain names.
It’s important to understand the way domain registration works to protect a domain you really want to own.
Just because you technically lease a domain name versus owning it, that doesn’t mean you don’t have control.
1. Register a Domain Name Long-Term (10-Years Maximum)
Anyone is allowed to register a domain name for the long-term, up to 10 years at a time. While you can’t register a domain name for longer, the good news is that there is no 10 year total limit.
This means that after every year that passes, a registrant can add any number of years that it takes until the domain is reserved back up to 10 years out.
A decade is a long period of time and if things are going well with that business or domain, just add more years to continue to extend it back out.
Long-term registration also minimizes the chance that something goes wrong after a year like forgetting to have auto-renew on or having a payment form declined.
2. Choose Auto Renew Option
Auto renew is one of the most important tools at your disposal to help keep the domain names you want in your possession indefinitely. This charges to renew the domain when it comes up for expiration, and helps protect you from a wide variety of potential issues.
This way you won’t just forget, or you won’t lose the domain because you’re away from an internet connection. This even covers if you’re in a hospital or injured. If everything is set to auto renew then as long as the payment information is current, you’re good to go.
3. Expiration Protection
Registrants often offer additional expiration protection programs that extend the time that a domain name owner has to renew it.
These plans are in addition to the usual barrage of emails informing the account owner of the domain name coming up for renewal. While the exact service varies from registrar to registrar, most include an additional 90 to 180 days the registrar will hold the domain name before releasing it and additional attempts to contact the owner.
When combined with auto-renew, this is a powerful combination of tools that could allow a person to easily manage ownership of the domain for decades without a hiccup – or at least with a safety net in place in case problems did occur.
How Can a Company Offer a Lifetime Domain Registration?
There are some registrars who make the offer of lifetime domain registration. If the maximum amount of time ICANN allows is 10 years then how is this possible? The short answer is questionable ethics on the deal (or marketing).
The only way this works is when the registrar purchases the domain on your behalf and leases it to you. Meaning while they give you the access and use of the domain as if you had ordered it through another registrar, they technically “own” it.
They take care of the renewals every ten years. If the company is good to their word and stays in business, then everything runs smoothly.
However, since you’re not the one who has officially registered the domain, if the company went bankrupt, was hit with regulations or fines, or even was bought out, you could lose your domain.
You would not have the protections that come from having registered it yourself. Since the company is acting like a middleman on your behalf, if they have problems you lose the domain and whatever was paid for those extra years.
This Forbes article talks a bit about the practice, it’s not one that most registrars offer and although some attempt to do this honestly, it’s a red flag situation for sure.
There is no way to buy a domain name permanently. This doesn’t mean that any purchased domain is unprotected.
Take these four steps to secure your domain for the long-term:
- Buy for the maximum allowed 10 years
- Always have a backup payment option on file
- Turn Auto Renew on for the domain (if it isn’t already)
- Purchase domain expiration protection
If you do these four things, and renew for another 10 year stretch, then there should be no concerns at all about losing control of a domain name.