The process of acquiring a domain name and hosting can be confusing. We’ve covered the basics of hosting before, but it’s important to have a good understanding of domain names as well. Perhaps the biggest misconception out there is that you can own a domain name. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case as domain names can expire. It’s really important that you know what can happen if your domain names expires so you take steps to prevent it.
Domain name basics
Before we get into how domain names expire, it’s important to understand what a domain name is. When we explained hosting basics before, we used the analogy of a home and a phone book. Your hosting is like your digital house. Just like your home holds all your possessions, your hosting company holds all your digital files. Your domain name is like an entry in a phone book. Back before the Internet, if you wanted to send someone something through the mail, you’d look up their address in the phone book. Similarly, your computer uses your domain name to know where to look for your files when someone visits your website. Your domain name then redirects people to your Domain Name System (DNS) entry — the Internet’s phone book. Your DNS entry is associated with your hosting company. The hosting company can then serve your files to your website’s visitors.
It’s a complicated explanation, but to make it simple, your domain name will use DNS to tell visitors to your site what hosting company has your files and where they are. Even though many hosting companies package your hosting and domain name together, they’re actually two separate things. You can even use a different company for each.
How does a domain name expire?
Rather than thinking about your domain name as something you own, think of it like something you rent. When you pay for a domain name or a hosting package, you will pay for a specific length of time. Even if you own your own server space and don’t need hosting, it’s not possible to own your domain name permanently. A nonprofit organization called ICANN — the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers — manages DNS entries. Think of ICANN like the landlord of the Internet.
How do you know when a domain name expires?
When you sign a contract with a company to reserve your domain name, they should inform you when your domain name will expire and needs to be renewed. If not, you can use a site like whois.net to find out. Your domain’s expiration date will be listed on the Whois entry for your domain, regardless of what company you used to reserve it.
It’s important to point out that your domain name and hosting package can expire at different times. Make sure you know when your domain name will expire as it could be sooner than your hosting contract ends.
What happens when a domain name expires?
When the time frame for which you’ve reserved your domain name expires, anyone else can reserve it. Let that sink in: anyone can reserve a domain name that isn’t reserved, even if it once was.
As you might expect, predatory “domain sharks” scour the internet for expiring domains and snatch them up if you miss your deadline. They can then charge you an unreasonable amount of money to get your domain back.
Unfortunately, this isn’t just a hypothetical worst-case scenario. In the blue “registrant contact” box, you’ll see a domain name registered to a company called DropCatch. The previous owner of the domain name contacted us to find out what happened to his website and enlist our help to recover it. Sadly, he inadvertently allowed the domain name expire and DropCatch quickly snatched it up.
After contacting DropCatch, we discovered that they auctioned off the domain name. The winner of the auction had the domain name listed for sale for a whopping $2695.
The first question the previous domain name owner asked us is the same thing most people in this situation likely wonder. “Is this a scam or is it legitimate?”
The best answer is simply yes. Yes, it is a scam; however, yes, it is also legitimate. Because the domain name expired, the “domain shark” company now legitimately owns the domain name. Of course, $2695 is an outrageous price to pay to recover the site, but these companies realize that people could be desperate to recover their online identity and online brand. Because the domain shark is now the legitimate owner of the domain name, they can renew it as long as they want and it’s not possible to get the domain back without paying their hefty fee. These companies don’t expect a bidding war to start over the domain name, but they know they’ll have one vey interested potential buyer and can charge outrageous amounts of money for that reason alone.
With this potential misfortune in mind, it’s absolutely essential that you closely monitor the date your domain name expires. Sometimes domain registrants renew your domain for you and give you a grace period if you forget to renew, but there’s no guarantee this will happen. Losing your domain can be very costly so it’s best to take extra precautions to ensure you avoid the catastrophic outcome that can result.