Domain registrars compared

Over the past six months or so I’ve been going through a major reorganization effort relating to my various internet hosting services. I had things like web and e-mail hosting, DNS, and domain registration scattered all over the place and it was getting a little unmanageable. So I’ve decided it’s time to simplify and do some consolidation in order to save time and maybe a little money.

I’ll be writing up a series of posts regarding the various services I’ve tried, kept, and discarded. This first installment is on domain registrars. Domain registration is an area rife with shady, fly-by-night companies and poor service, but with a little research I’ve come up with some good options amidst all the garbage.

Network Solutions

Network Solutions was the first registrar I used, back in the ’90s when they were still called InterNIC and were the only registrar, back when domains cost $70/year. I stuck with them even after domain registrations were opened up to third-party registrars, partly due to inertia and partly due to the horror stories that were going around in the early years about people being unable to transfer registration away from NetSol. At least their fees eventually dropped.

Network Solutions and Verisign, their former parent company, have a long history of questionable practices surrounding their domain registration business and their ownership of the .com and .net registries. Although the two companies are no longer owned by the same corporate entity, neither company has shown any sign of becoming a more responsible and respectable internet citizen.

Price: $35/year

Pros: Not much, really. Inertia and their first-mover advantage are the only reason I was there as long as I was.

Cons: Most expensive domain registrar I’ve seen; arguably Evil; intrusive upselling galore; no DNS service included.

Dreamhost

In January 2005 I gave up running my own web and mail server at home and moved my web sites to Dreamhost. Dreamhost also offers domain registration, and for one third the cost of Network Solutions. I was happy with their service and this finally got me out of my domain registration rut with NetSol.

New domains registered around this time were done through Dreamhost and I revisited my list of domains at NetSol, sorted out the ones I was using or had concrete plans for, and transferred them over here (a completely trouble-free process, as it happened). I disabled auto-renew on the remainder and left them at NetSol to expire.

Price: $10/year

Pros: Reputable company (hosting overselling controversy notwithstanding); inexpensive; lets you keep your hosting and domain registrations together, if you wish; domains can be registered free if you have referral credit.

Cons: No DNS service unless you have a hosting plan.

PairNIC

After a couple years at Dreamhost I decided it was time to move on (more on this when I write up my web hosting reviews). My new web host didn’t offer domain registrations so I began looking for a new home for them. It’s generally a good idea to keep these separate from your hosting service anyway, so I was ok with making the change.

I asked around in some forums frequented by smart people I trust and googled some reviews before finally deciding on PairNIC, the domain registrar operated by Pair Networks. I had never used Pair’s web hosting service but they’ve been around for a long time and I was hearing good things about them as a company. Along with Gandi, Pair was consistently rated highly in terms of reputation, service, and customer satisfaction. I chose Pair of these two because Gandi, based in France, at that time only had pricing in Euro and didn’t handle .us domains, of which I had a couple.

Once again, I pruned my domain list to those I wanted to keep and transferred them to Pair, leaving behind a handful of impulse domains I had registered free at Dreamhost with some referral credit.

Price: $20/year

Pros: Reputable company; DNS hosting included; web and e-mail forwarding included.

Cons: User interface, while functional, is clunky and inelegant; price is so-so.

Gandi

The impetus for transferring my domains to Gandi was based more on my DNS requirements than on any problems with Pair. It was an easy decision to make though, because I actually wanted to use them originally but was deterred by the issues mentioned above: pricing only in Euro and no .us domains. By late 2007 both of these impediments were gone and so, due to Gandi’s meeting my DNS needs in a way that Pair didn’t, I transferred my active domains there, saving $5/year each in the process. Once again, a few unused domains were left behind to expire.

It’s difficult to review Gandi as solely a domain registrar when most of my interaction with their support, and indeed the driving force behind my switch to their service to begin with, has been about ancillary services, not the domain registration itself. I’ll be able to give a more detailed account when I write my upcoming post about DNS hosting services.

Incidentally, I recently discovered the meaning behind Gandi’s name, which I had always wondered about. It seems it’s a French acronym for Gestion et Attribution des Noms de Domaine sur Internet, which translates to “Management and Allocation of Domain Names on the Internet”.

Price: $15/year

Pros: Pretty much the same pros as Pair, above — reputable company; DNS hosting included; web and mail forwarding included.

Cons: Potential for miscommunication due to the language barrier (although I haven’t had any trouble thus far); minor UI quirks; slow customer service response times.

While my active domains are now all registered at Gandi, I’ve left behind a scattering of domains at my previous registrars, domains that I don’t have plans for and, unless I get an idea for them, I will let expire once the current registration term is up. I used to register domains for multi-year terms, rather than year-by-year as I do now, so some of these have been hanging around for quite a while. I also bumped up the terms for some of them in order to use up my remaining credit at Dreamhost when I was finishing up my move away. The final count is one domain still at NetSol, five at Dreamhost, and three at Pair. All are due to expire by the end of 2009.

Disclaimer: Note use of referral links in Dreamhost and Pair reviews. Despite my not using their services at this time, both served me well and are recommended for domain registration services.

Comments

Scott Lenger says:

I’m thinking of transferring myself and am down to pairNIC and gandi. I think the only thing keeping me from gandi is the potential for miscommunication. If their interface is good enough I hopefully won’t need it.

One question, how slow is “slow” in their customer response times, same day, or same week?

Kenn Christ says:

Same week if you’re lucky. Last month I had an issue open for 12 days with no response. Dismal.

Jean Guillon says:

Did you check http://www.ofindo.com to compare prices ?

Regads,

Jean

Kenn Christ says:

No, but I wasn’t comparing based on price. Even Pair, at $20/year, is acceptable to me, so I’d rather consider the other, more important, factors.

Dreamhost is the best domain registrar. Will use it forever.

ohxten says:

1&1 works for me, and is pretty cheap. The people over at WebHostingTalk forums rave about it as well.

JustSayNoTo1&1 says:

I came to this website after having become fed up with 1&1′s absolutely incompetent support. 1&1 is cheap, but their website is clunky, and if you have a problem or a question, well after days of emails, you will never get an answer. They don’t even read your (simple) question or even try the suggestion first. Unless your time is worth nothing, 1&1 will waste it until you leave. I will look into PairNIC, but the price is kinda high as I have several domains (mis-spellings and such). I also had previously bad experiences with NetSol. GoDaddy is fair.

Guess Who says:

You have an incorrect link to Gandi, the registrar. The correct link is gandi.net. Your link, gandi.com is a mortgage broker.

Kenn says:

Right you are. Fixed now, thanks. I’m usually so good about checking my links too.

Kenn says:

Gandi being anti-spam is a good thing, no doubt, but they’re a little too aggressive for my tastes. Case in point: Their mail forwarding service filters mail and silently drops mail it believes is spam, with no warning to the user, no way to retrieve the lost mail, and no way to disable this “feature”.

I use Gandi’s forwarding for a good number of domains and this behavior is why I’m looking for new mail hosting service.

Anonymous says:

Kenn,

If you haven’t yet, check out Google Apps for you domain.
Sign up for the Standard Edition.

http://www.google.com/a/help/intl/en/admins/editions.html

As many 6GB boxes as you want :)

Anonymous says:

Sorry for double posting and not checking your link. So never mind, I saw you did yet another nice review there for mail hosting.

triindi says:

Nice post!
Right now,
I’m looking for good and cheap domain registrar,
coz my last registrar (estdomains.com) and my hosting (esthost.com) is SCAM..

Kishore says:

Highly informative. Thanks for the post.