Why are ccTLDs so complicated?

If you think about it, a domain is a simple product. It’s a string of text connected to an IP address. So why does it get so complicated? Why do you have to provide a local contact in some countries to register a domain or confirm an email to prove that your email address is valid? Well, part of that has to do with the structure of the domain system, where a change on one level can affect the entire network.

The rules that apply depend on whether the domain is a generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) or a country code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD). A gTLD is a domain ending that has three or more characters, such as .COM, .ORG, or .INFO. All gTLDs are regulated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). A ccTLD, on the other hand, is a domain ending with two characters that is allocated to a nation or state, such as .DE for Germany or .CN for China. This makes regulation of ccTLDs a bit more complex than gTLDs.

So, let’s start by looking at ICANN and gTLDs.

ICANN, is a non-profit organization, which sets technical and procedural policies for domain name Registrars and Registries. To sell gTLDs, like .COM, both the Registry and Registrar must be accredited with ICANN. Any rule or regulation set by ICANN ultimately affects the whole domain channel.

The Registry is the organization that creates and manages a domain ending. For example, the Public Interest Registry manages .ORG while the Donuts Registry manages newer gTLDs endings such as .GMBH and .GURU. These Registries must sign a contract with ICANN and are responsible for both creating and enforcing the registration requirements.

Registrars are organizations that have been accredited by ICANN to reserve domain names on behalf of Registrants. Some Registrars work directly with the Registrant while some, like EPAG, sell domain names wholesale through Resellers. The Resellers then work directly with Registrants.

The Registrant is the individual or organization who owns the domain name.


For comparison, let’s now take a look at the ccTLD system.

As we mentioned above, ccTLDs are allocated to nations or states. Therefore, the entity that sets the technical and procedural policies, is often the government itself. The government chooses the Registry that will manage their ccTLD ending and enforce the government’s policies. Depending on the history of a particular ccTLD, the Registry could be a number of institutions, for example:

  • a government ministry, such as in Barbados (.BB), Finland (.FI), or Samoa (.WS);
  • a telecom, such as in Yemen (.YE), the United Arab Emirates (.AE), or San Marino (.SM);
  • a university, such as in Bosnia And Herzegovina (.BA), the Bahamas (.BS), or Chile (.CL);
  • a private company, such as in Austria (.AT), Greenland (.GS), or Puerto Rico (.PR);
  • or, a not-for profit organization, such as in Armenia (.AM), Belgium (.BE), or New Zealand (.NZ).

ccTLD Registry Models

To make things even more complicated, there is no standard model for the ccTLD system. Because a government decides how their ccTLD will operate, each country is different.

Some ccTLDs follow a Registry/Registrar model, which functions much like the gTLD model. The Registry only offers registrations and domain management through accredited Registrars. Sometimes these ccTLDs are open for anyone to register and sometimes they are restricted to local nationals. Still, many of these Registries offer the Registrar a formal registration portal and API so that domain management can be automated.

Some ccTLDs do not accredit Registrars but choose instead to work directly with Registrants. Registrars can still manage these domains, but must often log into an individual account and make changes to these domains manually. Registries with this model commonly require the Registrant to be a local national or to supply documentation before they can register or manage their domain.

Registry/Registrar OR Registrant
Though rare, there are some ccTLD Registries that work with both Registrars and directly with Registrants. Registrants pay much higher prices than Registrars do in order to manage their domains directly with the Registry. This model often leads to confusion for Registrants since the processes may be different for Registrars than for Registrants.

What does this mean for you?

Any change made along the channel can have dramatic effects on you and your customers. For example, if ICANN were to make a change to its contact information requirements for Registrants, that change would have an effect on every level of the system. Registries would have to first make it possible for Registrars to provide that information. Registrars would then have to adapt their systems so that they could receive that information. Resellers would have to contact Registrants to communicate this change and then request the required data. Registrars and Resellers would need to make it clear what the consequences of inaction might be.

The ccTLD system is especially vulnerable to change. Since governments are often involved in the decision-making process, changes to requirements, process, or pricing can happen overnight. Some organizations that operate ccTLD Registries have very little knowledge of the industry, receive little funding, or operate the Registry as a public service. This means that processes can be complicated, prices high, and information scarce.

We hope this overview of the domain name structure helps you to understand why the domain name system can be so complex and why we make the decisions we make as a Registrar. We understand that when we announce last minute changes, it places undue pressure on you and your customers. We are not fans of it either, but the reality is that some changes are beyond our control. When these things do happen, we do our best to inform you well in advance and implement solutions that minimize the impact on your business. But it’s no fun if it’s too easy, right?