Understanding the role of ccTLD registries

What role do ccTLD registry operators play?

Country code top-level domain (ccTLD) registry operators (also known as registries) are responsible for managing or administering a country-specific top-level domain such as .si or .eu. They are like a database for all the domains in their TLD.

Among their key responsibilities, registry operators provide name resolution services (connecting domain names with their associated IP addresses) and maintain the critical infrastructure needed to complete DNS queries.

Registry operators also provide registration services to registrars, which can include creating or cancelling domain names, updating a name server and more.

A ccTLD registry also manages what is known as the “zone file” for its specific geography. This zone file holds all the domain names along with contact information for each registrant. Information about the registrant as well as contacts for technical and administrative issues related to a domain name can be queried via the WHOIS, a directory service maintained by the registry. The Whois tool is an important query and response protocol within the DNS system. The Whois allows a user to perform a search on a given domain (or IP address) and retrieve various information about its registration.

How do ccTLD registries operate?

No two ccTLDs are quite the same. Within Europe, ccTLD registry operators can vary widely in terms of their ownership, size, business model and their relationship with local governments. Most ccTLD registries, however, function as not-for-profit foundations, cooperatives and research institutions.

Most of a ccTLD registry’s funding comes from the proceeds of domain registrations. These proceeds are then reinvested into the ccTLD’s day-to-day operations and infrastructure, as well as educational programs, advertising and research initiatives.

From a personnel perspective, ccTLD registries can be staffed by as many as 100, or as few as six people, according to CENTR member data.

Who governs or oversees ccTLD registries?

For the most part, ccTLD registries are governed by the national laws of their country – much like any other business. In addition to this, EU policies – such as cybersecurity, data protection/privacy and consumer protection – can impact a ccTLD’s daily operations.

ccTLD registries set their own terms and conditions for things like the length of a registration period, domain name pricing, prohibited domain names and – in some cases – local presence requirements.

Some ccTLD registries have even moved towards offering new and expanded services – outside of domain registrations – including security monitoring and analysis, data management, anycast – and more.

Do ccTLD registries play a role in regulating or “policing” online content?

ccTLD registries are facing increased pressure from regulators to help in the fight against illegal online content.

However, these registries have always operated on a purely technical level within the internet’s infrastructure. In other words, they help us navigate the internet smoothly, but they never directly host or interact with web content. But is there more “direct” action that could – or should – be taken?

This video provides a summary of ccTLD registries and their technical role in relation to online content.

cctlds and online content explained still