The Curious Case of Absolutely Free Domain Name

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  • Hosting Guides
  • Updated: May 15, 2019

With more than 348 million domain names registered as of end 2018, domain names are hot selling commodities. In fact, there has been such great demand that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has been allowing the registration of new Top-Level Domains.

With such huge number of domain names being registered, you would think that domain names now probably cost a fortune (and in some cases you might be right).

After all, commodity prices usually follow demand, right?

Yet that isn’t really the case with domain names. In general, domain names go for about $10 to $12 depending on where you buy it. I’ve even seen some sales periods where you can get a domain name for as low as $0.99.

Domain names that are cheap to register often come with a catch though – the renewal fees are often much higher than what you bought them for. Take for example the case of 1&1 Ionos which lets you register a .info domain for $1 but charges $20 for subsequent renewals.

Where Do Domain Registrations Fees Go?

Domain names are priced differently depending on exactly what TLD is involved. Essentially, the amount you pay is split up between three main bodies –

  1. Domain name registry,
  2. Domain Registrar, and
  3. ICANN

Domain Name Registry

The domain name registry is the body which is authorized by ICANN to oversee the TLD in question.

For example, Verisign is responsible for overseeing .com domains, while Neustar overseeing .biz, .us and a few other TLDs. Of fees you pay for your domain name, around $8 goes to the registry.

Domain Registrar

Domain name registries do not directly sell domain names but allow other companies called registrars to handle these matters. For example, in the case of a .com TLD, although Verisign is the registry you would buy the actual domain name from a registrar like NameCheap. Registrars will get any remaining money above the base fee paid to the domain name registry.

ICANN

Finally, we come to Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) which is the top dog in the domain name business. Because ICANN is a non-profit organization, it only charges a nominal fee of 18 cents (per year) for the sale of each domain name which falls under its governance.

Registrars sometimes also allow transactions via third parties which help them sell domain names. These third parties are resellers and will often take their own cut of the transaction as well.

100% Free Domain Name – For Real?

Given the relatively solid fee structuring and organization of domain names you might be wondering if its still possible to get a domain name for free. The answer to that is a resounding…

YES.

Remember where I mentioned that ICANN gets a fee for sale of domains under its governance? Well, ICANN is not the only body which oversees domain names.

ICANN was founded in 1998, but there are TLDs which predate its existence or are otherwise outside of its jurisdiction. Of these, the most important to note are country-code TLDs (ccTLD) simply because of the issue of sovereignty.

How each of these TLDs are administered depends on then country. For example, in the UK the .uk ccTLD is overseen by Nominet UK, while the tiny island of Tokelau (population barely 1,500 strong) has Freenom as the administrator for .tk domains.

Location of Tokelau
This is where Tokelau is located at (view on Google Map).

How to Get a Free Domain?

There are two main ways you can get a free domain name and that is through either Freenom or a web hosting provider which offers a free domain name with the purchase of specific web hosting packages which they sell.

1. Freenom 

Screenshot of free domain name options at Freenom.
You can register a free .tk, .ml, .ga, or .cf domain for free at Freenom.

Freenom is the registry operator in charge of .tk ccTLDs. These ccTLDs are given away free except in some premium cases. Premium cases normally involve trademark names, for example coca-cola.tk which costs around $1,800.

Because of the country’s liberal giveaway of .tk extension ccTLDs, they have become widely registered and it is currently the fifth most-registered TLD in the world after .com, .net, .de and .cn respectively.

The Freenom site is extremely easy to use and is built primarily around its domain name search engine. Its only other apparent service is a public DNS system (similar to the ones Google or Cloudflare operate). You can search for the domain name you want and the Freenom system will display a list of what’s available (or not) and for what price.

Running a cursory search, I found that my name was not available on the .tk domain but there were other ccTLDs where it was available on (see pic above). If you’re looking for an alternate site for dome reason, there is also Dot TK, which is a subsidiary of Freenom.

What’s the catch?

The domain name is meant to be free. There is a ‘but’ there though and that is any domain registered with that extension is never deleted. If your site fails to respond to redirect targets, then the domain will be taken offline. Even worse, any traffic you’ve built up for the domain name is sold to advertising networks.

2. Hosting Companies

Hostinger free domain deals.
Hostinger gives a free domain with web hosting.

Aside from the free (and shady) .tk domains you also might be able to get a free domain name from one of the web hosting providers. This is a much better option, since in many cases the domains they are giving away are more reputable extensions.

One good example of a web host which is doing this is Hostinger. This company is a full-service web hosting company which offers almost anything you’ll need to start up a website. Their hosting plans range from the humble shared hosting option all the way to powerful VPS and Cloud Hosting options.

Best of all, they are offering free domain registrations for the first year if you sign up with some of their plans. This is available even on their shared hosting plans like the Premium and Business plans. For a fee of only $2.15 and $3.45 respectively per month, both come with a free domain name registration.

Hostinger is also a domain name registrar (accredited by ICANN) and you can get quite several domain name extensions through them if you’re looking for an alternate to the traditional .com extension. The free domain name packaged with their hosting deals isn’t restricted to .com but can also be .xyz, .net, .info, .online, .store, .tech, .site, .webspace, or .space.

What’s the catch?

In this case I would say that the catch really isn’t a catch since you need web hosting anyway to make use of your free domain name. Hostinger is a reputable company with an excellent track record and their web hosting deals are reasonably priced.

Conclusion: Shady Freebie or Good Package Deal?

Because of the easy availability and free nature of .tk domains, they have become synonymous with sites of low reputation. As far back as in 2007, Internet Security giant McAfee found that a stunning 10% of all .tk domains contained malware. However, since then there have been other ccTLDs emerging which have even worse reputations, for example .cm, .cn and .ws. Unfortunately, the reputation of .tk ccTLDs has never really recovered.

With a .tk domain registered on Freenom, you’re looking at zero fees, but must consider the reputation hit your site might face. You also need to consider that your domain name might be taken back by the registrar at any time if you fail to meet their terms of service.

On the other hand, buying a good web hosting package from Hostinger may involve some cost for the hosting deal – but you need web hosting anyway, right? Plus you also have a much better spread of free domain name extensions to choose from.

One which won’t hand around your neck like a dead albatross!

Article by Timothy Shim

Timothy Shim is a writer, editor, and tech geek. Starting his career in the field of Information Technology, he rapidly found his way into print and has since worked with International, regional and domestic media titles including ComputerWorld, PC.com, Business Today, and The Asian Banker. His expertise lies in the field of technology from both consumer as well as enterprise points of view.

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