OnlineNIC making domain name transfers out hard

I have found that information on the Internet about which companies provide good service, and which companies provide bad service, are always useful to me when making decisions about who to do business with. So I have decided that I will start posting examples of when I encounter particularly good or particularly bad customer service here, so that I can return the favour to other fellow Internet users. Note that many of the reviews I post will be negative. This is not because I sit all day in my darkened lair plotting the demise of the companies that incurred my wrath, but instead out of a desire to warn the public of companies which it would be best to avoid doing business with.

I have had the misfortune of dealing with a few companies with bad customer service (and the pleasure of dealing with some much more civil customer service representatives as well), lately, and so have a backlog of tales to report. However, I will start with the troubles I have had with the domain registrar OnlineNIC.

I am not a direct customer of OnlineNIC. I was actually a customer of web host Cleverdot, who sell domain names (in this case, my domain name However, Cleverdot is not a domain name registrar themselves. They instead resell the services of OnlineNIC to provide the domain name. The problems I am having arise when OnlineNIC have blocked my attempts to move to another registrar.

My story begins about a few weeks ago. My previous webhosting agreement with webhost Cleverdot (I had paid for 3 years in advance) was coming up towards its renewal date, and so I began to look into the options for hosting my domain in future. Cleverdot's servers have been a bit slow, but things have generally just worked. However, at the same time, web-hosting technologies are evolving all the time, and there are always new options - many of which Cleverdot won't support because they control their servers, not me. To cut a long story short (I plan to post a tutorial giving the details later), I decided to get a "VPE" (virtual private environment, a specific type of VPS, or virtual private server, hosting) so I would have complete control over the environment. This is essentially a case of buying the services I need to set up my own hosting, instead of using someone else's hosting.

Anyway, this required that I change my DNS records so that the nameserver for will be my new VPE. However, Cleverdot's interface doesn't let me enter the IP of the nameserver, only the domain name. If the nameserver hosts its own domain name (which is the way I want to set things up - so my nameserver will be, this is obviously insufficient. When someone wants to visit, their browser would try to look up This would cause the recursive nameserver performing the lookup to ask which nameserver hosts The answer would be Next, the nameserver would need to look up the IP address for This is where the problem is - if the IP isn't entered, the recursive nameserver won't know the address of Most registrars allow you enter the IP address of the nameserver to solve this problem.

My solution to this problem was to try to change to a new registrar. Before I go into the problems I encountered, let me provide some background on how the domain name registration works.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. This is a non-profit organisation which is given the responsibility of overseeing the DNS system globally
Global top-level domain, like .com, .org, .net, and a number of other domains like .info which have been approved more recently. ICANN approves gTLDs, and they are entered into the root name servers which hold information on all gTLDs and ccTLDs. ccTLDs - country code top level domains (like .nz) are different from gTLDs, and administration is delegated to that country.
The registry is the location where domain name information is actually stored for each gTLD (or ccTLD). They are appointed by ICANN. The .com, .net, and .org registries are currently operated by Verisign. The registry runs the domain-name servers for the the relevant TLD, which provides information about the nameservers delegated to handle queries for domains hosted by the registry.
Registries don't directly allocate gTLD domain names to the public. Instead, registrars are companies which are approved by ICANN - and which pay the annual fees to the registry approved by ICANN - for the ability to register domain names for one or more particular TLDs. ICANN requires proof that a company has enough funds to remain solvent long into the future before approving registrars.
Getting and maintaining domain registrar status is expensive. So some registrars allow third-party resellers to register domain names in their name. The registrar still has a number of duties to perform with respect to maintaining the domain name. Many webhosts also act as resellers, and often - because resellers get volume discounts from registrars - they can offer lower prices to the public than the registrar themselves. Some registrars don't even sell small quantities of domains - they are effectively reseller only.
Inter-registrar transfer
As a condition of becoming a registrar, registrars have to follow ICANN policies on the registration and transfer of domain names. One of these policies is the Policy on Transfer of Registrations between Registrars. One essential part of the policy is that registrars have to let a customer who wants to transfer out of their service do so except in some very special cases defined by ICANN policy. When a domain name is transferred, the length of time with the new registrar is extended by a year from that already paid for - as long as the total time to expiry doesn't exceed 10 years.

So now that you know the basics of how the gTLD system is supposed to work, let me now tell you about OnlineNIC. OnlineNIC is a registrar (CleverDot is a reseller of OnlineNIC services). OnlineNIC is one of those registrars that focuses on providing domain names to resellers - they don't allow normal low volume customers to register domain names with them directly. I tried to transfer my domain from CleverDot resold OnlineNIC to Namecheap resold Enom (Namecheap is a registrar with a very good reputation. They are apparently approved by ICANN as a registrar, but at present still resell Enom provided registrations).

The transfer process for .com domains goes like this:

  • Customer uses interface to unlock domain name and get EPP authorisation code at old registrar - this worked fine for me.
  • Customer goes to new registrar (or their reseller) and enters the details for the domain name.
  • New registrar sends e-mail to the listed contacts for the domains asking them to confirm they agree to the transfer. The request must be in the standard FOA - form of authorisation - set by ICANN.This worked fine for me.
  • Administrator confirms. I did this. I had trouble the first time due to problems with Enom's system, but got past this stage on the second attempt.
  • New registrar submits EPP code to the registry to start the transfer. This worked fine for me.
  • Original registrar is informed of the transfer, and has 5 days to explicitly acknowledge or deny the transfer. If they don't take any action, after 5 days the transfer is implicitly acknowledged and proceeds. Under ICANN policy, there are only limited circumstances in which the transfer can be denied:
    1. Evidence of fraud
    2. UDRP action
    3. Court order by a court of competent jurisdiction
    4. Reasonable dispute over the identity of the Registered Name Holder or Administrative Contact
    5. No payment for previous registration period (including credit card charge-backs) if the domain name is past its expiration date or for previous or current registration periods if the domain name has not yet expired. In all such cases, however, the domain name must be put into "Registrar Hold" status by the Registrar of Record prior to the denial of transfer.
    6. Express written objection to the transfer from the Transfer Contact. (e.g. - email, fax, paper document or other processes by which the Transfer Contact has expressly and voluntarily objected through opt-in means)
    7. A domain name was already in “lock status” provided that the Registrar provides a readily accessible and reasonable means for the Registered Name Holder to remove the lock status.
    8. A domain name is in the first 60 days of an initial registration period.
    9. A domain name is within 60 days (or a lesser period to be determined) after being transferred (apart from being transferred back to the original Registrar in cases where both Registrars so agree and/or where a decision in the dispute resolution process so directs).
  • However, OnlineNIC have explicitly denied my transfer, and have yet to tell me why - I have asked them and have not got a reply. I am apparently not the only person this is affecting (google for OnlineNIC denying transfers for lots more reports). It appears they are probably denying all transfers out at present, whether or not they are allowed to under ICANN policy.

    OnlineNIC has apparently been successfully sued in the US for millions of dollars by Verizon for trademark infringement, but are based in China, and didn't respond to the suit. Some people have suggested there may be a link. At the very least, many people are concerned that OnlineNIC are going to go out of business and appear to be leaving. Maybe denying transfers is a misguided last-ditch attempt to stop customers leaving. All of this is really just speculation, but the key message is that OnlineNIC are stopping people from transferring their domains away from them.

    So I think the moral of the story here is: don't use OnlineNIC.

    In terms of next options, I am trying to get NameCheap to convince enom to file a transfer dispute against OnlineNIC with Verisign. Under the transfer disputes policy at this is an option - but it is up to enom to file the dispute.

Injunction-11-March-2009.pdf37.33 KB
Appointment-Of-Receiver-13-May-2009.pdf44.15 KB
Modified-Injunction-13-May-2009.pdf48.99 KB