Domain names in general
- What is a domain name?
- What domain names exist? What is the meaning of the endings .ch, .li, .com, etc.?
- What's the point in having a domain name of my own?
- What can I use a domain name for?
- How do I get hold of my domain name?
- Registries: where can I register domain names with endings like .ch, com, .de, etc.?
- What is a good domain name? Hints on choosing a name
- What is needed for a domain name to be used?
- How do I find a provider/host? Does SWITCH offer such services?
- How can I check if a domain name is available?
- How can I find out who the current holder of a domain name is?
- Why is it that a domain name has been registered, but no website exists under that name?
- Where can I get IP addresses from?
Registering .ch domain names
- Where do I register my .ch domain name?
- What is a registrar?
- Can SWITCH recommend a registrar for me?
- What is SWITCH's role in domain names and the internet?
- Are there any limitations on the choice of names? Rules for domain names
- Which letters and special characters are allowed?
- Can a domain name include umlauts, accents and other diacritics?
- Do I have to be Swiss to register .ch domain names?
- What does a domain name cost?
- Is it possible to register an inactive domain name (i.e. without a name server)?
- Transition period: is a domain name available as soon as it has been deleted?
- Who can I contact if I want to make changes (activate a domain name, register or change name servers, change the hosting provider, update contact details)?
- Which registrar administers my domain name?
- How can I move my domain names to a different registrar?
- What do I do if I have problems or disputes with the registrar?
- How long will it take before my website is online?
- How long does it take for changes to name servers to take effect?
- My domain name is not working. My website cannot be found.
Domain names in general
Just imagine that, when you wanted to telephone someone, you simply had to key in their name rather than a number. That would be very practical, because we can all remember names a lot more easily than numbers. It is precisely this convenience that domain names provide in the internet. Computers that are connected to the internet communicate with one another by means of numerical addresses, called IP addresses, which identify each computer absolutely uniquely. A typical IP address looks like this: 220.127.116.11. The Domain Name System, DNS, makes it possible to use domain names instead of IP addresses. So you can call the website of SWITCH, for instance, either by using the IP address of its web server, http://18.104.22.168, or the domain name, http://www.switch.ch. Domain names also have to be absolutely unique, just like IP addresses. In order to guarantee this, the issuing of domain names is handled by a limited number of central bodies (registries).
The name space of the Domain Name System, DNS, has a hierarchical structure. At the very top come the so-called Top Level Domains (TLDs). There are two sorts of these. On the one hand, there are the generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs), such as com, net, org, which are not assigned to any particular country and, on the other hand, there are numerous Top Level Domains that are specific to individual countries; these are called Country Code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs). They include ch (Switzerland), li (Liechtenstein), de (Germany), fr (France), it (Italy), uk (United Kingdom), and many more.
The next tier below the Top Level Domains is comprised of the so-called Second Level Domains. SWITCH has the job of administering the Second Level Domains that come under the TLDs ch and li. There are also Third Level Domains (which are sometimes called subdomains), but these are defined locally for each network and are most frequently used to designate autonomous subsections of a domain, such as cam.switch.ch. The "www" before the domain name is the host name, which is also defined locally (generally on the provider's system).
See also Registries
Your domain name is your unmistakable identity in the internet. Having your own domain name is not, strictly speaking, a prerequisite for a web presence. It would also be possible for your website to be called by passing through the domain name of your hosting provider. This might then have an address something like: www.myprovider.ch/~myname. This is generally the sort of arrangement offered by free web hosting services. There are three clear disadvantages, however: such addresses are not easy to memorise, they are not very elegant and, worst of all, they are dependent on one provider. As soon as you move to a new provider, the existing address of your website would lose its validity. If you have your own domain name, the address for your web presence will never change, no matter how often you change providers, and it will also have some form of direct relation to you, your company or your sector of activity.
The two commonest uses of domain names are for one's own homepage (corporate web presence, web shop, private website and so on) and for e-mail addresses. A domain name can be used to divert a visitor to a website that already exists at a different address. You are not forced to have a website at all and you can use the domain name just for e-mail addresses. It is also possible to forward messages to another e-mail address that already exists. A website might be accessible via several domain names. So you can use several versions of your personal or company name or different product names as domain names, and they will all lead to the same website. It is also feasible for the same name to be registered under several Top Level Domains (for example, ch and com).
You also have the option of registering a domain name without actively using it. You might do that, for instance, if your planned internet presence is not ready yet but you want to secure a particular domain name before anyone else does. Alternatively, you might decide to register a domain name to make sure that a competitor is unable to do so.
Since it is essential for domain names to be absolutely unique throughout the whole world, they are issued by a central body, called a registry, and its registrars. Most registries are responsible for just one TLD, but some look after several. SWITCH is the registry for domain names ending in .ch and .li. These can be registered through an accredited registrar. If you want a domain name with a different ending, you will need to contact either the registry in charge of it (see next section) or a registrar/provider. In nearly all cases, a charge is levied for the registration of domain names.
SWITCH is the central registry for .ch and .li domain names. These domain names can be registered via the accredited registrars. For domain names with other endings (other Top Level Domains), the best course of action is also to contact a registrar or the provider with whom you want to host your website.
List of central registries
Depending on the Top Level Domain, domain names can be registered directly with the registry or (as with .ch or .li) only via accredited registrars.
Country Code (National) Top Level Domains
List of registries for ccTLDs
Generic Top Level Domains
List of registries for gTLDs
All Top Level Domains
List of all Top Level Domains compiled by IANA
A good domain name ought to be easy to remember and ought to have some sort of connection with you, your company or your products and services, etc. A domain name is more likely to be memorable and meaningful if it is not too long. So-called special characters (such as characters with umlauts, accents and other diacritics) may be possible, but that depends on the particular Top Level Domain. You ought, however, to bear in mind that users in other countries might have difficulties in typing in such characters, or that browsers and other items of software might not provide the necessary support for them.
There is also the question as to the most suitable Top Level Domains (ch, com, etc.) for registering your ideal name under. In terms of functionality, it makes no difference, since all TLDs work throughout the whole internet. Many people regard the "com" TLD as being particularly international, and so businesses with international activities prefer to register their domain names with the ending .com, which they frequently do in addition to their .ch domain names. Sometimes availability is the decisive factor for determining the TDL under which a domain name is registered. It is also possible to have several domain names, all leading to the same website.
See also Rules for domain names
Before a domain name can be used for a website, e-mail or other services, a number of name servers must be set up for it. The web server(s) and mail server(s) will also need to have been set up. In most cases, these services are organised by your hosting provider (for a fee). SWITCH itself does not provide any such services.
An Internet Service Provider (ISP) will give you access to the internet (access provider) and will usually be able to accommodate your website too (hosting provider). There is now a huge choice of providers, and the range of services they offer varies greatly. This website can be helpful if you are looking for a Swiss ISP. Alternatively, you can contact one of our registrars, many of which offer web hosting in conjunction with domain name registration. SWITCH does not provide services of this kind itself.
How can I check if a domain name is available?
How can I find out who the current holder of a domain name is?
For domain names ending in .ch:
Select "Whois" from the navigation menu. Enter the domain name in the field provided and click on "search". If the domain name is already registered, the entry is shown and you can see who is registered as the domain name holder. If it is not yet registered, the button marked "List of registrars" calls up a complete list of registrars you can use to register your domain name.
For domain names ending in .li:
Domain names ending in .li can be searched at www.nic.li.
For domain names with other endings:
- Use the query functions of the registry responsible.
- At uwhois.com you can submit queries to several whois servers simultaneously.
The most common explanation is that the domain name was registered without any name servers. As a general rule, the name servers are added when the domain name and the website are switched live by the hosting provider. However, even if name servers have been correctly set up for a domain name that does not mean that you will necessarily find a website. It may be that the web server (where the website's files are held) is not yet ready or that the files have not yet been installed on it. It is also possible that the holder does not want to use the domain name for a website, but only for e-mails or FTP. Another feasible explanation is that the name server is not (or no longer) correctly configured.
You will nearly always get your IP addresses from your Internet Service Provider. Each provider is allocated IP address ranges by the so-called Regional Internet Registries (RIRs).
The IP address space is currently administered worldwide by five Regional Internet Registries (RIRs): RIPE NCC, ARIN, APNIC, LACNIC and AfriNIC. The RIR responsible for Europe is RIPE NCC, which is based in Amsterdam. RIPE NCC allocates large address blocks to its members, the Local Internet Registries (LIRs). These are local Internet Service Providers who, in turn, allocate IP addresses to their customers.
Where do I register my .ch domain name?
Domain names ending in .ch can be registered with any accredited registrar. These can no longer be registered directly with SWITCH.
A registrar is a company that has signed a contract with a registry (e.g. SWITCH) and offers their customers domain name registration as well as other services such as web hosting. The registrar is thus a resale partner of the registry.
In the interests of neutrality and the equal treatment of all registrars, SWITCH does not make any recommendations.
Besides its main task of operating the Swiss research network, SWITCH has also administered domain names for the Top Level Domain .ch (Switzerland) since the beginnings of the Internet and those for the Top Level Domain .li (Liechtenstein) for many years. It performs this function on behalf of the Swiss Federal Office of Communications (OFCOM) and the Principality of Liechtenstein Office for Communications. SWITCH is thus the official registry for .ch and .li domain names, although it no longer deals directly with customers or domain name holders. This is done by the contractual partners of SWITCH, the registrars. SWITCH does not offer other Internet-related services such as Internet access, e- mail, web hosting or web design. Please contact a registrar, Internet service provider or web design firm for these.
The various registries throughout the world have different practices regarding permissible domain names. The rules for domain names ending in .ch and .li are set out in SWITCH's General Terms and Conditions (GTCs), in particular in paragraph 3.1. The list of all permissible characters is to be found in the Annexes to the GTCs (see also Which letters and special characters are allowed). The maximum length for a domain name is 63 characters and the minimum length three characters. The names of Swiss municipalities can only be registered by the municipality in question. Before you register a domain name, you ought to make sure that you are not infringing anybody else's rights. SWITCH is not in a position to check whether someone has a right to a particular domain name, and its assumption is that domain holders are entitled to hold their domain names.
According to Annexes 1 and 2 of the General Terms and Conditions, the following characters are allowed for domain names ending in .ch or .li:
From the ASCII character set:
From the Latin-1 Supplement and Latin Extended-A character sets:
Yes. On 1 March 2004, SWITCH extended the range of characters that can be used for domain names under .ch and .li to include some characters with umlauts and other accents as well as certain other characters not contained in the basic ASCII set. A list of all permissible characters is to be found in the Annexes to the General Terms and Conditions (see also Which letters and special characters are allowed). The technical term for such domain names is "Internationalized Domain Names" IDN. However, the DNS still does not support these characters directly, so a transcription process is needed and this runs in the background. The standard employed for this process is still rather new, and so there can be no guarantee that such domain names will always work properly under all circumstances. For important applications, our recommendation is not to rely solely on IDNs.
No. You can register a .ch domain name without being Swiss and without living in Switzerland or having your business based in Switzerland. The corollary of this, however, is that when you encounter a .ch domain name, the individual or organization behind it is not necessary Swiss and may have nothing at all to do with Switzerland.
The cost of registering a domain name ending in .ch depends on the registrar you choose. Using the domain name on the Internet (setting up web servers, name servers etc.) results in additional costs that are charged separately by the providers in question.
You can register a domain name without actively using it. Your website might not be ready, for example, or you might simply want to prevent a competitor from taking your preferred domain name.
Once it has been deleted, a .ch or .li domain name enters a 40-day transition period (see General Conditions 3.3.3), during which it cannot be re-registered. The domain name holder can contact the registrar before the transition period expires to restore the domain name.
Who can I contact if I want to make changes (activate a domain name, register or change name servers, change the hosting provider, update contact details)?
Please contact the registrar that administers your .ch domain name for all related enquiries. If you are unsure which registrar is responsible for your domain name: Find customer service
In many cases, it is the company that hosts your website. If you are unsure which registrar is responsible for your domain name: Find customer service
Please note that it is unfortunately not possible to show contact details for every registrar.
To transfer a domain name to another registrar, you need a transfer code (Auth-Code). Your current registrar can provide one. Simply forward it to the new registrar.
The contract you sign with the registrar is private, and any dispute arising from it must be resolved in the civil courts. Contact your lawyer or your local consumer protection association for advice. Registrars are obliged to allow domain name holders to transfer their domain names to another registrar at any time. Claims under civil law due to breach of contract cannot be ruled out.
How long will it take before my website is online?
How long does it take for changes to name servers to take effect?
Once new name servers have been registered for a particular domain name, they must be added to the zone file so as to ensure that the domain name works properly on the Internet. This happens automatically and at the latest one hour after the name server is registered/changed.
- A domain name that previously had no name servers will be active at the latest one hour after the change has been made.
- If the name servers have been changed (e.g. due to a change of provider), it may take several hours or even days until the new name servers return a response for the domain name, depending on how the previous name servers were configured.
This can happen for a number of reasons:
- The domain name does not yet have any name servers.
- The (new) name servers have not yet been added to the zone file.
- The name servers have been registered, but they are not configured correctly.
- The web server is not yet ready, either because it has not yet been set up or because the data have not yet been installed.
Please contact your registrar or hosting provider if you have any questions or problems.