Domain Names FAQ

Frequently asked questions about domain names in general and registering .ch domain names

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Domain names in general

Registering .ch domain names

Domain names in general

What is a domain name?

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. CComputers connected to the Internet communicate with each other using numerical IP addresses that uniquely identify each computer. Such addresses look like this, for example: (IPv4) or 2001:db8::37 (IPv6). The Domain Name System DNS allows domain names to be used instead of IP addresses. The Switch website is therefore not only accessible via the IP address of the web server, but also via the domain name 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).

What domain names exist? What is the meaning of the endings .ch, .li, .com, etc.?

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. The "www" before the domain name is the host name, which is also defined locally (generally on the provider's system).

See also Registries

Structure of a domain name

What's the point in having a domain name of my own?

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: 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.

What can I use a domain name for?

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.

How do I get hold of my domain name?

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.

Registries: where can I register domain names with endings like .ch, .com, .de, etc.?

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.

Countries bordering on Switzerland
Austria - France - Germany - Italy

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

What is a good domain name? Hints on choosing a name

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 TLD 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

What is needed for a domain name to be used?

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.

How do I find a hosting provider/web hoster? Does Switch offer such services?

There is a large selection of providers offering web hosting and a wide range of services. For example, you can contact one of our accredited registrars, most of whom offer web hosting in addition to domain name registration. Switch does not 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?

For domain names with the endings .ch and .li:

Choose "Look up" in the navigation menu. Enter the domain name in the input field and click "look up". If the domain name is already registered, you will see the registrar and technical information. You won't see information about the holder of the domain name; you can find more information about this here. If the domain name 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 with other endings:

Use the query functions of the registry responsible.

Why is it that a domain name has been registered, but no website exists under that name?

The most common explanation is that the domain name was registered without any name servers (inactive). 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.

Where can I get IP addresses from?

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.

Registering .ch domain names

Where do I register my .ch domain name?

Domain names ending in .ch can be registered with any accredited registrar. It is not possible to register directly with Switch.

Registry and registrar

A registry is an organisation that administers the Domain Name System (DNS) for a particular country. It is responsible in particular for registering domain names with the corresponding country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD). Switch is the registry for Switzerland and Liechtenstein.

A registrar is a company that has signed a contract with a registry (e.g. Switch) and offers its customers a range of services including domain name registration. The registrar is thus a resale partner of the registry.

List of accredited registrars

Can Switch recommend a registrar for me?

In the interests of neutrality and the equal treatment of all registrars, Switch does not make any recommendations.

What is Switch's role in domain names and the internet?

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. The task to deal with domain name holders and customers 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.

Are there any limitations on the choice of names? Rules for domain names

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.

Which letters and special characters are allowed?

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:

Can a domain name include umlauts, accents and other diacritics?

Domain names under .ch and .li may 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.

More about Internationalized Domain Names IDN

Do I have to be Swiss to register .ch domain names?

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.

What does a domain name cost?

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.

Is it possible to register an inactive domain name (i.e. without a name server)?

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.

Transition period: is a domain name available as soon as it has been deleted?

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. You can use Domain Name Lookup to find the registrar of your domain name and the registrar's contact information.

Which registrar administers my domain name?

In most cases, it is the company that hosts your website. Please use Domain Name Lookup to find the registrar of your domain name and the registrar's contact information.

How can I move my domain names to a different 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.

What do I do if I have problems or disputes with the 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 in the database of Switch.

  • 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.

My domain name is not working. My website cannot be found.

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 files have not yet been uploaded.

Please contact your registrar or hosting provider if you have any questions or problems.

See also How long will it take before my website is online?
See also Who can I contact if I want to make changes