This article focuses on the pre-release expiration process, which is now used for the majority of expired domain names.

STEP 1: Domain name registration expires

This occurs when the domain name has not been renewed by the owner before its expiry date. Once registration expires, the domain name is placed under the status of RENEWAL GRACE PERIOD. While under this status, the original owner can still renew the domain name without incurring any additional fees. The length of the RENEWAL GRACE PERIOD varies depending on the registrar.

All domain names that have not been renewed before their expiry date are considered expired, hence the term "expired domain name."

STEP 2: Renewal Grace Period ends

Once the registrar's RENEWAL GRACE PERIOD ends, the expired domain name is placed under the status of REGISTRAR HOLD. It is kept under this status for 30 to 45 calendar days, during which time it can be renewed by the original owner by paying a redemption fee (usually $100, but this varies depending on the registrar).

While under this status, the registrar attempts to sell the domain name in an open auction to the highest bidder. If the domain name is sold at auction, the auction winner must wait the full 30 to 45 calendar days of REGISTRAR HOLD before taking possession. If the original owner renews the domain name during this period, the auction winner is refunded their purchase price and the original owner regains possession. If the original owner does not renew their domain name, and the REGISTRAR HOLD period elapses, it is pushed to the auction winner.

Some registrars, like GoDaddy, auction only their own expired domain names. Other registrars have an agreement to pool their expired domain names and make them available for purchase on a separate website, like SnapNames and NameJet, where expired domain names from multiple registrars are sold at auction.

STEP 3: Registrar closeout sale

If the domain name is not renewed by the original owner, and it is not bought at auction, some registrars attempt to sell it in a "fire sale" or "closeout sale". A closeout sale typically offers the expired domain names for sale at a discounted BIN price (Buy it Now), plus the standard domain name registration fee. These sales are first-come, first-served, so speed is critical if you want to snap one up. Not all registrars offer this last chance sale.

If you buy a domain name in a registrar closeout sale, the REGISTRAR HOLD period is still applicable, and the original owner still has a chance to regain possession.

STEP 4: Registrar releases the domain name to the registry

Once the registrar's 30 to 45 day REGISTRAR-HOLD expires, and the domain name has not been renewed or bought, the registrar releases the domain name to the registry. Once released, the domain name is placed under the status of REDEMPTIONPERIOD, where it cannot be modified or deleted; it can only be restored by the original owner by paying a redemption fee (usually $100, but this varies depending on the registry). It is kept under this status for a maximum of 30 calendar days.

Once it enters the REDEMPTIONPERIOD status, the domain name is removed from the zone files, which means the website and email addresses will stop working.

STEP 5: Registry grace period ends

If the registry's grace period expires and the domain name has still not been renewed, it is placed under the status of PENDINGDELETE. The domain name will remain under this status for five calendar days, during which time it cannot be restored by the original owner, the registrar, or the registry. It will continue to be excluded from the zone files.

STEP 6: The domain name is deleted

After being under the status of PENDINGDELETE for five calendar days, the domain name is deleted or "dropped" from the registry on the sixth day. The moment it's deleted from the registry, it becomes available for registration by the general public. Most registries typically delete their domain names once a day, with the exact deletion time being dependent on the registry.

Although it's technically possible to manually register an expired domain name the moment it is deleted, your chances of success are quite low, especially if it has any value. Professional backorders have many orders of magnitude the resources of private citizens, so if you think it will be contested at all, it's worthwhile looking into backordering services. Read our article how to buy an expired domain name for more detailed info.

Do you have any expired domain name stories? Let me know in the comments.

Johan Johansson is a web developer at Pixelmade, a Vancouver web design + internet marketing firm.You can find him on Twitter and Google+.