As with most things on the Internet, people have a tendency to stick with the first provider they deal with. Often, web hosts offer packages for new customers - a new web hosting account often comes with a free domain name, advertised as being "for life". So as long as the web host delivers a solid service, there is generally no problem.
But on occasions it might be necessary to change providers, and if a web host owns your domain name AND has all your website files sat on its servers, then essentially, they have complete power over your website. Obviously, this is not a good situation.
But why would I want to change web hosts?
It may prove that your current website has outgrown the capability of your current web hosting provider, and as a result you might have to change hosts. Alternatively, what once was a stellar service slowly degraded into incompetence over time, and you have had enough - you need to move to a new web host.
Generally, website and domain name transfers go without a hitch, but the last thing you need is a web host who for some reason won't hand over your domain name to another provider.
How do I transfer my domain name to another provider?
If you have gained your domain name from an 'all-in-one' package, moving it to another domain name provider as early as possible is advised. That way with full access to your domain name and all the files for your website, you can set up with another web host relatively smoothly, if and when necessary.
Wait 60 days
ICANN, the body that oversees domain name registration, requires that at least 60 days pass after registration before a domain name can be transferred to a new provider. In addition, if you have already transferred a domain to a new provider, it will take another 60 days before it can be moved to a further domain name registrar. Take this into account when planning your move.
'Unlock' your domain
For security reasons, domain name providers have a 'locking' function that applies to domain names. This stops any accidental transfer of a domain as it stops a domain from being transferred at all. Often, domains are 'locked' by default, so before a transfer is possible, you have to visit your current provider's control panel to 'unlock' it.
Update your ICANN information
To facilitate domain name transfers, providers usually contact the Administrative Email addresses listed at ICANN. If you can't receive an email to this address, you can't receive your new domain name registrar's correspondence on the transfer, so ensure your ICANN details are fully correct.
Disable Contact Detail Masking
Domain names have a wealth of information connected to them, including the contact details of the person who registered the domain. Anyone who wants to see who has registered a domain can do so using the public WHOIS registry. Often, people don't want those details in the public domain so they pay to have these details masked - so called 'Private Domain Registration'.
Transfers of domains cannot occur when Private Domain Registration is activated, and so you will have to enter your current provider's control panel and disable this function before a transfer can take place. Be sure to replicate Private Domain Registration with your new domain registrar or all of those details will be available to all and sundry!
Obtain an authorization code
To transfer to a new provider, you have to acquire a transfer code from your current provider. Again, this will require going into your current provider's control panel and requesting a code (which is usually sent automatically). This code has to be sent to your new provider who will use it to facilitate the transfer.
As soon as your new provider receives the code that will be a trigger for the transfer to take place so be sure you are ready! Once the transfer is complete you can cancel your old plan (if it is necessary - if it is part of your web hosting package, it probably won't be).
Be prepared if you are changing hosts at the same time
If you are changing your web hosting provider at the same time as changing your domain name provider, then you need to plan the moves carefully. If you transfer you domain name first, then you won't be able to change your name servers until the domain name transfer is completed. This means that if you close your web host account, your website will not be visible. It might be best to change your name servers before you start the transfer process so your site is continually accessible.