Definition and information from Wikipedia.org
A domain name registry is a database of all domain names and the associated registrant information in the top level domains of the Domain Name System (DNS) of the Internet that allow third party entities to request administrative control of a domain name. Most registries operate on the top-level and second-level of the DNS.
A registry operator, sometimes called a network information center (NIC) maintains all administrative data of the domain and generates a zone file which contains the addresses of the nameservers for each domain. Each registry is an organization that manages the registration of domain names within the domains for which it is responsible, controls the policies of domain name allocation, and technically operates its domain. It may also fulfill the function of a domain name registrar, or may delegate that function to other entities.
IANA delegates all other domain name authority to other domain name registries.