How Domain Names Work
Part 1 – Register your domain name
All Domain Names must be registered at an ICAAN accredited Domain Registrar. Commonly used registrars are GoDaddy and Network Solutions. There are hundreds of them. ICAAN exists so that only one person can register each domain name. Otherwise there would be chaos.
Choose a registrar. You can base this choice on price, added services, or any other criteria. One thing they all have in common – they charge you a yearly fee to reserve your domain name for your own use. If you stop paying the fee and your domain expires, it becomes available for someone else to purchase and use. You can pay several years in advance and also set up automatic payments with most registrars in order to avoid having your domain expire.
Part 2 – Use Your Domain
So now you have a domain. What do you do with it? You have two basic options.
1 – Set up a website.
2 – Set up email hosting.
Both options have the same requirements:
- DNS provider
- Hosting provider
Part 3 – DNS
DNS is the service that tells the world where to find your website or email server. Without it, your site could not be found. DNS services are usually offered free by your Registrar and your Hosting provider but you only need to use one of them. You could use a 3rd party DNS host but you would likely pay a monthly fee for it.
Who handles your DNS? This is determined by the Primary Nameserver setting in your domain account at your Registrar. The Primary Nameserver is the place where all requests for your domain name are sent in order to locate your website or email servers. You or your DNS provider will need to set up DNS records for your website. When you first purchase a domain, this is likely set to your Registrar’s nameservers.
Want to check your nameservers? Do a WhoIs lookup. All registrars should have a WhoIs link on their home page. Example A WhoIs lookup also tells you the registered owner of the domain.
To change your nameservers, you must log in to your account at your Domain Registrar.
If your DNS is handled by your Hosting provider (your nameservers are set to them), they will usually take care of the DNS records for you. If you use the Nameservers of your Registrar, you’ll usually need to configure the DNS records yourself.
Most people just let their hosting provider handle the DNS which is why they don’t even know what DNS is for. People who need more control will want to manage their own DNS.
Part 4 – Web Hosting
You have your choice of thousands of different web hosting providers. They charge you a monthly fee to allow you to store your website files on their servers so that your website is visible to the world. Your DNS records determine where visitors are directed to find your site. You must have a DNS record which points www.yourdomain.com to the IP address of the server that hosts your website. This IP address is provided by your Hosting provider.
In many cases, a Registrar will also act as a Hosting provider. The added service of Hosting usually incurs an additional fee over the domain registration. Sometimes they will waive the domain registration fees if you are a Hosting customer.
Part 5 – Email Hosting
Email hosting is generally provided by your Web Hosting company. This is not always the case – it is just the most convenient solution for most people. In some cases, you may wish to host your website at a Hosting company but host your email on your own private server.
Again, the key is DNS. Every domain that receives email must have Mx (mail exchange) records in its DNS. Mx records tell other mail servers where your mail server is located so that they can send you mail. Usually, you would have at least two Mx records – a Primary and a Secondary. Each record contains a Priority – usually 10, 20, or 30. Lower number records are tried first. If that server does not respond, the next record is tried. This allows you to set up fail-safe email delivery. If you have only one mail server, you will have only one Mx record.
Put it all together:
- Register a domain
- Purchase Web and Email hosting
- Set up DNS to point your domain to your web and email hosting servers.