One of my non-technical friends, a writer and motivational speaker, bought a new domain name recently, then asked me how to get it pointed to her soon-to-be-rebranded website. The ensuing discussion revealed that she, like most non-techies, knew next to nothing about domain names, other than that “she needed one.”
Since I suspect there are many other people around just like her, I thought it might be a good idea to demystify domain names. So, let’s go on a tour through the wild, wild badlands of the Internet.
A Registrar is a company that has been authorized to register (and accept payments for) domain names.
A Hosting Company provides computers on the Internet that can host web sites. For small sites, which pretty much defines the kinds of sites that writers and motivational speakers have, they’ll usually host multiple web sites on one computer. Sometimes Registrars also function as Hosting Companies to secure additional income, but the two roles are distinct.
Every computer on the Internet has an ugly, non-intuitive address that looks something like this: 126.96.36.199. That’s known as an IP Address. They’re not very easy for people to remember. So some bright people invented Domain Names, which are like relatively easy-to-remember names that can “point” to an IP Address.
Except that it’s not quite that simple. How do you find out what IP Address a Domain Name points to? You could query every computer on the Intenet: “Hey buddy, do you answer to keenertech.com?” But that might take a while.
So somebody really devious came up with the idea of the DNS Name Server, which is basically a computer that 1) holds information about a whole bunch of domain names and where they point to, and 2) can respond with the correct IP Address if you politely ask it about a domain name. But, sometimes computers crash, so most people who run DNS Name Servers also run a backup server just in case the first one fails.
Now we come to the fun part. Your Hosting Company has DNS Name Servers associated with your hosting account. You can usually look up what they are using some via sort of “Dashboard” or “Control Panel” that they provide to their customers. When you find their DNS Name Servers (sometimes they’ll be listed as just “name servers”), record that information.
Next, you need to login to the Registrar, who generally has their own Dashboard or Control Panel, and tell them what DNS Name Servers will be associated with your domain name. By default, they’ll list their own name servers — you want to change the name servers to the ones from your Hosting Company.
Back at your Hosting Company, you need to create a web site, generally something that can be done via their Dashboard. Next, you need to tell them, via the Dashboard, which Domain Name will point to your web site. They’ll make sure their DNS Name Server properly directs Internet users to your web site.
If your Registrar and Hosting Company are the same, then they’ll already have them handled by a DNS Name Server. All you’ll have to do is configure your web site so that the Hosting Company knows what Domain Name you’re using.
Once you set up your Domain Name to point to your web site, you may have to wait a few hours for this to propagate outward so the rest of the Internet knows where to find your web site. You should double-check to make sure that both your Domain Name and your Domain Name preceded by “www” point to your web site.
Awesome! Now you’re using a real Domain Name, and look look so much more professional than all those other folks using derivative and unprofessional addresses like great-speaker.blogspot.com. If you have any problems, check the documentation on your Hosting Company’s web site — setting up Domain Names is a common problem that they deal with all the time. If all else fails, don’t be afraid to send an email to Customer Support — they will help you out.
I hope this tour of IP Addresses, Domain Names, Hosting Companies and Registrars has been useful to some of you.