Do you know where your domain is?
Having a domain name for your business is obviously important. It’s how customer find your website, and often it’s used for branded email. So having a solid domain name management strategy is something every company or website owner should consider.
The domain name system isn’t overly complex, but it can be confusing without a general understanding of how it all works. Let’s start with a basic glossary of domain terms:
- DNS (Doman Name System): This is basically the phonebook of the internet. It’s a series of servers around the world that translate domain names that humans understand in to IP addresses that computers understand.
- Domain Registrar: A company that handles the reservation* of domain names. You pay them an annual (or multi-year) fee to keep your domain name reserved. GoDaddy is an example, as is the registrar we use, NameCheap.
- Name Servers: These are specialty servers that route domain names to the proper IP address. A Name Server has the authority to point that domain anywhere. Setting the Name Server for your domain is one of the first steps in managing that domain.
- Zone file: A document that contains the road map for the domain (and possibly subdomains). It contains one or more records that provide DNS servers with instructions on how to handle specific requests for that domain, such as the IP address of the web server, or the location of the email server. The Zone file is located where ever the Name Server is pointing to.
Your domain registrar
Do you know where your domain is registered? If you do, then you can skip this next section. If not, figuring out where your domain is registered is vital. The Whois database can be very helpful and is a good place to start. Here’s a whois lookup for cinchws.com: https://www.namecheap.com/domains/whois/result?domain=cinchws.com If you look through the document, you’ll see a line called Registrar: NAMECHEAP INC. This information may not always be this easy but it’s a good place to start.
Get access to the account
If you have access to this account, awesome, you’re basically there. But it has happened where a domain was registered by someone in the company who’s no longer there, and didn’t pass along account credentials. In this case, the whois lookup might be of use. There is information on the domain registrant, but more and more this info is hidden as private. It’s a ‘feature’ of some domain registrars. The only way to get access to a lost domain account is to call the domain registrar and go through their recovery procedures. If you do know the email address of the registrant, you might be able to re-enable an email account and do a password recovery. Again, this is best handled through the domain registrar protocol.
Keep access to the account safe
Once you do gain access it’s important that information is stored in a safe place, and steps are taken to ensure it doesn’t get lost. Many of our Cinch customers rely on us to manage their domains, and we keep their information and credentials safe and secure. And we’re happy to pass back that management at any time.
Keep the email account up to date, it’s where notifications get sent for renewals and other domain related communication. It’s happened so many times – a domain expires because there’s no-one on the other end of a renewal notification. So, so many times…
Name Server options
Depending on where your domain is registered, we believe it’s a best practice to point your Name Servers to your domain registrar. It’s a practice we have in standardizing how we manage DNS. Good domain registrars also have robust DNS management tools – easy ways to update and maintain DNS Zone files.
The other common option is to point the Name Servers to the web hosting company. While this certainly works, it adds an extra routing layer, and not all web hosts have good DNS management tools. If you’re registered at a smaller, or sometimes older domain registrar, you may have no choice to where your Name Servers are set. In these cases we’ll often recommend transferring a domain to a better registrar.
The Zone File
The zone file is the all important last piece to this puzzle. It’s the set of instructions for all domain related requests. MX records tell the world where your email server is. A records point to the web host. The zone file is also where you can set TXT records and CNAME records. These are all important records when it comes to managing your domain. I’ll leave the intricacies of zone file records to another post, but this is what you need access to.
Who should control your domain registration
I’ve mentioned that many of our customers entrust management of their domain to us. We keep their domains under our account and make sure renewals happen and domains don’t expire. This is not a bad way to manage a domain, but our customers have to trust that we’ll keep the domain safe, and that we’ll be here on an ongoing basis. They don’t have direct access to manage their zone files either, and must call us to make any changes or updates. For customer who trust us with this, they’d call us anyway to make sure the DNS changes were done correctly. So it’s not a big deal, but something worth considering when choosing to have someone else manage your domain.
Maintaining your own account is probably the best way to keep control of your domain. Keeping account credentials up to date and secure will ensure smooth and easy management. If you currently are managing your domain at an unknown or lackluster company, it’s a good idea to migrate to a company like Namecheap. DNS management is robust and easy, and they don’t harass you with a ton of add-ons like that other company. ;)
* Domain registrars don’t actually register a domain, but reserve it with a domain registry. The difference doesn’t matter much to the scope of this article, but here’s an article from Cloudflare that goes quite a bit deeper into domain registrars.