A Quick Summary About Domain Names and Hosting

Here is a post that will cover some of the key things you need to know about domain names (e.g. robseder.com, amazon.com, etc) and setting one up for your web presence.

Background:
Any device connected to the internet has to have a unique “TCP/IP” or “IP” address in the form of xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx where each position can be from 0 to 255. So, 000.000.000.000 to 255.255.255.255. There is of course, much more to it, but that’s a key concept.

One of the web servers for http://www.google.com is 74.125.130.99 for example. However, instead of saying “I should 74.125.130.99 that”, it’s easier to say “I should google that”, because names are easier to remember than numbers. So, Domain Name Service (DNS) was invented (in 1982!) as a way to translate common names to addresses.

Now, because the internet is one, enormous shared network, there needs to be one authority for this sort of thing. For assigning IP addresses and domain names, it’s http://www.iana.org/ – you don’t interact with them directly, but domain registrars and internet service providers (like your cable company) do.

Domain registrars get licensed to dole out domain names, and charge a nominal fee. For example, www.godaddy.com and www.networksolutions.com are two popular registrars. Domain registration is typically $35/year but can vary by vendor and they have specials/sales all the time.

You might notice that if you look at “hosting providers” or “web hosts”, that they offer really great deals for like $0.99 for your domain name! This is a trap, almost always. If you get your domain through them, then it makes it very difficult to change hosts later on because they might take their time in transferring the domain into your name.

Keep your DNS provider and your web host provider separate!!

DNS Provider:
A DNS provider is a company that lets you buy a domain name. A domain name is unique in the world, so it needs to be registered and replicated to name servers over the entire globe.

What you are really buying is a “pointer” – when someone goes to robseder.com – what “IP address” do I want them to go to? I want it to point to my web host. If you buy the domain yourself ahead of time, then you can simply go into the web interface and change where the pointer points.

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If you buy a domain through a web host, and want to change web host companies, this often becomes much more complicated. They have no interest in “hurrying” to have you leave. So, if they can drag their feet and get an extra couple of months of fees from you, then why not? Your contract with them might also stipulate that you can’t leave, without forfeiting your domain name, until the 1 or 2 year contract expires. Please read the fine print carefully – or just get the domain name ahead of time.

You an think of DNS as kind of like a hierarchy. There are Top-Level Domains (TLD) like .com, .net, .edu, .gov, etc – and under there, there are the kinds of domains we can buy, like robseder.com and robertseder.com. If there are other domains or server names within that (like www, or mail) – then those are managed by us or our web host.

Web Host Provider:
So what is a web host provider? This is a company that hosts HTML web pages, publicly on the internet for you – or they host an application you’ve written, or an application that they have pre-packaged.

For developers, I recommend Azure, because you can get it for free via MSDN, which you can get free via BizSpark – and because Azure has a great console and is easy to work with.

For non-developers, you probably want to host a business/e-commerce site. There are many (e.g. 1and1, Yahoo, Intuit , Ebay, sell stuff on Amazon), and I don’t have any direct experience with any of them, but I would make sure of a few things (for what it’s worth):

  • Make sure they allow you to re-use your existing domain, and they don’t require anything crazy (like transferring the domain to them). The domain is YOUR pointer, don’t give it to someone else!
  • Make sure they offer a free trial and ideally a free development/test area where you can make pretend transactions to get everything working correctly.
  • Make sure they accept credit cards (hopefully at a reasonable rate – I think 3% of purchase price is the going rate?). If they don’t, it can be complicated and expensive to tie in with 3rd-party credit card gateways or PayPal (which is also someone expensive)

I hope some of this helps.

Posted in Computers and Internet, Uncategorized

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