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Part 4, DNS Overview

If you didn’t register a domain name when you selected a hosting provider, then you probably did in the Domain Registration portion of this series.  After registering your domain, the next step is to get DNS (Domain Name System) configured so that when you type www.yourdomainname.com, your web-host responds and presents a web-page.

What is DNS?

At 30,000 feet, DNS is a hierarchical distributed naming system for resources.  It translates domain names (e.g. mydomain.com) into IP addresses (111.222.111.222) on the internet.  For the purposes of this article, we’re only really concerned about getting your domain name to point at your web-host.  And fortunately, that’s pretty easy.

What’s an IP address?

An IP address is a unique identifier that matches to your domain name.  IP addresses must be unique on the Internet (e.g. there’s only one 111.222.111.222).  Using a DNS configuration tool, we map that IP address to a domain name. Just because you registered your domain name with, say, GoDaddy… doesn’t mean that your DNS has to point to GoDaddy’s web-servers.  For example, if you registered your domain via GoDaddy, but you’re hosting your web-site on DigitalOcean, you can point your name servers at DigitalOcean. (e.g. n1.digitalocean.com, ns2.digitalocean.com, ns3.digitalocean.com).  In other words, if you login to GoDaddy, and go to Domain Management, you’ll be able to Manage the nameservers. In the above example, if ns1/ns2/ns3.digitalocean.com are listed in GoDaddy’s Domain Management page, that’s all you really need to do (assuming your site is up and configured at digitalocean).  What you’re doing by configuring the name servers there, is telling DNS that DigitalOcean is authoritative for your domain.  Once you do that,  all that GoDaddy is doing for you is pointing at the third-party DNS host.  So, if you want to make changes to DNS (e.g. create subdomains, configure a mail server, setup some types of CDNs, etc.), then you need to do it through DNS management console of your DNS host.  In this example, if you login to DigitalOcean, here’s what the DNS Management Console looks like: DigitalOceanDNSManagment What’s all of this stuff?

There are several different types of records, including A, CNAME, MX, SRV, and NS records.  If you’ve already configured your nameservers to point at DigitalOcean, then any changes you make here will be translate into behavior changes when folks type your web-address.  So, if your WordPress host is running on DigitalOcean, then all you need to do is create an A-record at point it at the IP address of your digitalocean WordPress server.

Where is my IP Address on DigitalOcean?  You can find the IP address of your DigitalOcean WordPress server by clicking on “Droplets”, and matching the IP address of your WordPress server (e.g. in our example, we’ll use 111.222.111.222). DigitalOceanFindMyIPAddress A-Records After you have that, click on the DNS in the left hand navigation column and create a new A-record.  In most cases, you’ll want to create a new A-record for “www”, and match it with your IP address. Alternatively, you could use [email protected] matched with your IP address.  Using the [email protected] symbol, is a reference to the root domain itself.  So in practice, here’s what this means…you probably want folks to reach your web-site by going to https://www.domain.com – so create an A-Record to point from www.domain.com to your IP address.  You probably also want folks who just type http://domain.com to reach your domain name, so create a second A-Record pointing [email protected] to your IP address.  That way, folks typing www.domain.com, or just domain.com will be directed to your IP address.

CNAME Records

A CNAME record works as an alias of the A record.  That way, if an A Record’s IP address changes, the CNAME will follow to the new address automatically.  You might want to go ahead an create a CNAME record to point www to the root domain via [email protected] And then you can also use a wildcard to direct any mistyped records (e.g. wwq.domain.com) to domain.com by pointing an “*” to the root domain [email protected]

MX Records

An MX (mail exchanger ) record is a type of resource record for record that specifies the mail server responsible for accepting email messages on behalf of a recipient’s domain, and a preference value used to prioritize servers.  While beyond the scope of this article, the lower preference value (e.g. the lower number), the higher delivery preference, meaning that sending mail servers will look first to the highest priority to deliver (e.g. lowest number).  You can assign multiple records the same priority level to provide a type of load-balancing, or you can assign backup servers based if you have design considerations where the backup server is limited in some manner (e.g. high-latency internet connection, etc.).

Part 3, Choosing a Domain Name Registrar

Domain Registration

If your choice of CMS platform was foundational, and your selection of hosting provider important, the priority that you give your domain registrar is several orders of magnitude less important.  There are many ways to register a domain, but typically you’ll either go through your hosting provider, or one of the big name registrar’s out there like GoDaddy.

By volume, GoDaddy is the largest domain registrar in the world.  They surpassed Network Solutions nearly a decade ago, and though they’re privately owned and not obligated to do much in the way of reporting, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2011 that they sold a 65% stake in the business to a trio of big private-equity companies – KKR, Silver Lake Partners, and Technology Crossover Ventures for a reported $2+ billion dollars.  If their name still doesn’t ring a bell for you, you might recall GoDaddy from their marketing –they usually have a SuperBowl advertisement of some kind.

Being the biggest name in domain registration and web-hosting doesn’t come without detractors.  GoDaddy has been criticized over the years, often by competitors and former employees, as being in violation of various ICANN rules, particularly as they relate to domain name portability(e.g. the domain’s are difficult to port out).  Another area that they’ve received criticism for is their “upsell” approach.  If you’ve ever registered a domain name, or picked-up a SSL certificate through them, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  What starts as a simple domain registration, can easily (or even accidentally) become email services, web-hosting, private registration, managed hosting, premium listings, and more.  They’re also known for their coupons – nearly everything that can be purchased through them has a coupon.  None of this is necessarily a problem, but it is something folks complain (loudly) about.

As you might imagine, GoDaddy isn’t universally loved by the WordPress community.   Having a wide range of clients, we’ve worked with many different domain name registrars.  I don’t personally have a problem recommending GoDaddy for domain registration, and SSL certificates, but at the same time I’m not really passionate about registrars.   I can’t recommend them for their web-hosting, let alone managed WordPress hosting, as there are just so many out there that do it better.  Name registration, on the other hand tends to be a low-value problem to solve.  At around $15 per year, there are probably higher-value things for you to focus your attention on.  From my standpoint, I mainly care about what the Nameservers field says… this points to wherever your DNS hosting lives, and may point to GoDaddy’s name servers. Wherever those point, that’s where you can manage your DNS settings from.  By default, that will be GoDaddy (e.g. ns1.godaddy.com, ns2.godaddy.com).

Some popular alternative domain name registrars that I’d recommend considering include, NameCheap, Moniker.com, Hover.com, Gandi.net (which includes free private registration), dotster.com, in addition to most web-hosts.

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