Domains, websites, and DNS… oh my!

We see lots of confusion around the topics of DNS, nameservers, hosting, and email. Like a lot of facets of IT, these services are flexible and can be highly customized by someone who knows what they want to do. However, if you or someone you trust isn’t sure what they’re doing… things can go downhill in a hurry! Here’s a quick crash course on DNS, nameservers, website hosting, and email hosting.

Domain name registrar: Every domain name has what’s called a registrar. In a nutshell, it’s who you pay on some sort of regular basis for the ownership of that domain name. Domain names must be renewed every so often (1, 5, 10 years). We have seen several instances where someone has left the company and their domain name registration info was sent to an old email address. The domain name actually expires and goes back out on the open market! Yikes! You want to make sure you are either paying that bill, or someone (like Allevia) is managing it for you.

Your domain name registrar will also control your domain name’s DNS nameservers. Keep reading for more info on that!

Website hostingPut simply, this is the actual computer or server that stores the data that makes up your website and responds to customers that want to see your site. Ever hear of a website “crashing”? This usually means that more people are trying to access the website than the server was designed to serve. Ever been on a website that is really fast or one that’s really slow? Both of these aspects are related to the actual server that is serving the website.*

Email hosting: Just like website hosting, this is the service that actually hosts your email – the server where the bits and bytes of your email are stored. A lot of services have features like spam filtering and virus scanning, but then again, some don’t. We generally recommend Hosted Exchange if you’re an Outlook junkie or Google Apps if you’re a Google fan. There are lots of options with regard to email, so it’s helpful to know the usage criteria first before determining the best email solution.

DNS nameservers: Nameservers control various aspects of your domain name including where to go for your website (A records or CNAME records), where to send email (MX records), as well as some other services that are beyond the scope of this crash course (TXT and SRV records just to name a few).

Your nameservers can be hosted at the same place as your domain name registrar and email and website… but it could also be somewhere totally different. You could have your domain name registered through Enom, and then have nameservers pointed to GoDaddy’s DNS nameservers. Your website could be hosted on GoDaddy, or it could be somewhere else… you could use Office 365, Google Apps, or any number of email solutions!

On a final note, things can get complicated very quickly if you’re not careful. Smooth email migrations and website transitions can be done successfully with little to no downtime, but, like any good symphony, you need a good conductor! We are well-versed in how to prepare for and execute various transfers and changes as well as the yearly maintenance that needs to be done with regard to these services. If you’re a small business and you’ve got DNS woes… give us a call and we can help!


*It’s worth a footnote to mention that some hosting services are “platforms” and your website or email actually lives on lots and lots of servers as opposed to just one computer. Some of these platforms can “scale up” or “scale down” depending on time of day and how many people are requesting your site.


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Stefan Wilson

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