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How Domain Names Work: A Non-Technical Guide for Site Migrations

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Without a registered domain name, visitors would have to remember a unique numerical address (aka the IP address) to get to your website (e.g., http://35.224.124.183). In other words, your domain name is an alias for the web server that stores and serves your website to your visitors. But how does your web browser know which web server your domain name is mapped to?

Introducing the DNS Database

DNS stands for Domain Name System. The DNS database maps your domain name to your web server. The DNS Record is the interface (a web form actually) that is used to view and modify the DNS database.

The reason the DNS Database matters to you is because the IP address of the web server your website is being migrated to, will be different.

Consequently, WPSimplifyd will need to update your DNS Record. Otherwise, nobody will be able to visit your website.

Finding Your DNS Record

It’s important to recognize that domain names are typically registered through a domain name registrar such as Google Domains, Hover, Name.com, Namecheap, Network Solutions, and many others. That’s usually where your DNS record will be modified.

However, if you don’t recognize many of the aforementioned names, you’re not alone.

That’s because many hosting companies and providers such as GoDaddy, HostGator, Mediatemple, Squarespace, WIX, and others, are also domain name registrars. Or, they have partnered with a domain name registrar to simplify the registration process for you.

If you’re not exactly sure where your domain name is registered, you can usually find out by reviewing your “WHOIS” record in this (or a similar) database. As you can see, WPSimplifyd’s Registrar is Google LLC and the Registrar URL is domains.google.com.

Domain Names - Whois

WPSimplifyd will need your login credentials for your registrar’s portal to update your DNS record. Or, you may prefer to have someone else update the record for you.

Note: Sometimes, your domain name will need to be transferred to a new Registrar before updating the DNS record. If you look at your WHOIS record, there is a line or two for “Name Server”. If, for example, the name servers are something like “mediatemple.net”, we’ll probably want to migrate that domain to a new registrar before your website migration.

When migrating your domain name is necessary, I generally recommend Google Domains to serve as your new registrar.

DNS Propagation: Speeding Up the Process

After your DNS record is updated, it generally takes 24 to 48 hours for your website (i.e., the website that has been migrated) for Internet Service Providers across the world to update their cached records.

However, by changing the “Time-to-Live” (TTL) setting to a lower value — for example, 5 minutes — and well in advance of the migration — your migrated website will show up much faster.

The TTL setting is determined by your DNS Record. Some Domain Name Registrar’s set the TTL to a default of 24 hours (it varies from registrar to registrar). If we change the TTL to 5 minutes… and wait for 24 hours… your migrated website should begin to show up within 5 minutes! That way, we’re not all twiddling our thumbs, waiting for the migrated website to show up.

A Note About Email

As I mentioned in my article about Email Providers, your website and email can be hosted by two different providers, as defined by your DNS Record. Therefore, you can  host your website with WP Engine, and your email with Google via G Suite. Pretty cool, huh?

Tommy Oddo Tommy Oddo
Hi there! I'm the principal of Oddo Design and WPSimplifyd. I'm also a hands-on web designer and web developer in Austin, Texas, who creates, improves, and maintains easy-to-use, aesthetically-pleasing, custom websites with WordPress. Need help with your WordPress site? Let's talk!

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