View Full Version : Managing own DNS/ Domain Name Registration, etc.

03-01-2010, 01:30 PM
I am largely self-taught as far as webdesign, and so there are gaps in my learning where I have not previously needed to know about a particular area. As I mentioned before, this whole mess the last 2 weeks has been a great learning experience, not only for the benefits of hindsight, but also because I spent a fair amount of time just reading through threads where others would post and troubleshoot various issues. I picked up a lot.

One of the ideas I picked up was that the hosting, domain registration, email, and DNS managment don't all need to be handled on the back end by the same company, and that in fact it's wise (the last two weeks being the case in point) if they are not. I'm looking to understand this better - what these elements are (specifically DNS - I know mostly what the rest are :), the relationship dynamic (or lack thereof) between them, and what my options are for handling them.

I would like the hosting to stay with WH. My domains are (abbreviated for simplicity) : uf.com, mghs.org, and twotree.com all on one account; dotg.com on another account and pjtc.com registered but not currently pointed anywhere (will be combining so all share one hosting account eventually - but not until all the dust is settled around here!). All domains are already registered through WH (excepting pjtc.com). During the mess, I saw someone mention an option to temporarily get email through google mail and I think that might be a viable option for me, once I understand the technical details behind why it would work, because for uf.com I don't need any hosting space, only email with that domain name. Dotg.com has a whole site, mghs.org has a whole site, pjtc.com will have a whole site, and twotreehollow.com won't need hosting either, just for the domain name to redirect to a Facebook public Page I am setting up.

So like I said I am looking to understand the different elements and dynamic of hosting/ domain registration/ email/ DNS better and what some good options might be for handling these. Hopefully this is clear enough and doesn't make me sound like a complete dimwit (: (a half-dimwit is ok), and is close enough to the subject matter on these boards not to be trolling...

Any help is appreciated!


03-01-2010, 03:13 PM
This is one that has always eluded me just a bit. One thing I can say is that even if you registered your domain via WestHost you can still control it outside thier system if you want. register.westhost.com is the west host link to the interface. If you can log into there then you should also be able to log in with the same credintials at access.enom.com. WestHost is a reseller for eNome. They probably hate me posting that but if for some reason you could not access WestHost systems you could always log into eNome to make changes. Remember the domain name is yours... you own it. :)

Ok now by default in that interface you are going to be pointed to WestHost nameservers but you can either change them there or even by pass the nameservers and set up your own DNS. That is where it gets tricky. I'll leave you with this link for now. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_DNS_record_types I've played with this some but not real good at it.

03-01-2010, 05:18 PM
What I do and what I recommend is that domain registration, DNS service, mail handling, and web serving are all done by different organisations. That way if one part of the puzzle breaks you can move stuff around.

Its not quite as scary as it sounds, as most vendors of these services have web-based control panels.

It does mean though that you need to understand how the bits hang together. And you have more work to do, as rather than WestHosts interface making all changes happen by magic, you need to keep the various bits all aiming in the same direction yourself.

03-02-2010, 12:21 PM
I'm looking to understand this better - what these elements are (specifically DNS - I know mostly what the rest are :), the relationship dynamic (or lack thereof) between them, and what my options are for handling them.

Okay, I'll take a stab at this. You can think of your domain name registration as having three components. One consists of your contact info and says you own the name. Another consists of the domain names of a few name servers that you designate to manage the routing of traffic for your domain. You can manage these two components through the company you registered your domain name with.

The third component consists of the A, C and MX records that tell the second component how to route traffic for your domain. For example, you might have an A record that sends requests for www.yourdomain.com to IP address, where is a server at your hosting company. If you wanted to build somethingelse.yourdomain.com at a different host, you would add another A record pointing that subdomain to that server's IP address. A C record is just an alias for an A record, so you could have multiple subdomains all pointing to the same IP address and then easily change them all at once. An MX record routes your email traffic rather than your web traffic and allows you to host your email at yet another server.

The key here is that this third component can be managed by whatever company you wish -- the domain registrar, the web host or even a third-party DNS provider. Let's say you register your domain through Register.com. By default, the second component -- the name servers -- point to Register.com's own servers. This means you log into your Register.com account to manage the A, C and MX records. But Westhost encourages you to change the second component to include their name servers (ns1.westdatacenter.com or whatever it is), which moves the management of the A, C and MX records to your Westhost account.

I sure hope this is making sense so far!

Now let's say you're used the Westhost recommended setup, but your Westhost account goes down. Traffic can't get to your web server, but you also can't get to your routing settings to change them because you gave Westhost control of those. You have to back up a step -- go back to your registrar, and change the name servers back to the registrar's own, so you can get control of those settings again. These extra steps take time.

Now let's say you've registered the domain name with Westhost. All three components are under their control! I wouldn't expect their domain name registration servers and their web hosting servers to all go down together, but if they did, you would have no way to redirect your site traffic to another host.

Anyway, I hope that explains the pieces and how they fit together. It might not be a big deal to use the host's name servers -- I'll address that in a second post. But I would never register and host with the same company -- that gives one company too much control over your web properties.

03-02-2010, 12:28 PM
Good explination of things. That is how I always kind of uderstood things but was not real sure I was getting it right. Also if your on an account with a shared IP can you point an A record for your domain to that? I guess that is where I get a bit confused. :)

03-02-2010, 12:38 PM
Okay, so my question in all of this is whether to manage my DNS records through the hosting company or through the registrar. Most registrars have nicer control panels for managing DNS records, and that approach gives a little more flexibility to make quick changes. But I've gotten into the habit of using the host because a lot of host setups assume you're doing this and will behave incorrectly if you don't.

For example, if you use another company for email hosting, email messages from outside Westhost will be correctly routed to your email server. But email messages from inside Westhost (including those generated by software on your server) will use Westhost's name servers, which assume you use Westhost for your email, and will be incorrectly routed to your Westhost web server. Westhost can address this by setting up a "sticky DNS" record, but you have to know to ask for this and it's kind of a pain. When I moved one of my sites to a temporary 4.0 account last week, the sticky DNS didn't carry over, and Westhost tech support hasn't responded to my requests to set up a new one, so email doesn't work correctly on that site.

I vaguely remember other issues over the years that come from this approach. Does anyone else know of specific issues with Westhost? And why does Westhost keep sending emails encouraging us to use their DNS system?

There should be a way to tell hosts to "let go" and always use the name servers that you've defined your for domains, but the last three or four hosts I've used all had this problem.

03-02-2010, 12:46 PM
Also if your on an account with a shared IP can you point an A record for your domain to that? I guess that is where I get a bit confused. :)

Yes, this is where the VirtualHost settings in your httpd.conf file come in. That's the configuration file for Apache, and it's edited by the Domains page in your Westhost control panel. It's basically a list that maps domain names to root directories for a given server. So, you could route traffic for several domain names all to the same server IP address, but then Apache would know which directories to further route that traffic into.

Actually, this is how a single server with a single httpd.conf file works. I don't know how a VPS server knows which VPS to route traffic into if multiple VPS's share the same IP address. I assume the VPS software uses a similar process that Apache does. But you don't really have to think about it because it is "virtually" a private server. :)