Your Public Internet Presence
Domain Name Registration
At the top level of your Internet Presence is your domain name registration. Registration means you own the domain. To register a domain, you have to find one that isn't already registered, of course, and pay a domain name registrar to register your domain. Domain name registration is ultimately controlled by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), overseen by the U.S. federal government. All registrars operate under ICANN's rules, and their registration databases are tied to ICANN so that anyone can determine to whom a given domain name is registered.
Every registrar is a private business that can offer any other services and set their prices as they wish. Popular registrars include GoDaddy, Register.com, 1and1, Tucows, eNom, Network Solutions, and VeriSign.
Registration is a simple process. When you register your domain, the registrar adds your name and address to its database, and notifies ICANN that the information about your domain resides with them. Your registration record includes the name and IP address of the DNS servers (also called Name Servers) for your domain name (see next section).
You can register your domain for up to ten years. Some registrars a while back offered 100-year registrations, but these are not recorded in the official database; this only means the registrar promises to renew your domain every ten years. We haven't seen these available for a while, though. It was kind of a gimmick.
Your domain name registration is the most critical aspect of your network presence. If you let your registration expire, your website will be inaccessible, and no one will be able to send you e-mail, until you renew it, which you have sole prerogative to do during a thirty-day grace period.
If you fail to renew your expired domain name registration and someone else registers it after the grace period, you will have permanently lost the ability to use your domain name, unless you can convince the new registrant to transfer it back to you. If not, you would have to register a new domain name, and use new website and e-mail addresses.
When you rely on someone else, such as your web designer or a web hosting company, to register your domain for you, make sure that:
- It is registered under your name, and
- It is registered under an e-mail address that only you have control over.
Many web designers like to register all their clients' domains in bulk under the web designer's account with the registrar, to save money (which they may or may not pass along to you). Some unscrupulous ones do it so they can have leverage against you if you have a dispute later. If you don't pay your bill, they could change the DNS server listed in your registration to point to their own server with a blank page. If you had let them register the domain under their name, there would be nothing technically you could do about it.
This is the domain registration record for jdfoxmicro.com, which is currently registered with GoDaddy.
Domain Name: JDFOXMICRO.COM
Registry Domain ID: 1278235214_DOMAIN_COM-VRSN
Registrar WHOIS Server: whois.godaddy.com
Registrar URL: http://www.godaddy.com
Updated Date: 2015-10-13T22:59:27Z
Creation Date: 2007-10-15T21:48:15Z
Registrar Registration Expiration Date: 2018-10-15T21:48:15Z
Registrar: GoDaddy.com, LLC
Registrar IANA ID: 146
Registrar Abuse Contact Email: email@example.com
Registrar Abuse Contact Phone: +1.4806242505
Registrant Name: Jeffrey Fox
Registrant Organization: J.D. Fox Micro
Registrant Street: 1539 Sawtelle Blvd., Ste. 16
Registrant City: Los Angeles
Registrant State/Province: California
Registrant Postal Code: 90025
Registrant Country: United States
Registrant Phone: +1.3104795545
Registrant Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Name Server: NS1.JDFOXMICRO.COM
Name Server: NS2.JDFOXMICRO.COM
Name Server: NS3.JDFOXMICRO.COM
DNS (Domain Name Services) Hosting
As you probably know, computers and servers find each other on the Internet using a numerical code assigned to each network or server called an IP address. DNS is the system by which your computer looks up the IP address for a web site name you type into your browser. And when someone wants to send you e-mail, the DNS system has special records (called MX records) that tell senders' mail systems where to deliver mail for you. Think of it like a phone directory, where your domain name is your name, and your IP address is your phone number, and the MX record is your street address.
When you have your own public Internet presence, such as a website or e-mail server, you need to have a DNS server available at all times on the Internet, to provide the IP addresses of your servers to people who are trying to access your website or send you e-mail. Even if you don't have your own e-mail server, and use something like Microsoft's Outlook.com (Office 365) or Google Apps mail, so long as you have your own domain name, you still need to manage your own DNS so that senders' mail systems know to send mail for your domain to the Outlook.com or Google mail servers.
Most of the time, your registrar will host your DNS, meaning they put all the information for accessing your servers on their DNS servers, and put a link to their DNS servers into your domain registration. But, if you have custom configuration requirements for your DNS servers, you might consider hosting your DNS with a company that focuses on DNS hosting only, and not anything else.
Examples of providers that specialize in DNS are:
- Neustar DNS (formerly UltraDNS)
- DNS Made Easy
You might use these providers, instead of your registrar's DNS services, if your registrar doesn't support advanced DNS features such as:
- DNS security (DNSSEC)
- DNS-based load balancing for e-mail servers you have on separate Internet connections
- Dynamic DNS for a server on a network without a fixed IP address
DNS hosting is generally inexpensive. When picking a provider, you should consider their record of uptime, and the quality of their web-based DNS configuration control panel. Also, the ability to reach someone in technical support is very important. If somehow your DNS database gets corrupted or the DNS servers are not responding correctly, and you can't fix it in the control panel, you have to be able to reach someone who can help you. Some DNS providers are so cheap they don't have anyone manning the phones or even answering e-mails in a timely manner.
If you have a high-volume website, such that you lose money by the minute if it's inaccessible, you should consider using a DNS provider that has multiple servers geographically dispersed for better fault tolerance. But, bigger isn't necessarily better; criminals who employ targeted attacks on the Internet infrastructure are more likely to target the larger hosts so as to affect the most websites. And they especially like high-profile DNS hosting providers, since one DNS provider can be the gateway to thousands of websites. So, if you go with a large provider, you should know how capable they are of mitigating such attacks.
DNS hosting doesn't expire, necessarily, like a registration does. If your DNS provider bills your credit card monthly, you'll be fine so long as you keep that card active. But, many DNS providers bill annually and will e-mail you a bill, and cut you off if you miss it and don't pay. Like with an expired registration, this will disable access to your website and your inbound mail. But, you will not lose the rights to your domain name simply by failing to pay for your DNS hosting services.
Here is some of the information in the J.D. Fox Micro DNS databases (called a DNS zone). When users look up our jdfoxmicro.com web address, they get the IP address for our web server. When looking up where to send e-mail for jdfoxmicro.com, DNS returns the name of a mail exchanger server (MX) server. As you can see, the mail exchanger for jdfoxmicro.com is on a different domain, jdfox.net (this is very common). The jdfox.net domain has its own registration and DNS database, from which the sender's servers will find the IP address to send the mail.
Web or E-mail Hosting
This brings us to the final component of your internet presence, your web and mail servers. Your web server is where the actual content of your web site resides, and your mail server is where inbound mail is delivered to addresses at your domain name, and placed in your mailbox for you to retrieve from your computer, tablet, or phone.
Like with DNS, many domain name registrars offer web hosting as well. If you have a simple website, you might even find you can log on to the registrar's website and use their website building tools to create a basic site.
But, if you have greater needs, you might find your registrar's hosting offering is not adequate. There are many options and capabilities you should consider in hosting your website.
The first consideration is what platform your web designer or developer requires. Web server platforms typically include:
- Microsoft Windows platform, which runs a web server called IIS, and supports the ASP.NET server-side scripting and related languages, and tight integration with the Microsoft SQL Server database system
- A UNIX-type platform, such as a Linux distribution running the Apache web server that best supports the PHP scripting language, and database systems such as MySQL or PostGRE
- A pre-built, managed platform for the less technically inclined web designers, such as one that has the WordPress, Joomla, or Drupal website template and content management systems already installed
Next is where to physically host your server—that is, what actual computer(s) your site will be on, where your visitors will connect to view or log in to your site. You can, of course, host it at your office, if you have a Windows or UNIX-type server. If uptime is at all a concern, you would want to have redundant web servers and high-speed Internet connections, and generators for backup electricity. Given that, most small and medium businesses do not host websites on their own servers.
For physical location, then, you have a few options:
- Hosted on a server with a hosting company, such as with WestHost and many others such as DreamHost, HostGator, Bluehost, and pretty much any registrar; this is quite common for small businesses, as the server hardware and operating system are managed by the host, and you just need to worry about managing the web content
- Hosted in a cloud system, such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), VPS.NET, or Rackspace, where you get virtual servers that can be physically located anywhere; this is more expensive and difficult to manage, but it is more reliable and flexible, and would make sense if you are developing a complex web/database application
- On a co-located server, which is a single physical server that you own and manage, but is located in a locked cage at your hosts' facility with a high-speed, redundant Internet link and backup power to maximize uptime; this is the most expensive option, but it may make sense if security and integrity are of the highest concern
Click here to read the J.D. Fox Micro article on choosing a web designer (this opens in a new window or tab so you can simply close it to return here).
Your e-mail platform can also be divided into two broad categories:
- Standard e-mail only, accessible via POP3 or IMAP protocols by all devices
- Full personal information systems, such as Microsoft Exchange or Office 365, Apple iCloud, and Google G Suite, which save all your mail, contacts, and calendar on the server so that everything is synchronized across your devices, including Sent Items, but which may not be fully supported by all devices
Everyone's e-mail use profile is different, not just from company to company, but among users in the same company. Determining which e-mail platform is best for you is as much an art as a science, and this is where an IT service provider with lots of practical experience can be of tremendous help.
Please read on to the final page of this article, for the most important information.