Understanding DNS for Faster Website Migrations

Understanding DNS for Faster Website MigrationsAt beAutomated we strive to be consultants first and programmers second because we want to ensure our development work produces maximum benefit. In serving our clients we often get requests to assist with data and site migrations, and we usually end-up educating clients about DNS—Domain Name System—on top of discussing the various types of hosting plans available to them.

Folks usually get confused about DNS whereas it’s reasonably simple for most purposes. Probably the biggest cause for this confusion has been the routine push by web hosting companies to get their customers to move their name servers along with their website files and database data. Instead, one can use their registrar’s built-in DNS hosting to simplify the process and make it faster and easier to switch hosting companies when necessary as well as to divert other services such as email to separate hosting providers. Using this configuration approach can save on costs by providing needed flexibility.

To understand DNS, one must understand the following 4 different layers:

  1. Registrar: Who you pay for reserving the domain
  2. DNS hosting name servers: Usually included for free by both the registrar (#1) and the website hosting service providers (#4)
  3. Settings: Authoritative IP (A) and canonical name (CNAME) pointers are settings for the domain name within the name servers in (#2) above
  4. Various hosting services for website and email: Provides given IP addresses or host names from which your service is served that get set in (#3) above

So it is possible to have a variety of different hosting services (#4) for different applications you use with your domain name. The service that hosts your DNS (#2) is where you go to change the various A, CNAME, and MX records for these services (#3). All of this is managed on a per domain name basis.

Here’s an example of our preferred configuration. Let’s say that you are currently using Go Daddy both to register and host your DNS (#1–3). You then host your website with BlueHost (#4) and your email with Google Apps (#4). In this case you should make any changes to your service locations (#3) within Go Daddy to point the records to each of the hosting services (#4).

The key thing to note is: there is no need to switch the DNS hosting (#2) to your website host (#4). Hosting companies strongly prefer to host your DNS because it puts more control within their system and makes it easier for them to close out support tickets. However, this is not better for users who desire flexibility, ease and speed of migration jobs.

So let’s expand on the example of using Go Daddy or Network Solutions or whoever your registrar may be to manage all of your DNS settings (#1–3). In Go Daddy you would launch the “Total DNS Control” from the domain manager panel. Your name servers remain the same—internal to Go Daddy. Here’s the different types of DNS record settings you should be aware of:

  • ‘A’ records point the root of the domain or subdomains that you may add to numerical IP addresses. These generally points to your web host server IP not their name servers.
  • ‘CNAME’ records point aliases like www. to the root of the domain, or point subdomains that you may add to other name based addresses.
  • ‘MX’ records work more like ‘CNAME’ records except there are different priority numbers and you usually need more than one entry as provided by your email host.
  • ‘TXT’ records are used for SPAM prevention rules (see SPF).
  • ‘TTL’ is the timing setting in seconds for each of the above records. You want to set this low (say 1 hour or 3600 seconds) a good day or so before launching a migration.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. Note that we really appreciate feedback about what we’ve written as well as what topics you’d like us to discuss in future posts so please do let us know.