You know that feeling after you buy a domain name, you’re feeling great about the name you picked, you register that your favorite domain registrar, and now it’s time to connect it to something: a website, an email, a redirect; This is where the fun begins. For me, DNS management is a chore. It’s never something I enjoy doing, but it’s part of managing your website and domain names. For others, DNS sounds like a foreign term, and when it’s time to take on DNS management, you’re left wondering if you made a mistake even trying to build a website, “Maybe you should have hired it out.” How do I do this? Am I going to screw up?
It’s okay. So what is DNS? And what are some different ways you can tackle it with your website? DNS stands for Domain Name System. This is the entire back-end map of your domain name. You may never really think about it, but what actually happens when you type google.com in your browser? “It loads google.com… pff! Duh!” Okay, okay! But what actually happens in a technical sense, when you type google.com into your browser. Your web browser makes a call to a DNS server.
Think of a DNS server sort of like a phone book to find other servers. There are millions of servers on the internet. So how do we know which one has the website files to load google.com; it’s a needle in a haystack. We go to the first DNS server, and it will look up the name servers for your domain. In other words, it says, “The instructions that show you where to load google.com are located at this other server,” The browser goes to the second DNS server and says, “Hey, I need the directions to google.com, please.”
The DNS records on this server give instructions, such as an IP address on where to find google.com, and the browser goes to the exact server to grab the files. It’s like you’re narrowing down where the website lives. First, you got to find the city, and then you got to find the general building in the city that tells you the address, and then you have to go right to the address to grab the website files. So to recap, DNS consists of two basic parts; the first DNS server which does a lookup to find the authoritative name server. This is where the instructions for your website are actually held.
This is a super simplified explanation of DNS. So if you want to know more of the fine details, I highly recommend watching DNS Made Easy’s video on the topic. When it comes to DNS management with your domain name, there are three main routes you can take: internally managed, externally managed or manual. So first, we’ve got internal managed DNS, and if you’ve ever used a website builder, like Squarespace or Wix, you’ve experienced internal DNS management without even realizing it, and that’s because the point is, you’re not supposed to realize it, you probably don’t know what DNS is if you’ve used this solution before.
This is where you buy your domain name, web hosting or website builder, and email hosting if you have email hosting, all from the same place. Since everything is held at the same company, you don’t ever have to think about DNS. It just works. I get a lot of emails from viewers asking, “Hey, Christian, can’t I just buy everything at the same place like: domain, web hosting, email hosting, from Namecheap, or domain at Squarespace? Should I buy my domain at Squarespace, even though it costs a little more, because if I buy my domain at Squarespace, and I use Squarespace for my website builder, I don’t have to do anything to connect the two; they just work automatically. I just hand Squarespace the money.
This is what I want. And it works.” You can typically achieve this setup with most any big Website Builder. You can also achieve it with WordPress, if you buy your domain and hosting from the same place. Namecheap is really great about this. If you buy a domain and web hosting from Namecheap, it’s automatically linked together and you don’t have to do anything else. So if DNS management scares you, this is obviously a very appealing route. It’s basically saying, “I pay for my products and services, you take care of the rest.” So what’s the downside?
Well, if you’re just starting out and you have a small or medium traffic website, there’s not much of a downside. If you find a domain and host provider that fits your needs, and you’re okay with keeping everything in one place, that takes away an extra step that’s sometimes a stumbling block for new web designers. But what if you want to mix and match services? What if you want to buy your domain name at Porkbun, and web hosting at Dreamhost. This is where external managed DNS comes in. You start by connecting your domain name to your primary web host using name servers. And don’t worry, this is very easy to do.
Your domain name then points traffic to Dreamhost, and they already have the instruction set for your website created for you. So in other words, you don’t have to do anything else. You just do a very easy process to connect Porkbun to Dreamhost, they send the traffic over to Dreamhost. So that’s that first step. When it goes to the first DNS server to Porkbun, they say, “Go to Dreamhost. They know what to do.” It goes to Dreamhost and Dreamhost handles it from there. Both the first and second solution are easy to set up, and if you have everything in one place, or you have your domain in one place and your website builder in another place, or your web posting in another place, the setup process is easy.
However, what happens if you have a more complex setup? Picture this, your domain name is held at Porkbun, you have web hosting at Namecheap, and you’ve decided that G Suite is the best fit for your email hosting. Wait a second! Now what? If we point the domain from Porkbun to Namecheap, that’s great for the website; your website is going to work fine, when someone types yourdomain.com, it’s going to come up. But if someone sent an email to [email protected], it points from Porkbun to Namecheap. Namecheap is gonna go, “There’s no email hosting here for this person, I don’t know what to do with this email.” And it’s going to bounce. This is because, remember, you bought your email hosting from G-Suite, which is Google not Namecheap.
So now you have this really complex issue that may seem impossible to solve, and that’s where solution three comes in: manual DNS management. This is where we use the DNS configuration tools at the domain registrar, or an external DNS management solution like CloudFlare, and create the DNS records by hand. If this sounds really scary, it’s actually not too hard to do: you just have to pay attention, read some articles, digest some stuff. But if you can copy and paste some things, I think you can set it up pretty easily. This gives you the power to say, “Alright, abc.com points to this server, help.abc.com points to my support system, an email sent to abc.com points to this other email host.” You have complete control over every aspect of your domain. If you want to try this for yourself, and you want added speed and security as well, I highly recommend CloudFlare for manual DNS management. CloudFlare is 100% free.
But I don’t want to focus too much on CloudFlare itself. You can do a manual DNS configuration at just about any domain registrar, and you don’t have to point your domain to any external name server to use it. So you can go to Namecheap or Porkbun and just input the DNS records right there, and not have to point it to CloudFlare to then create the DNS records at CloudFlare.
If you’re going to be picky about where you get your hosting, and services for each product: domain here, web hosting there, email hosting somewhere else, I think manual DNS management is the way to go. Really, it’s kind of the way you have to go, if you’re going to do that. If this all sounds confusing, you might want to stick with the first solution. Just buy all your website products at the same place where they can handle it for you. At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with any DNS management solution. If you’ve got your domain configured, and it’s working; that’s what counts.
Whether you stick to one place and forget about it, or you get your hands dirty and do manual DNS configuration with CloudFlare, for the ultimate custom solution… there’s an option for every skill level. So I hope this gives you a better option, of understanding how to proceed with setting up DNS after buying your domain name. What DNS method do you use for your website? I’d love to know in the comments.