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Changing your nameservers: understanding the relationship between your domainname and your hosting account

  knowledgebase  :: network status

When you create a new website, or migrate an existing website to a new hosting provider, you need to change your nameservers. But what does this mean?

  1. When you buy a domainname, you do so from a domainname registrar (note: you may be buying from a reseller, rather than an actual registrar). This company registers your domainname in the internet's Domain Name System (DNS) and hosts your DNS record on their servers. Your DNS record stores your domainname and details about it (such as the expiry date), information about you and/or your company, and information about your hosting provider. Your domainname registrar usually provides access to a control panel, which lets you manage your DNS record.

  2. When you buy a hosting account, you do so from a hosting provider, who gives you space on their servers to store your website and email. They usually provide access to a control panel, which lets you manage your hosting account.

  3. Your domainname registrar and your hosting provider may be the same company, however they do not need to be. If they are the same company, you may have a single control panel which lets you manage both your hosting account and your domainname. This is merely a convenience to you, however - they are two distinct functions.

  4. Your domainname registrar's control panel usually provides a method for you to define your hosting provider. This connects your DNS record with your hosting account. The settings that do this are known as your nameserver settings. Most registrars provide a form in your control panel which lets you change your nameserver settings directly, however some require you to interact with their support department to do this.

  5. The nameserver settings are simply a list of server addresses. These addresses point to the nameservers of your hosting provider. When you bought your hosting account, your hosting provider created a record for your account on their nameservers. This record tells other computers on the internet exactly where your website is located, and exactly where email should be sent (that is, it specifies the IP addresses of your web and email servers, amongst other things).

  6. If you change your nameserver settings ("change your nameservers") then your DNS record will be altered to point at the new nameserver addresses you have specified. This is how you switch from one hosting provider to another - you redirect your traffic, using the nameserver settings in the control panel provided by your domainname registrar.

  7. You can view the details of your domainname, including nameserver settings, using your domainname registrar's control panel, or with any WHOIS lookup service, or by using third-party sites such as CheckDNS or Domain White Pages.

Frequently asked questions:

Q: What about a "domainname transfer"?
A: A domainname transfer is a separate and distinct process, which should not be confused with a nameserver change.

Q: Do I need to do a domainname transfer, if I am creating a new website, or migrating an existing website to a new hosting provider?
A: No, there is no requirement to do this. The exception would be if, for some reason, you are unable to access your registrar's control panel.

Q: What does "transferring my domainname" mean?
A: That means domainname transfer. DO NOT use the words "domainname transfer" with support staff, or click on "transfer my domainname" in your control panel, if you actually want to create a new website, or migrate an existing website to a new hosting provider. If you do this, you will order the wrong service, and set in motion a train of events which will cause your website and email to go down for at least two days, possibly more.