How to Setup a Domain

I get asked this question a lot: What’s the best way to setup a new domain? Unfortunately, the answer has dozens of variations based on what sort of traffic you’re expecting, what kind of Web site you’re running, and what software is running that site. But there is one recommendation that has remained the same for several years: divide or be conquered – put your domain registration, Web hosting, and email hosting with three different companies.

Now, before you start ranting about economies of scale and multiple billing cycles, let me start by saying that most of my clients are small to medium sized businesses and don’t have a dedicated IT department. Other than me. And I don’t want to be up all night when some hacker takes down a client’s hosting provider. “Far fetched,” you say? Ask these folks who, along with myself, had Media Temple accounts compromised by the total incompetence of their hosting provider.  (MT stored our account passwords in plain text in their database so when their database was compromised, so were all our accounts).

Very shortly after having my pants dropped by Media Temple I realized that if I had those three crucial aspects of an online business – DNS, Web hosting, and email – at three different locations I was protected from morons at any one of those companies crippling my online presence. If any one aspect failed I could redirect that failed aspect to a new provider from one of the remaining aspects.

Most hosting companies will give you a “free” domain registration with your Web hosting contract and domain registrars will offer attractive bundles that include email and Web hosting all for one low price. Resist the urge and follow the divide-or-be-conquered approach.

Here’s why.

  • My hosting company goes black (or starts to suck after being bought by another company): Since my domain registration is with another company, I can log into my registrar’s account and redirect my domain to a new Web hosting provider and have my Web site back up within hours. While your Web site is down, you email will continue working since it’s hosted elsewhere.
  • My email provider goes black: since the MX records for your domain are controlled by either your domain registrar or your Web hosting company, you can log into the appropriate account and  point those records at a new email hosting provider. At least your Web site will be up during the outage.
  • My domain registrar goes black: that’s a tough one. If the DNS settings for your domain go down with the registrar then you, and a large portion of the Internet, are completely hosed. More likely, it’s a case of your current domain registrar acting like a bunch of dicks and you can’t hold your nose any longer. Since your site and email are hosted elsewhere, it’s easy to transfer the domain to a new registrar (where you’ve already set your DNS and MX records) without interruption to your site or email.

I recommend the following companies for each of these important aspects of your online presence:

  • Domain registration: Namecheap.com. I used to recommend GoDaddy.com for those that could ignore the frat-boy marketing, but after their support of SOPA and PIPA, I’ve ditched the big boobs in favor of the domain registrar picked by LifeHacker readers well before the SOPA/PIPA kerfuffle. The fact that Namecheap.com actively campaigned against SOPA and PIPA is just icing on the cake.
  • Email hosting: Google Apps Free Edition or Google Apps for Business, depending on the size of your business. The free edition used to allow up to 50 accounts (essentially email addresses) but that has recently been reduced to 10. If you’re a non-profit, you may qualify for Google Apps for Non-profits, which gives you Google Apps for Business for cheap or free (if your non-profit has less than 3000 users), though the application process can take up to a month. In my experience, I got a reply from Google 29 days into their 30 reply window.
  • Web hosting: This aspect depends greatly on what sort of site you’re running. For most Drupal sites, I go with HotDrupal.com – dumb name, great performance – but it comes with some limitations on disk space and number of domains. I used to recommend ANHosting.com (a reseller for MidPhase.com) but recently their performance has sucked. If only I could host multiple domains on HotDrupal’s entry level account, I’d be a happy developer. If you’re not afraid of Linux admin and like playing in shell the so-called “cloud” hosting options from VPS.NET, Rackspace or Amazon Web Services are also great options.

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