DNS: what is it and why you really should care

Here’s a couple of quick questions for you: Do you have control of your web domain? And do you know the password for it?

If you can definitively answer yes to both of these then great – go and make yourself a nice cup of tea and relax.

If the answer’s no, or you’re not sure, or quite possibly you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, well I’d really suggest reading on. Even if you find this techie stuff tedious or confusing and something best left to your web designer, IT administrator or whatever, this is one of those times (maybe the only one) when you need to spend a little time making sure you know what’s going on – and I’ll try and explain why.

What’s DNS?

Your web domain (for instance, www.iamcurious.co.uk) is one of your business’ most important assets – it’s your online address, the thing that people use to find you online.

However, for that to happen, websites are dependent on something called DNS. DNS (or Domain Name System) is the rather clever set up that directs traffic around the Internet. It’s what ensures that people around the world who type your web domain into their browser get pointed to the specific location where your web pages sit.

Each website on the Internet chooses somewhere that manages their DNS listing and, through clever jiggery-pokery, this is then copied across the whole of the Internet (If this has sparked your interest, “How Stuff Works” has a fuller and better description of DNS).

Why is DNS important?

If your DNS records are missing, wrong or broken, nothing works: people can’t see your website and you won’t be able to receive email.

If you don’t have access to your DNS and need to make a change to your DNS or if something gets corrupted, fixing the problem can be extraordinarily difficult – a job that should take hours can take days, weeks or even months to fix – and all the time your site just won’t work.

How long can you cope for without a website or without receiving email? How much money would it cost you?

The potential impact doesn’t just end there – If your domain isn’t registered to your email address, it’s possible that your domain name could be sold to someone else without you being able to do anything about it – if there’s no one to respond to renewal emails from the company you rent your domain from, then your ownership of the domain will at some point expire.

What this means to me

Now you might be reading this convinced that this still isn’t important, and that your web designer, IT admin or whatever keeps an eye on all this. But, what happens if your web designer absconds with your copywriter, or your IT administrator has a paddy and just walks out one day, would you be left in the lurch?

It doesn’t even require anything that dramatic – we’ve been working with several new clients over the last few months who have, for a wide variety of reasons, not spent a significant amount of time on their websites for quite a while and, over time, have just lost contact with the person who set everything up in the first place.

With that in mind, back to the questions at the top of this post: Do you have control of your web domain?

If you’re not sure, it’s easy to find out.

Simply go to WhoIs, type in your domain name and click the look-up button. Now find the name of the Registrar listed and think carefully – do you have an account there? If so, do you know the password for it?

whois

If you can say “yes” confidently to both of those questions – you too can go and have yourself that nice cup of tea.

If the answer to either of those questions is no, then take some time, as soon as you can, to get access to it. It really could save an awful lot of tears in the future.

So what next?

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