The first thing you to do when you have decided to self-host your website is a arrange a domain name – the name people enter in the address bar of the browser to visit the homepage of your site.
Some hosts offer hosting plans including one or more free domain names. However, I suggest you forget about this freebie. Do not get me wrong, I love freebies. So let me explain.
What happens when you take advantage tof a free domain name, is that your host will register the domain name for you. That sounds like a nice service, but there is a pretty good change that not you, but the host will become the registrant.
The registrant of a domain name is considered the owner of the domain. In addition, you will need to control the DNS settings for that domain through the panel of the host.
Suppose the host does not meet your expectations and you want to transfer your website to another host. Or that, for ever what reason, you are locked out of the host’s control panel.
In these scenarios you need to cooperation of the host to transfer the domain name over to you. The terms of service of the host will probably mention that it is possible to transfer the domain to you. These terms might even state the fee the host will charge for this service.
But this transfer will take time, and there is no way for you to speed up the process. And when a professional site is down; time is money.
It has happened to me that a host suspended my hosting account because the site was consuming too much resources. This unexpected event occurred only two days after transferring that site to this much respected hosting company – and having paid a full year of hosting in advance.
Fortunately, I had registered the domain myself, so all I had to do was:
- arrange hosting with another company
- upload my two days old backup
- update the IP address of my site with that of the new host
My site was up and running again within 30 minutes after having received the e-mail notification of the suspension. This was only possible because I was managing the DNS records of the domain eslewhere, and not with the hosting company.
You are going to invest time and money in building a site your visitors appreciate, may be even an authoritative site.
Why would you leave the control of your domain with a third-party? Would you hand over the registration certificate of your car or the lease agreement of your home to someone else?
My point is: do not give away the control over your domain name – your brand. In case of a .com, .net or .org name, we are talking about a buck a month.
Launching your first website can be daunting. You encounter new terms, and you will have to gain new skills.
However, the process of registering a domain, is not difficult. And the benefit of having direct control over your domain name is definitely worth a shot.
When the host is not the proper place to register a domain; where do you go? You go to a domain name registrar, often abbreviated to just registrar.
What is a registrar? A registrar is a company or an organization that has been accredited to provide domain names.
Namecheap for example has been accredited by Domain.Me. Domain.Me is, on behalf of the Government of Montenegro, in charge of the .me domain extension. Because of this, Namecheap is able to supply .me domains to its customers.
My registrars are Namecheap and Neostrada. The latter is my registrar for .nl domains, the former for my preferred registrar for international domains.
You can read more about domain names in the post The Elements of a Domain Name.
Domain Name Registration
Let us simply walk through the process of domain name registration. Suppose, I would be interested in hostingcaddie.com.
When we search for hostingcaddie.com over at the Namecheap website, we are informed this domain name is not available. Obviously. However, we are presented a number of alternates.
Among these alternatives are popular extensions like .net, .co.uk, and .de, but also promotional offers and new extensions. In this context ‘new’ can either mean newly approved as a domain name extension by the ICANN, or just new with the registrar regarding.
The ICANN is the organization that decides whether a domain name extension is permitted or not.
Here we are in luck, since the name hostingcaddie.net is close enough to what we were looking for. So now we hit the card icon next to this domain name and continue the order procedure with hostingcaddie.net.
The shopping cart above shows three entries:
- the domain name hostingcaddie.net and the ICANN fee
- a free year WhoisGuard
- the applied promo code SAVEDUMBO
The fee for the domain name is obvious. The ICANN fee is a ‘domain tax’ providing the necessary funding for the ICANN.
WhoisGuard needs some illumination. When you register for a domain name, you have to inform the registrar about your contact details. Except for billing purposes, these details are also entered in the database of domain owners.
Others might stumble into these details, while querying the so called Whois database. In case you want to see an example, just check out hostingcaddie.com with Whois.net.
Whois is also a protocol for querying the domain database. When you are on Linux you can simply enter
in the terminal window and you will get comparable returns as from the Whois.net website.
WhoisGuard is a service that masks your contact details by replacing these with its own.
Personally, I do not mind that someone checking the Whois can see my details. First of all, I think it adds to my creditability that anyone interested can verify that I am indeed the guy behind this website.
Second, the address listed is not my home address, but my business address. It is true that the ability to retrieve my e-mail address might be misused by spammers.
Well, sometimes I do get an e-mail from a registrant informing me that a domain name similar to a name I already own becomes available. However, this is definitely not a monthly occurrence, so I am willing to accept that.
So it is up to you whether you prefer to hide your contact details by taking advantage of the WhoisGuard service or not. Anyway, the first year is free. Personally, I pass on this freebie too.
The third entry is the promo code SAVEDUMBO. Every month, Namecheap.com announces some kind of promo on the blog.
This month Namecheap.com not only discounts .com, .net. and .org domain transfers, but also donates $1 for each domain to Save the Elephants.
Now that we agree with the cart contents, we can click the [Confirm order] button and proceed with the ordering process.
In the next screen we get the opportunity to check the payment details, billing address, and renewal settings. You can always change any of these details afterward, even after placing the order, via the dashboard of the customer area.
When you agree, hit the [Continue] button. You get another recap of the order, this time with a [Pay Now] button. Hitting that button finalizes the purchase.
Technically, the domain name is pending until you have verified the e-mail address by clicking the link in the verification e-mail. As you will understand this is just a formality.
In case you have mistyped the e-mail address and entered an invalid one; just access the customer dashboard, update the e-mail address and click the request for a resend by clicking the appropriate button.
The last screen of the domain ordering process is the Purchase Summary screen. From there, you can download the receipt and click the [Manage My Account] button where you can control the DNS settings of our purchased domains.
We will have a closer look at the DNS settings shortly.
Keep in mind that you do not actually buy a domain name, you only rent it. But you are entitled to use that domain name as long as you renew the lease every year.
What happens when you forget to renew the domain name? As the last domain registrant you are protected by a cooling-off period. How long this period will last depends on the domain extension. This period can last from two to thirteen weeks.
Most registrars auto-renew by default. With Neostrada, I actually have to take action when I want to cancel a domain name prior to its expiration date.
Other registrars, like Namecheap.com, give you the opportunity to toggle auto-renew on or off from the customer dashboard.
Let me know when you have any questions or remarks related to the registration of a domain name.