Changing DNS settings and Keeping control of your systems

Changing DNS settings and Keeping control of your systems can be a pain and I have worked with lots of individuals and companies who sometimes lose control of Domains and DNS settings that are vital in delivering web services.

Many don’t even realise they have lost control of them until they need to change something, by which time it’s often too late.

So here’s a guide to registering and changing DNS settings and systems.

Changing DNS Settings – Domain Name Control

Your domain name is really important and can control a number of key IT functions besides your website, like your company’s email services and the domain itself is controlled by several key parts.

Domain Registration

You can buy a domain from a huge range of domain name sellers. Some of them offer other services like hosting and domain resellers are licensed under strict terms and agreements with domain authorities which are often country-specific.

The global authority is called ICANN who have authority for all gTLD’s – (global Top Level Domains) like .com .org .net .info etc. In the UK the domain authority is an organisation called NOMINET who have authority for all second-tier UK specific domains like .co.uk or .gov.uk, etc.

When you buy a domain you are the registered keeper of the domain for a period of time and the seller has to perform some key functions for you (hence the charge). The most important function is the administrative control of the domain – who owns it.

When you purchase a domain it will be registered to you, and the seller will typically add the domain to a default set of name servers with some information about what the domain does (if anything).

Where Domain registration can go wrong

Check the following key things:

  • Make sure you are the legal owner – often this could be the 3rd party web design company that bought it for you. You can check this using a whois lookup on Nominet or someone like Domaintools and change it if necessary.
  • Only the existing owner can change the ownership to someone else, transfer the domain to another provider, renew it or change the contact information so make sure you get it transferred to you as soon as possible if it is not already.
  • If someone else does the domain purchase make sure they list you as the registered owner at the point of registration.
  • Keep the contact information in the domain record up to date especially the email address – the name authority and/or domain seller will use this contact information when the domain needs updates and/or renewals.
  • Make sure you have a login to the domain control panel with the company that you bought it from and keep this safe. You will normally have a user name and password for this as a minimum.

Changing DNS settings and domain name control

The domain name system (DNS) has 2 principal parts; the admin records (see above) and the DNS control which define how the domain name operates in technical terms.

The DNS records are typically stored on name servers and a domain typically has 2 name servers in case one of them fails.

When an IT system does something that requires information about the domain it will access the nearest available name server to look up what it needs. For example when you request a web page in a browser using a domain the browser must access the DNS system to see which web server hosts the website and then make a request for the page using that information.

DNS records are also shared and propagated across lots of servers all over the world so that access to DNS records is quick and easy for all IT systems wherever they are. So if you make a change to a DNS record it can take up to 48 hours before it works everywhere.

The most common confusion in Changing DNS settings is that the name servers and the admin control do not have to be on the same system. In other words, your domain admin might be with 123reg for example because you bought it from them but the name servers could be moved to be with your web host instead.

How to keep your DNS in good shape

Start by making sure you can access the control panel for the domains admin (normally where you bought it from) and that you have ownership rights to control it. You’ll need a user name and password to access this control panel and once in it, you should be able to find the place where you can change or transfer the name servers if necessary.

 Changing DNS settings and name servers on the Gandi control panel

gandi.net control panel screenshot shows how to change the name servers of a domain

Once you can access this you should also be able to see which name servers are in use. If they are with the same provider look for a menu item called DNS or sometimes Advanced DNS or DNS settings where you should be able to see the current DNS setup.

If the name servers are with another provider you will need login access to the other providers’ DNS control panel to change the DNS. If you lose this information and can’t log in you will not be able to change the DNS configuration without moving the name servers somewhere else and this can be difficult if you cannot access the control panel as some providers might ask you to confirm the change in this control panel before moving it.

Often it is a good idea to try to keep the domain admin and name servers with the same provider – I do whenever it’s my choice.

 Changing DNS settings and name servers on the Gandi control panel

gandi.net screenshot showing how to change the DNS records for a domain

NB: VERY IMPORTANT. Do not change any DNS settings unless you are very sure you know what you are doing. If you get it wrong your website might go down along with your email functions. Even if you know what you are doing then please make a record or screenshot of the current settings before you edit so that you can always change them back again if necessary. Some providers might even allow you to create a DNS record back up so that you can restore the current settings if necessary.

Changing DNS settings will often be required whenever you change web hosts or email services or have to configure 3rd party controls using DNS so please make sure you have access to it and keep good records as to how you access every part of your domains systems.

My Recommendations

I don’t usually recommend specific products or services as what suits one organisation doesn’t always work for another so I usually recommend people research the large range of services available and pick something that fits them best.

However, in this area, lots of people ask me what I use to provide the services that I do and why I use them. I have of course also researched these things pretty thoroughly so here goes:

Domains and Email

I use the same provider for managing and buying domains and for providing email services (but crucially not hosting) gandi.net.

I use Gandi because their domain prices are competitive (not the cheapest but pretty similar to most others). They are also brilliant at managing domains have a good control panel, allow me to add other accounts for my customers so they can own and renew their domains themselves.

Crucially Gandi also offers very good email systems. They will give you 2 free IMAP email boxes for any domain you buy, renew or move to them and additional email boxes can be added for as little as £0.37 per box per month and a very reasonable £1.88 per month if you really feel you need an email box with 50GB of storage.

Gandi’s support is excellent and quick and it’s very easy to set up the email boxes on email clients and phones.

NB: I do not use Gandi for Web Hosting. It’s a service they offer and I am sure they are very good at it too, I just like to keep my hosting and domain and email services separate. If you want to do the same please be aware that some of the DNS setup will more complex than it would be if it were all with the same provider.

Keeping records

This is really simple for me. I have used Dashlane password manager for about 6 or 7 years now and it’s fabulous as I have to store and sort out all my own system passwords but also lots of those for my customers and this tool really does the job for me. If you don’t like this one there are other great password manager tools out there so please just get one so that you don’t lose control of your systems by forgetting or badly documenting all the user names and passwords you have.

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