This article is part of HostGator’s Web Pros Series. In this series, we feature articles from our team of experts here at HostGator. Our Product Managers, Linux Administrators, Marketers, and Tech Support engineers share their best tips for getting the most out of your website.
Here at HostGator, one of our goals is to make it as easy as possible for customers to transfer domains they’ve registered somewhere else to us for hosting, or to host sites whose domains are registered with another company. For the most part, the process is simple enough.
But there’s one small and important aspect of using an existing domain with a new host that can trip up domain owners if they’re not expecting it. That’s domain pointing.
When your domain points to the server your host has assigned to you, people see your website when they type in your URL. If your domain doesn’t point to your hosting service, they’ll get some variation on a “this site can’t be reached” error message—and you’ll miss out on those visitors.
Some site owners never need to worry about domain pointing. For example, if you register a domain with HostGator when you sign up for hosting, that domain will automatically point to the name server addresses assigned to you by your host.
But what if you registered your domain name with another provider and you want to set up your website with HostGator or another web hosting service? That’s when domain pointing matters, because something has to bridge the gap between your registered domain and your web host—to “point” the domain name to the server where your website data lives.
This may be unfamiliar, so let’s walk through it.
The Basics of Domain Pointing
To understand domain pointing, it’s helpful to keep in mind the key elements you need to set up your website:
- a domain name that you bought from a registrar
- IP addresses for your website that are provided by your web host
To connect these two elements, you’ll need to share some information with your domain registrar. You’ll need to tell your registrar who does your domain name resolution, which is your web host. Your registrar will also need your name server records from your webhost. This is the information they’ll use to point your domain to your new hosting service.
What (and Where) Are My Name Server Records?
Your host will assign name servers to store your DNS zone files—files that contain information about your website’s IP address. The quickest way to find your name server records is to look up your welcome email from HostGator, which includes them.
Can’t find your email? No problem. You can look up your name servers online.
If you have a shared hosting plan, you can log in to your cPanel to find your name server information. On the lower left column of your Account Information panel, you’ll see two URLs that end with hostgator.com.
Your name servers won’t be redacted like our example.
If you have optimized WordPress hosting, log in to your HostGator control panel, select Domains from the left sidebar, and click More for the domain whose name servers you need. When the Domain Overview panel opens, you’ll see your name server addresses in the upper right corner.
Copy both name server addresses, because you’ll need to share both of them with your domain registrar. But before we do that, let’s talk about the possibility that your site may be offline while the domain pointing actually happens.
Factor in DNS Propagation Time Before You Make Your Changes
Just as it takes time to send change-of-address details when you move to a new office or home, it takes time to update your website’s name server information across the web. This is called DNS propagation time, and it can last anywhere from 24 to 48 hours in most cases.
During DNS propagation, visitors to your site may see the old version or the new version, or your website and site-based email might be unavailable.
Because of this, it’s a good idea to post a notice on your site before you point your name servers to your new host. This notice should let visitors know that you’ll be making changes, when they’ll happen, and when you expect the site to be fully operational again. It’s also a smart plan to time your name server switch for a time when you typically have the least amount of traffic.
Once you’ve let your visitors know to expect a bit of digital remodeling dust and planned your switch for minimal disruption, it’s time to move ahead.
Share Your Name Server Records With Your Domain Registrar
Now it’s time to change your name server information with your current registrar, and you have to do it yourself for security reasons. Otherwise, anyone could point your domain name anywhere.
To help you out, HostGator has a list that includes step-by-step instructions for changing your name servers at more than a dozen popular registrars.
For example, if you registered your domain with BlueHost, you’ll log in, select Domain Manager, select the domain you want to point, and then click the Name Servers tab.
On that panel, you’ll select Use Custom Nameservers, enter the name servers you copied from your hosting control panel, and then save the new name server settings. Then you just wait for the DNS propagation process to happen, and within 24 to 48 hours your domain will point to your new host.
That’s all you have to do in most cases. But…
What if you want to transfer your domain to a new registrar?
Maybe you’d rather have your registration and hosting handled by the same provider, or maybe your web host offers better domain registration pricing and support. Maybe you’ve sold a domain to someone and need to give them control of it.
In these cases, you can transfer your domain to your web host or your buyer’s registrar. This is a multistep process that requires some preparation and takes a few days to complete, but it doesn’t usually involve downtime.
If you’re transferring a domain you’ve sold, you’ll need to change the name servers with your current registrar to the ones your buyer shares with you, so the domain points to their website.
If you’re transferring a domain registration to HostGator, first check that
- The domain is valid and registered with another registrar.
- The domain has been registered somewhere for at least 60 days.
- The domain is unlocked. (You can unlock it through your current registrar’s control panel.)
- You have an authorization code from your current registrar.
Then you can enter your domain into HostGator’s Domain Transfer tool and we’ll handle the rest.
Want to learn more about getting the most from your HostGator account? Check out our Web Pros Series post on 5 cPanel Mistakes to Avoid with Your Website.