How Domain Propagation Works
You found the perfect name for your website. You have big ideas about what you’re going to do with it and you’re ready to get started. You just registered the domain and launched your site, but when you go to pull up the URL to excitedly check it out…it’s not there.
Domain propagation, the process of transferring a domain to a new owner, takes some time. You should expect to have to wait around 24 to 48 hours before the full switch is made and your site starts showing up at the new domain. It’s a small setback, but it works that way for a reason.
What is Domain Propagation?
Domain propagation, also sometimes called DNS propagation, is the process of updating every server across the web with new information. That’s a lot of servers that require updating and, as such, there’s a lag between when the change is made and when all the servers have registered it.
How DNS Servers Work
DNS servers do the job of translating IP addresses into domain names. While as far as you and your visitors are concerned, your website is located at an easy-to-remember website name like www.yourwebsite.com, it’s actually located at a less easy-to-remember numerical IP address that looks something like 123.456.789.101.
Each time you go to a website, a DNS server is taking the domain name you type in and processing which numerical address it has in order to send you to the right place. It’s a process that works pretty quickly and seamlessly, which means most of the time, you don’t have to notice or think anything about it.
The only real time you have cause to think about it is when you make a DNS change.
What Happens During a DNS Change
When you move to a new hosting provider or change your domain name, every DNS server in the world has to register that information before they’ll know how to properly translate your domain name to the right IP address. Complicating things, different servers will receive that updated information at different times, so it’s possible for you to type in the domain name and see your new website in the right place, while a friend of yours across the street is still seeing old, outdated information.
Because DNS changes are relatively rare, most DNS servers cache the information they’ve gathered in previous searches. So if someone searched www.yourwebsite.com last week and the DNS server was able to translate the domain to a particular IP address, then it will default to directing you to that same IP again at first. But eventually – and it doesn’t even take that long – it will learn that a change has been made and it should now send people looking for that domain name to the new IP address where your website lives.
It can be confusing, but it’s a temporary problem. Little by little over the next couple of days, you can trust that all the DNS servers will get the memo and register the update.
Note: While it’s a different issue, it’s also worth being aware that browsers will often cache the information they get from specific websites, so even after a DNS server has updated, users may still need to re-load the page or clear their browser’s cache to see the correct website.
How Can I Tell When Domain Propagation is Complete?
This is tricky because, as previously mentioned, your DNS server can register the update before your friend’s does. So you can’t assume once you start seeing your website at the new domain, everyone else will as well.
You can get a pretty good idea of when domain propagation is complete by using a tool that checks your website from multiple locations around the world. The results won’t give you a guarantee that every web user in the world will see the updated version, but it can help you confirm when the change has been completed for most people.
It’s frustrating to be ready to launch your new website or domain name and have to wait, but the update will take effect. Have a little patience, and know your site will be live around the world within a couple of days.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.