Domain Names and Hosting November 13, 2008
In this section we examine how businesses select a domain name and host their Web site. An appropriate domain name and reliable Web site hosting can be critical to the success of the Web site.
Domain names and Web site hosting
Buying a domain name
Choosing an appropriate domain name may have a huge impact on the success of a business’s online presence. In general the shorter and more memorable the better. It is a good idea to avoid using dashes or underscores since this can make a domain less memorable. Businesses will usually have a domain name that reflects the name of the company, for example: http://www.technofacia.com/.
Domain names are leased from registrars for a fixed period of time. The name is not owned by the registrant; at the end of each leasing period they are given exclusive rights to extend the lease. Should they choose not to extend the lease the domain name will expire and eventually become available for others to lease and use.
It is not possible to type an address into a Web browser to see if it is already registered. The domain may be registered but not have an associated Web server. In order to see if a domain has been registered you must use a WHOIS tool provided by the registrar for those domains. For example, to query the registry database to see who registered a .com or .org domain name you would use the online WHOIS tool supplied by InterNic.
Having found an appropriate domain name the next step is to register it. You don’t have to register your domain name with a main registrar (e.g. InterNic or Nominet). Usually this process can be completed online, all you need to provide are contact details (registrars usually require a billing, administrative and technical contact although these can be the same person) and payment (usually through a credit card). The Internet Service Provider for a business will often offer domain name registration as part of a Web hosting package. This can prove cost effective but businesses must ensure that if the ISP buys the domain name for them that it is in the company’s name and not that of the ISP. If it’s in the name of the ISP then the company may need to pay a transferral fee should they decide to switch ISPs at a later date.
It is also a good idea not to leave domain name registration too late. As prices continue to fall competition for names is fiercer than ever and there is always the danger that your domain name has already been bought.
Web site hosting
Once a domain has been registered and a Web site developed it must be hosted. There are three options for Web site hosting:
- Host the Web site on a server on your own network: You need to maintain the Web server and the network. Providing and supporting a network is extremely expensive so only large organisations can afford to run servers on their own network. Additionally you must provide the technical support for the server and network.
- Colocate your server on an ISP’s network: Buying a Web server is much cheaper than providing the network. Some organisations choose to ‘colocate’ a server on someone else’s network. That is, the company buys a Web server but it is physically located in the premises of a third-party company that provides the networking. The company owning the server must provide technical support for the server but this is a cost effective route if you need to run a Web site on your own computer (due to security reasons, for example).
- Host the Web site on an ISP’s Web server: Your Web site is uploaded onto a remote server belonging to your ISP. The ISP takes care of the technical maintenance, security, backups and upgrades, etc. This is the cheapest option and almost certainly the one that most small/medium-sized businesses adopt.
The cost of hosting a Web site on an ISP’s Web server varies between companies and the services on offer. In general how much you pay will be a factor of what services you require. You will usually need to pay for high levels of support (24/7 cover, etc.), high bandwidth usages, database access, e-commerce facilities, streaming video/audio and password protected areas, etc.
The selection of an ISP will often be based on which one offers the best reliability and value for money whilst offering all the facilities needed for the Web site.
Imagine you are planning to host your business Web site on an ISP’s Web server. Using the Web Host Directory find an ISP offering Shared Web Hosting and:
- The site must run on a Unix/Linux platform.
- Data transfer will be around 15Gb a month.
- Disk space will be less than 500Mb.
- An e-commerce shopping cart.
- 24 hour support and a guaranteed uptime (Web site availability).
Have a look at the Web sites of a few companies offering these facilities. Select one and then prepare a paragraph to be sent to your CEO explaining your decision in recommending a particular ISP.
It is common practice for ISPs to provide free Web space to customers. The URL for this Web space often takes the form of http://www.nameofyourisp.com/~yourusername/ or http://www.yourusername.nameofyourisp.com/ etc. Using this Web space to host your business Web site is not advisable as if the business decides to swap ISP at a later date (possibly because they upgrade to broadband, etc.) then they will no longer be able to use the Web space (or associated email addresses). All the links to this Web space would break and customers could be forgiven for thinking that the company has ceased trading. Domain names are relatively cheap (a .co.uk address could cost as little as £2 per year) and the name itself can remain independent of who the Web site is hosted by. For example, a business could buy a domain name through a specific registrar and then host its Web site with a different company. If the business changes its Web hosting at a later date the domain name record can be updated to point to the new location.
Having decided on an ISP a business will need to transfer its Web site to the ISP’s server. The ISP will provide credentials (usernames and passwords) and the address of the server. The business would then use FTP (File Transfer Protocol) or SSH (Secure Shell) programs to transfer the files for the Web site onto the ISP’s server. FTP is the most common way of transferring the files however FTP is insecure and usernames and passwords can be intercepted by third parties. If data needs to be transferred securely then SSH is used and this process is becoming increasingly common – although many ISP’s only offer FTP access.