To host a website and/or email you need to make sure that the DNS for you domain is correct. In particular, your domain’s name servers need to point to a DNS zone that contains common DNS records, such as A and MX records.

Understanding name servers

All registered domain names are included in a WHOIS database. The database stores lots of information about domains. This includes details about the registrant, the registration and expiry date and the domain’s status.

Each entry also includes the domain’s name servers. The name servers point to where the DNS for the domain is managed. For instance, the name servers for the domain catalyst2.com are ns1.catalyst2.net and ns2.catalyst2.net. This is the location of the DNS zone for the domain. The zone file includes various DNS records that define where website and email traffic is sent to.

You can check your domain’s name servers online. For .uk domains you can use Nominet’s WHOIS lookup tool. For most other domains you can use ICANN’s WHOIS lookup.

Changing name servers

Often, you don’t have to worry about your domain’s name servers. If you buy both a domain name and a hosting package from us then the name servers automatically point to the right place. In that case you can manage the DNS records for your domain via your hosting control panel. For instance, cPanel has a Zone Editor that lets you manage your DNS records.

If you bought the domain name or hosting package elsewhere then you need to make sure that the two are linked. For instance, let’s imagine you bought the domain example.com from us and that you have a hosting package with a different company. Because there is no hosting package for the domain on our servers the domain is assigned our default name servers. However, as there is no zone file for the domain at our end the DNS for your domain won’t resolve. You need to change the domain’s name servers so that they point to the server hosting the DNS for your domain.

The company you bought the hosting package from should be able to tell you what the name servers should be, and you can change the name servers via our billing control panel:

  • Select Domains
  • Click on the wrench icon to the right of your domain name
  • Select Nameservers from the Manage menu

DNS propagation

When you change your domain’s name servers the WHOIS record is updated instantly. However, it will take up to 24 hours before the name server change has fully propagated. The reason is that DNS lookups are cached by DNS servers. These servers are used when someone visits your website or sends you an email, and they don’t do a fresh lookup every time someone asks about your domain. So, during the time a name server change is propagating some people may be directed to the old name servers for up to 24 hours.

In addition, DNS is often cached locally. You can usually bypass your local cache by trying to view your website in a private browser window.

The DNS propagation makes it difficult to check if DNS changes you made are correct. It is important to get DNS changes right, so please feel free to ask us to double-check the DNS for your domain. Also, if we are managing the DNS for your domain then we can make DNS changes for you. Please contact us if you would like us to do so.