Domain Names and the DNS

How Domain Registrations, DNS, and Hosting work together to provide web and email services.

Domain names are the familiar hierarchical system of names used on the Internet. Here are some example domain names:

  • mythic-beasts.com
  • www.mythic-beasts.com
  • sphinx.mythic-beasts.com
  • _spf.mythic-beasts.com

Domain names have several uses: they may name a particular computer, or a service. They may just reference some information. Most importantly, they are used to construct email addresses, such as support@mythic-beasts.com and website addresses, such as http://www.mythic-beasts.com/.

Making domain names work

There are 3 distinct steps in setting up a domain name for a website, or for use in email addresses.

  1. Registration
  2. DNS
  3. Hosting

Mythic Beasts are able to handle each of these three steps, and in the typical case we will be doing all of them. However, the Internet is very flexible, and in principle the 3 steps can be handled by 3 entirely separate organizations. A registration refers to arbitrary DNS servers; and the DNS refers to arbitrary hosting servers. If you are bringing an existing domain name to us, or doing something a bit unusual, it can be very helpful to understand the details.

1. Registration

If you want to use a domain name, the first thing you must do is to register it with a registrar. This establishes that the name belongs to you (or your organization), and prevents anyone else from using it. Domain names are registered for between 1 and 10 years, at the end of which time the registration must be renewed.

In order to use our registrar services, you will need to have a Mythic Beasts customer account. You can apply for a new account here.

There is a fee for registering a domain name, which varies depending on which Top-Level Domain it is under. Details of the fees we charge are here.

If you have already registered a domain elsewhere, it is possible to transfer the registration to Mythic Beasts, if you wish. Note that transferring the registration does not mean that we will automatically run the DNS for the domain (you can enable that through our control panel once the transfer has completed), nor host the domain (you will need to set that up separately).

There are two parts to a domain registration.

  1. Contact addresses for the registrant (the legal entity to whom the domain name belongs), as well as billing and technical contacts. It is imperative that you keep the contact details up-to-date, especially email addresses, as these will be used to remind you when your registration is due for expiry. In 2014, ICANN initiated a program to improve the quality of domain name registration data. If you do not respond to emails sent to the registered addresses, you may lose your domain name.
  2. The names of the DNS nameservers on the Internet which are providing DNS for this domain. This is how the registration refers to the DNS, allowing the registration to be in one place, and the DNS somewhere else.

2. DNS

The DNS or Domain Name System is the distributed directory that allows computers on the Internet to find out information about domain names. Ensuring that your DNS is reliable and correctly configured is vital to your Internet presence.

Typically, as a Mythic Beasts customer, we will run the DNS for your domain name, which allows you to make changes to it through our control panel. However, if you want to use your own nameservers, or somebody else's, that's fine too.

Most organizations that register domain names are also happy to provide DNS for domain names registered with them. So if you have an existing registration, you may be able to continue using the same nameservers, or you may prefer to change to our nameservers.

You can use the DNS to create as many domain names "under" your registered name as you require. So you might register example.co.uk, and then in the DNS create the names www.example.co.uk and mail.example.co.uk. You can even create extra levels if you want: testing.blog.example.co.uk.

The DNS holds various types of records. For simple cases, the most important are the A record, which refers to the server that is running your website, and the MX record, which refers to the server that is accepting email for your domain. (So you can see that it's even possible to have separate organizations providing your website and your email.)

3. Hosting

The domain name still doesn't do anything useful! The final piece of the puzzle is hosting: arranging for a computer somewhere on the Internet to serve your web pages, accept mail, etc.

If you have a (real or virtual or co-located) dedicated server with Mythic Beasts, you are effectively doing your own hosting. You will need to ensure that your server is running the right software and is configured to serve web pages for the domain or domains you are hosting on it. Similarly for sending and receiving email, and any other services you are providing.

If you have a hosting service with us, we take care of the details, but you will need to let us know which domain names you are expecting us to host, so we can configure our software appropriately.

Conclusion

If you have any questions on any of this, please email support@mythic-beasts.com.