Transfering your website and email to Mythic Beasts

How to transfer your domain registration and hosting to Mythic Beasts with no downtime

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Transferring your domain and hosting to Mythic Beasts is reasonably straightforward, and involves three main steps:

  1. Setup a new hosting account
  2. Update the nameservers for your domain
  3. Transfer your domain registration

If you're already using your domain for a website or email then you'll probably be concerned about any interruption to your service during the transfer. It is possible to minimise this, but requires some additional steps. A process for doing this is described below.

Background

Before using the transfer process described below, it's worth understanding a bit of background about how hosting works.

Domain registration, nameservers and hosting

There are three parts to hosting email and a website on your domain. The first of these is the domain registration, which is simply the right to use a particular domain name.

To host a website, or send and receive email, you will also need a hosting account. This is where you will upload content for your website, and where you can download your email from.

In order for web traffic and email to reach your hosting account, you must tell the world where the hosting for your domain can be found. This is done using nameservers. As part of your domain registration, you must specify nameservers for your domain. Nameservers turn requests for hostnames, such as www.example.com and turn them into IP addresses which locate your hosting account.

Nameservers are typically included as part of your domain registration, but there's no requirement to use the same provider.

Time-to-live (TTL)

When a nameserver responds to a query for a hostname, it also includes a "time-to-live" or TTL. This is the number of seconds that you're allowed to remember (or cache) the answer before asking again. Caching improves performance by avoiding unnecessary lookups, but it also creates a problem when you want to make changes in order to transfer your hosting.

For example, a mail server might ask your nameservers where it should send mail for your domain to. Your nameservers would respond with the address of your mail servers, and might say that you can cache the answer for 86400s (24 hours).

If you want to change the mail servers for you domain, you will update your nameservers with the new address but any mail server that has cached that lookup may continue to send mail to your old server for up to 24 hours.

Fortunately you can control the TTL for records in your domain, so you can avoid this problem by reducing the TTL in advance of making the changes to transfer your domain.

Nameserver records for your domain

As mentioned above, your domain registration specifies which nameservers to use for your domain. As part of transferring your domain, you'll want to update this to point to the Mythic Beasts nameservers.

Unfortunately, there's a catch. The nameserver records for your domain are also subject to a TTL which is typically 24 hours and you cannot change it. This means that when you change the nameservers for your domain, there will a 24 hour period during which queries might be answered by either your old nameservers or the Mythic Beasts nameservers. The trick to ensuring a smooth transfer is to make sure that both sets of nameservers are giving the same answers for this transfer period so that it doesn't matter which server answers a query.

The no-downtime transfer process

In order to minimise any downtime to your domain, the preferred transfer process is as follows:

  1. Go to your DNS control panel at your existing provider, and reduce the TTL on all records to the minimum (this is typically 60 seconds) Note down the old TTL value, and wait for at least that long before doing step 6.

  2. Order a hosting account.

  3. Add your domain to our control panel as a third party domain and associate it with your hosting account.

  4. Configure the email addresses that you want for your domain, and upload your website. There is information in the control panel on how to test your site before transferring it.

  5. Enable DNS for your domain via our control panel, and select the appropriate template for your hosting account.

  6. You now need to start updating the DNS records for your domain by copying the details for each record from the Mythic Beasts control panel to your old provider's DNS control panel. When creating the new records, you should again specify the minimum TTL. This way, if there are any problems you can reverse the change quickly. You should update at least the following records:

    • Copying the www records will switch your website to our servers (you should also copy any @ or root-level A or AAAA records).
    • Copying the MX records will redirect your email to our servers. At this point, you should update your mail client to use your new hosting account for incoming mail.
    • Copying the SPF record (this is a TXT record that starts with v=spf1) tells the world where mail for your domain may legitimately come from. You should update your mail client to use our mail servers for outgoing mail when you change this.
  7. At this point, your website and email are being hosted by Mythic Beasts, but your old provider is still providing your DNS and domain registration. You can now switch to using the Mythic Beasts nameservers by updating the nameservers for your domain to be ns1.mythic-beasts.com and ns2.mythic-beasts.com. As noted above, this can take 24 hours to complete, but because the old and new nameservers are providing the same information, this should not cause any problems.

  8. You can now transfer the domain registration itself. We recommend doing this last, because your old provider may stop providing nameservers for your domain after you transfer the registration away.

Other considerations

There are a few things that may complicate the process if you have them enabled on your domain prior to transfer.

DNSSEC

DNSSEC is an extension to the DNS protocol that allows for responses to DNS queries to be digitally signed in order to prove that they are legitimate. If you have DNSSEC enabled on your domain, you will need to disable it prior to changing your nameservers. We recommend doing this 48 hours before changing your nameservers.

Secure web hosting

If your site has secure (HTTPS) hosting, you will need to take some extra steps in order to ensure a seamless transfer.

It's worth noting that you should be able enable HTTPS hosting on your Mythic Beasts hosting account within about 10 minutes of updating the relevant DNS records in step 6, so the interruption should be minimal even if you don't follow the additional steps