'Where is my site?'
You may never have to untangle the web of DNS records that allow the world to access your website. But having a simple mental model of how this works can help you (1) protect what is important, and (2) avoid messy situations that are complex and expensive to untangle.
I’ve never seen a good analogy for this in the wild, so I’m going to create on for you right here.
Let’s call your business Example Co., and the domain name for your website: something like example.com. Your full homepage url address might be something like https://www.example.com. But for our purposes, example.com is your domain. [This is a fake website for demonstration purposes only; no need to check it out.]
Your domain may be registered with someone like GoDaddy, or Namecheap, or another registrar. That’s great, you can keep it there!
But within your registration account with that company, you can actually change some settings to point that domain at servers somewhere else. As long as those other servers have folders that are called ‘example.com’, a web browser can then pull up the web pages stored in those folders.
This means you don’t have to keep your website at the same place as your domain registration. And in fact…you shouldn’t!!
You want to keep a separation of concerns between these services, much like the checks and balances of the federal government. If one branch screws us over, we can (hopefully) keep the other, healthy branches while we fix the offending one.
A physical analogy for website domain records
The physical analogy works like this. (For the record: I don’t really use DVDs anymore, and I don’t expect you to, either. I just expect you to remember what they are.)
Your domain is like a TV.
Let’s say your domain, example.com, is just a TV that one or more people can gather and sit in front of. (Just like many people could pull up your website on a web browser).
Your website files are like a DVD.
Your website is a bunch of files with content on them: words, pictures, code. The same way that a DVD is essentially a file with video content (the movie).
Your website files get 'played' by a web server that 'translates' your website files into information a browser can understand.
Those website files get ‘played’ for an audience by a web server. This is analogous to a DVD that gets played by a DVD player. A TV (for our purposes) doesn't have the information on the DVD, needs to get access to it, and can't read the DVD directly.
But your domain must be connected to the web server.
The DVD player can be completely separate from the TV, in which case it must be connected to a TV for the DVD content to be shown on that TV. Likewise, the domain must be connected to the web server, in order for visitors to that domain to view your website pages. The connection from the domain name to the server is controlled by the domain account, not the web server account. Just as the TV controls the auxiliary input for the DVD player, but not vice-versa.
Want a different website, or hosting provider? You can swap out the website files...or the entire web server.
The DVD in the player can be changed. Or the DVD player can be unplugged, and another one replace it. The new DVD player can can contain another copy of the same original DVD, or a different one entirely. It may be ’remake’ of the original 'movie', for example (like a reboot of your website). You can do this all from the domain name account because that's where you select the 'input' (like a TV).
In this way, a website domain (the TV) can be ‘pointed to’ any servers (DVD player) containing the website (DVD) that you want to show.
Getting back to the original question. What’s the thing that you want to protect in this chain of technology? It’s the ‘TV’: your domain.
Buy it yourself; don’t let somebody else buy it for you. Want to completely overhaul your website, but leave the other parts alone? Great, that’s like putting a new DVD in the DVD player; give them access to your hosting account (but get a backup of your site before they do). Want to let someone new set up your website on new hosting servers? Great. Get the IP address for those servers and plug them into the DNS records at your domain registration. That’s like swapping out the DVD Player. But never, never give away the TV; there’s a little captive audience sitting in front of it, and you want to protect it.
Does this still seem clear as mud? Reach out and we'll sort it out.