Heads up! Stuff is going to happen when we migrate your website to the new host and server. Something’s going to happen to the DNS. And whatever that is will also have an impact on MX Records, too.

Didn’t Small Business Mavericks say it had to do with propagation? Isn’t that something you do with fruit trees?

What is DNS, anyway?

It stands for Domain Name System. A domain name is your website’s registered name. You spent a lot of time and effort to find a good name – something memorable. That’s important for people, but the Internet likes numbers.

The domain name is what we type into our browser window when we want to go to a website. Every website is associated with a unique IP (Internet Protocol) address. It’s a series of numbers. Only your website has that exact sequence. We navigate by website name, but the Internet is built on Internet address numbers.

That unique IP address identifies the web server where your website lives. In addition to all the web servers, there are thousands of DNS servers situated around the world. It’s their job to take the domain name of the website you want to see on your computer or mobile device and associate it with the correct unique IP address.

Internet traffic directors

Those DNS servers are important. They’re the Internet’s record-keepers. And remember, there are thousands of them all over the planet. So, when you switch to a different website host using a different web server, all those DNS servers have to be updated with this new information. Each DNS server needs the new unique IP address associated with your domain name.

It’s a straightforward technical process. Your website’s domain name is maintained by a registrar. GoDaddy is one example of a domain name registrar. It’s one of the services they offer. When the IP address of your website changes because you move it to a new host or server, you must notify your domain name registrar of the update so they can push out this information to the world’s DNS servers.

It’s not an instantaneous process. The updates have to cover the entire planet.

The new IP address has to thread its way to every single DNS server. The process is called DNS propagation.

A matter of timing

Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. Did you know that theoretically, data can travel 299,792,458 meters per second? That’s the speed of light. And okay, it’s likely that the Internet data speeding its way around the world is traveling about 30% slower. it’s still fast!

You’d think those thousands of globally located DNS servers would get the updated IP address information in just a couple minutes or less.

It turns out there’s one more piece to the DNS puzzle. The IP address of your website doesn’t change very often. The DNS servers cache the lookup information matching domain names to IP addresses, and they keep it for as long as they are told. The amount of time it should be kept is one of the settings made with your registrar – the organization responsible for storing and dispensing the IP address of your website.

It’s called the TTL, which stands for Time to Live. That’s the amount of time a DNS server should wait before it asks again about any IPS address changes. The default TTL setting for most DNS is 24 hours. The DNS servers don’t update themselves all at the same time.

Hurry up and wait

DNS propagation can take 24 hours or longer. In the meantime, some visitors might be seeing your website from the new web server. Others might still be seeing it from the old server. It makes for an interesting 24 hours, especially if you also make changes to your website when you move it to a different server.

During this time, email can be a bit dicey, too. MX stands for Mail Exchanger. It’s a specific type of DNS record, and it helps email travel to the right place so your domain can snag and distribute it. Your email is important, so there usually are multiple MX records. These are backups that give sending email systems alternate places to send messages if the primary address indicated by the MX record won’t accept it.

Moving a website from one server or website host to another isn’t all that complicated. It can be done in a matter of seconds. Sort of like switching the channel.

It’s getting the rest of the world on the switch to the new channel that takes about a day or so. That’s what DNS propagation is all about.

It’s a short period of uncertainty. Your website has a new address on the Internet, and thousands of DNS servers around the planet have to update their databases with this new IP address. There’s a way to make it a painless procedure. We put procedures in place that create a smooth transition. We’ll also make sure that your email arrives to you as quickly as possible during the switch over..

The result is a seamless switch. When done right, nobody even knows it’s happened. And we always do it right, so rest easy … if we’re switching your website from one server to another with us, we’ve got it covered!