I received a telephone call from an old working colleague
recently. Hysterically upset, he told me that his website was no longer
accessible and he had no idea why.
I have experienced similar situations with other websites
before and I was almost sure of what had happened - he didn’t pay his
When I told him that, he said he paid all his bills (all
he received, anyway) and if there happened to be one that he missed, he
would pay it. So, if he wasn’t receiving his bills, the next obvious
question was, just where were his bills being sent, if not to him? But
we’ll come back to this later.
First we had to rule out the possibility of the server
being “temporarily” down, which we did. I then advised him of what
possibly could have gone wrong. There were two options: either his domain
name registration had run out and needed to be renewed (because he hadn’t
paid the bill he never received) or his web hosting company was asking for a
few more “rental” dollars.
After all this information about webhosting, webdomain,
registration and renewal - he was understandably a little confused, and I
could already foresee the next step: He asked me to have a look.
Since I had worked with him before, I knew he wouldn’t
be able to provide me with any information on registration or the name of
the company where his website was hosted. And when I queried about his
(former) webmaster, he told me he had long gone. Of course...
I agreed to help, but before I let him off the phone I
tried to explain to him the difference between webhosting and his domain
name, and that you need both. Here we go:
As he had some experience with domain name registration
(he was one of those people who bought more than a few domain names with the
purpose of reselling them later), I started there.
I told him that his domain name is basically the name by
which he is called when people look for him. Domain names are “friendly”
names, like www.myfriendlosthishost.com, for not-so-friendly IP addresses,
like 184.108.40.206. Domain names are part of the Domain Name System (DNS).
Most Internet services rely on DNS to work, and if DNS fails, web sites
cannot be located and email delivery stalls.
His webhosting company is basically the apartment where
he stores all his stuff, where people end up when looking for him, or
information on him. This is where you put everything you want people to find
out about you. But it requires space. The more space you need the bigger
your “apartment” needs to be.
As with everything in life, nothing is free. You have to
pay for a name and you have to pay your apartment. If you don’t, they
throw you out.
Being satisfied with my little tutorial speech, we hung
up and I started to trace the problem.
I connected to the Network Solutions website (www.net
worksolutions.com) to find out more information on his domain name. Network
Solutions is a website where you can register domain names and look up web
address information, web site details, domain search, and personalized
email. I was especially interested in when he registered and how long it
would last. For this I had to use the “whois” database search option.
You can find the button for it in the upper right corner of the Network
On the new page I typed in my friend’s domain name in
the field marked with a (1), then clicked the “Go” button and waited for
Going through the list I saw that his domain name
registration was still valid, but would run out in a couple of months. I
made a note to inform him of this, as I didn’t want the same call in a
couple of months. Because the second time, I would be accused of having done
a bad job. This also comes from experience.
Having checked one of the two possible problems, I knew I
had a 50% chance of finding the mistake next time. Sherlock Homes at work,
As I still had the list of information on the domain name
on my screen, I looked further down until I found the “Domain name
servers”. They usually start out with “ns1.” and “ns2.” followed
by a website, i.e. “webhosting.com”. This is usually the website of the
domain hosting company. I visited their website and found a support email to
get in touch with, asking if my friend’s website “www. my
friendlosthishost.com” was hosted with them.
After being able to identify my friend as the owner, they
then forwarded to me the necessary information, which we checked to see why
he didn’t receive an invoice.
We found out that the billing email address was different
and thus my friend never received a bill. We updated the information in the
database of the hosting company via a form to ensure this will never happen
After that was done and my buddy paid his overdue bill,
the website was up and running in no time.
So, what have we learned from this and how can we avoid
When registering a domain name or signing up for a
hosting service make sure your contact information, name, address, and
contact email is correct. Think carefully about what name you want to use to
register it. Changing contact details, addresses, etc., is pretty easy and
free (if you have all the details); transferring a domain name to a
different owner is not so easy and costs money.
Most likely you will receive a username/password. If you register your
domain name through your webmaster or a third person, ask for all
information and keep it somewhere safe, and somewhere where you can find it
when you need it. Although in the scenario above, I think my friend’s old
webmaster didn’t do anything wrong, I suggest not relying on him/her. Keep
this very important information and file it with your company papers. After
all, it is part of your company.