A few weeks ago, we whetted your palate with Domains 101: An Introduction to Custom Domains, an introductory post about custom domains. This week, we’re going to delve deeper into the details of domain ownership and hosting your site.
Your registrar versus your host
Let’s pause the tech-talk for a moment, and switch to a time-tested metaphor. Your domain is like your street address. When someone wants to visit your house, they pop your address into Google Maps, follow the directions, and arrive at your doorstep. Your home, on the other hand, is like your hosting provider. It is where your store all of your things: your books, your clothes, your photo albums. If your mayor one day knocked on your door and said, “We’re changing your street name from Main Street to Broadway,” your house would remain the same, but your address would change. Makes sense, right?
Like your home, your hosting provider is where you store your website’s files. It’s where you keep your posts and pages, your photographs and comments. You can move to a different hosting provider, just like you can move all of your belongings from one house to another.
Your domain registrar and your hosting provider do not have to be the same company. For many people, it is more convenient to keep all website costs in one place by buying their domain and hosting their site through a single company. Others may have chosen to move their site, but keep their domain registration at their current registrar: for these people, their site is registered and hosted through two separate companies.
Hosting, mapping, and name servers, oh my!
If you register a domain through WordPress.com to use with your WordPress.com site, that means both your host and registrar are the same: WordPress.com. However, if you’ve already bought your domain through a different registrar or want to use a different top-level domain (TLD), like .co.uk, you’ll want to use a slightly different option known as Domain Mapping.
With Domain Mapping, you’re managing your website’s content and your domain name separately. To map a domain to a WordPress.com site, you change what are known as domain name servers, or just name servers. Your name servers resolve, or connect, to the IP address of your site’s host server, thereby bringing visitors to your site specifically. When you change your name servers to use your domain with a different hosting provider, you’re letting your domain know, “Hey, when you type in http://wordpress.com/, this is where you can find my site.”
When you update your name servers, it can take some time for the servers and cache to catch up during a process known as propagation. A safe estimate is that it can take 24 to 48 hours for your name servers to fully update, but the time may vary depending on a variety of factors. So if you update your name servers, but are still being redirected to your old site, fear not — your site just needs a little time to adjust to the change.
An important note to keep in mind when mapping a domain: changing your name servers can affect a custom email address. We’ll go into domain name server (DNS) records in more detail next time, but you can get started with some more information through our Custom DNS page.
Visual learner? Check out our video guide to mapping a domain to a WordPress.com site.
If you register a domain through WordPress.com or would simply like to change your domain registrar, there is an additional option that is available in most cases: transferring your domain to another registrar. Transferring your domain registration is a bit like changing your telephone provider, but keeping your same phone number. Through the transfer process, which includes getting an authorization code to confirm the transfer between registrars, you can switch registrars but still maintain ownership of your domain. According to a rule set by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, you do need to wait 60 days until after a domain has been registered before transferring it.
A few common questions
Q: Can I use a domain I registered through WordPress.com with another host?
A: You can certainly use your WordPress.com-registered custom domain with another host. To do so, you’ll need to update your name servers so that the domain points away from WordPress.com and toward your hosting provider. You can update this through your Domain Manager.
When you update your name servers to use with a new host, WordPress.com is still your domain registrar, even though we’re no longer hosting your site. Remember, you’ll still need to renew your domain registration through WordPress.com each year so that your site address keeps working.
Q: Is mapping a domain the same as transferring your domain registration?
A: Not quite. When you map a domain to a WordPress.com site, what you’re doing is telling your domain where to find your website on the web by updating your name servers. Changing your name servers only affects where your domain resolves, meaning that your site will now bring visitors to your WordPress.com page. Name servers relate to your hosting which, as we noted above, can be separate from your domain registration.
After mapping your domain to your WordPress.com site, it’s important to note that you’ll have two separate places to maintain your domain. First, you’ll need to maintain your domain registration and renewal through your domain registrar, where you bought your domain name. Second, you’ll need to maintain your Domain Mapping upgrade through WordPress.com to keep using this as your site’s address.
Q: Can I transfer my domain registration to WordPress.com?
A: Unfortunately, we do not accept incoming domain transfers, so it is not possible to transfer a domain you already registered to WordPress.com. Instead, we recommend using the Domain Mapping upgrade to use an already registered domain with your site and maintaining your ownership of that domain through your current registrar.
As mentioned in our last Domains 101 post, we never recommend canceling a domain if you plan to continue using it. This is because the domain cancellation and expiration process is a lengthy one — generally 45 to 90 days — and there is a risk that the domain may not be released to re-register afterwards.
Still with us? Great! Join us in our next Domains 101 post when we dive into email and custom DNS records.
You might also enjoy these related posts:
- Domains 101: An Introduction to Custom Domains
- Personalize Your Online Home with a Custom Domain