The recent incident suffered with one of our registrars was a timely reminder that things can go wrong in the digital world. Regardless of your hosting provider or domain registrar, digital disaster can strike at any time, so it pays to have plans in place to mitigate any damage or downtime to your business. Here are some easy best practice steps you or your business can follow to lessen the impacts if this issue arises.
Domains vs. Hosting (and where auDA can help)
So what’s the difference between a domain name and website hosting? These are quite separate services and understanding the difference between the two — and which is affecting your website — can help you get online again quicker.
Domain names are an address on the internet, such as auda.org.au. If a domain name has .au at the end of it, it is part of the .au domain space which is regulated by auDA. When a domain name is typed into an address bar, it resolves those easy to remember words and numbers into a numerical IP address, which is what computers use to communicate with each other. This is known as the Domain Name System (DNS).
Domain names ending in .au are registered through a registrar, a company accredited by auDA to sell .au domain names. You can find a list of these registrars here. If your DNS is managed by your registrar (DNS provider) and this registrar suffers an incident, your domain name may not resolve. In this situation, your computer attempts to contact the registrar’s DNS servers to ask for the IP address of the website, but as the registrar is offline, no response is given and the transaction fails. The hosted content of your website, such as the text and images usually loaded when you visit your site, may indeed still be live, but without a working address, it is impossible to locate that content.
It is auDA’s role to develop and implement domain name policy and maintain the integrity of the .au domain name space. In the event of a registrar incident, transferring away to another unaffected registrar is possible (in some instances auDA may be able to assist here), but this step may not restore your website. If your website is also hosted by your registrar and their hosting service is also affected by an incident, your website may remain inaccessible until their incident is solved.
The key here, auDA only has authority to protect and regulate the .au domain space, we have no authority over hosting services.
Website hosting is the place where the files for your website are stored. It’s where all the text, pages, images, videos and other content that makes up your website are located. If your hosting provider suffers an incident, your domain name may still resolve, but there will be no content to display on the screen to the user as this part of the service is offline. Some auDA licensed registrars also provide hosting services, but these hosting services are not subject to auDA’s authority as they are not part of the .au domain name system. auDA is unable to assist with hosting issues and these queries must be directed to the hosting provider.
Know your Domain Name Password
Ensure you know or can access the details used to register your domain name. The most important details to know are the email address listed in the registry database as your contact address, and your domain name password.
In the event of an incident, your domain name password allows auDA to assist you with managing your domain name, such as by transferring it to another registrar if requested. Password management apps such as Keepass, LastPass and 1Password are a great way to store your domain name email address and password as they offer the option of recording secure notes in addition to other logins and passwords.
Don’t remember your password? Visit our Password Recovery Tool, which will send your domain name password to the email address recorded in the registry as your contact address, or direct you to the registrar of record where your domain name password can be found — the only catch is you need to ensure your email is accessible (see next).
Be contactable: consider keeping your email separate
If your hosting provider or registrar is down, you may have trouble accessing the email account linked to your domain, such as email@example.com. Consider using an email address separate from your .au domain to ensure you can access your email even if your website is down, as this may mean your email is down, too.
Know your service providers (and their level of support)
Now that you know the difference between domain names and hosting, it’s good to know who your providers are. Where are they located? What are their contact details? Do they have a phone number? Some providers may offer online-only support which, in the event of an incident, may not be available.
You should also ask your service providers about their disaster recovery plans (every provider should have one). This may include information about what redundancies they have in place, or simply pose the question “what happens if you go down?”. For example, your DNS provider may provide geographically-dispersed name servers, or your website host may have servers in different cities, both of which offer good protection from incidents such as outages and permits a transfer of services to another server if one goes down.
As with all business decisions, do your research before selecting a service provider to ensure they meet your and/or your business needs. auDA cannot recommend one service provider over another, so your own research is important.
Always have a backup
As with all things digital, the best practice is to always keep a backup of your data, this includes websites. Many hosting services can provide backups of your website content, or if working with a web designer, they may be able to provide you with backup files. Once again, check with your service provider as to what support is available.