All About Domain Names

The topic of domain names can seem like a complex one, but that's because running an ecommerce store requires you to interact with your domain name in several different ways at various stages of the setup process. Each one of these interactions is relatively simple in its own right, but if you don't understand how they relate to each other, it can be very easy to get confused about what steps to take whenever a domain-related issue arises. This guide is designed to help you understand everything you need to know about domain names.

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* These steps are required for opening your store to the public.

Understanding the Domain Name System (DNS)

All websites reside on IP (internet protocol) addresses, which are strings of digits and dots, such as 69.49.191.216. That's Volusion's IP address. It's not nearly as easy to remember as Volusion's domain name, though, which is precisely why the domain name system was invented; it gives people an easy-to-remember way to find the websites they want to visit. When you type "www.volusion.com" into your web browser address bar, you actually end up at 69.49.191.216 because a special type of server, called a domain name server, looks up the domain name you typed and provides the matching IP address. Quite simply, the system makes the internet easier to use.

That doesn't mean, however, that there are no complications with the system. Due to the vast amount of traffic on the internet, with people constantly requesting location information for their favorite websites, the system is purposefully decentralized and distributed to better handle the load. There are domain name servers all over the world, and each one contains only a small portion of the IP address / domain name pairings of the entire web. To make the flow of information more efficient, the system allows connection points between users and domain name servers to temporarily cache pairings they've previously requested so they don't have to find and query the servers themselves every time.

This makes relevant data easier to access, but that data can become outdated and obstructive in two ways: when the IP address associated with a domain name changes, or when the domain name associated with an IP address changes. These events take effect instantly within the domain name server itself, but the outdated pairing information may remain cached between the domain name server and a user who needs the new information.

This can make the website unreachable to users in certain locations until the cached information between them and the domain name server expires, and the connection points must query the server again for the latest data. The process of new information filtering downstream from domain name servers to caching points and, ultimately, users is called "propagation." Whenever a website changes its server location or domain name, it can take days for this process to complete.

Registering (Purchasing) a Domain Name

You get your website's IP address from the server hosting it, but if you want people to be able to find your website easily, you must register a unique domain name to map to the IP address. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the organization in charge of domain name registration policy. They accredit third parties, called registrars, to offer registration services to the public. If you haven't registered a domain name yet, we recommend Hover, NameCheap, or Domain.com.

The minimum registration term for most domain names is one year, but you can register for a longer term (up to 10 years) if you don't want to bother with annual renewal.

Editing Your Domain Name Registration Record

When you register a domain name, the contact information you provide becomes available in a public database called WHOIS. Anyone on the internet can look up your domain name in the database and find your contact information, unless you choose to keep this information private. There are many tools that allow users to run WHOIS queries, such www.whois.net and who.is.

If you don't want your contact information to be publicly available, note that most registrars do offer "private registration".

Please be aware that it's against ICANN regulations to knowingly display inaccurate contact information. Make sure that the information you've entered with your third-party domain registrar is accurate and up-to-date.

Transferring a Domain Name Registration

When you transfer the registration record of your domain name from one registrar to another, the new registrar typically charges a fee and a new registration term begins regardless of the details of the existing term. Keep in mind that domain name transfers can take up to 5-10 business days to complete. Additionally, your domain name may be unavailable for a period of 24-72 hours.

If you'd like to transfer to or from a specific registrar, be sure to check that registrar's help resources for additional information and steps.

Renewing a Domain Name Registration

It's important to renew the registration for your domain name before it expires. Most registrars will give you options to renew the registration prior to expiration, typically by sending you a reminder at the email address associated with the domain name.

If you choose not to renew your domain name's registration when it expires, the name will go back on the open market, where it will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Remember that registration only guarantees your exclusive right to use the name. How you use it depends on other factors, which we'll cover below.

Designating Your Store's Operating Domain Name

Each Volusion store can only be configured to operate on one domain name at a time. When you buy your monthly hosting plan from our website, the order form asks you to specify the domain name that you want to use.

This designation allows us to configure your account to operate on that domain name when you're ready to go live. It doesn't register the name. By the time you place your order, you should have already registered the name through a third-party registrar. If you entered a temporary placeholder, our Billing team may have caught it and reached out to you to ask you to specify a different name. If you don't remember the name you specified, you can view it at any time in your Admin Area at Settings > Company in the Domain Name menu.

Changing Your Store's Operating Domain Name Designation

If you need to change your store's domain name designation at any time, you can place an order for a domain name change on our website (UK merchants, go here). The process includes a $25.00 fee (£20.00). If this is the first domain name change for a store in your account, our Billing team will automatically waive the fee by voiding the charge authorization. This means you will still have to provide credit card information, but the pending charge will be removed from your bank account within a few business days.

Fill out the form, read the Terms and Conditions, select the corresponding check box to indicate agreement, and click Add to cart. Then complete the purchase as you would any other purchase from our website.

Setting Up DNS Hosting for Your Domain / Subdomain Name ("Pointing" Your Name at Volusion)

After you register your domain name and ensure that your store is designated to operate on it, there is still one important configuration step you must take before you can operate successfully online: you must assign a DNS host. This is the process by which you let your registrar know which domain name server(s) should keep the authoritative records for your domain name. To do this, input the DNS host's (Volusion) name server settings in the control panel provided by your registrar.

In order to have your domain name point to Volusion's servers and your Volusion store, you'll need to input the following name server settings in the panel that your registrar provides:

Name Server 1: ns1.volusion.com
Name Server 2: ns2.volusion.com
Name Server 3: ns3.volusion.com
Name Server 4: ns4.volusion.com

(If your registrar provides only two name server inputs, use ns3.volusion.com & ns4.volusion.com.)

Be sure to take this step at least 72 hours before you want to go live to allow for propagation. Once you've specified Volusion as your DNS host, you can manage your DNS records in your MyVolusion account.

In most cases, you won't need to edit the default records, but if you want to run your store on a subdomain (such as "store.myvolusiondomain.com"), you must take special configuration steps on this page.

To learn more about editing DNS records, read our guide.

Going Live on Your Domain Name

Before you go live, your store will run on a temporary URL that begins with a series of random characters, followed by "servertrust.com". This is a special URL owned by Volusion that we provide for the store-building phase. Technically anyone can visit your in-progress store, but it's unlikely anyone will find the URL.

When you're ready to switch to your domain name, take the following steps:

  1. Log in to your Admin Area.
  2. Go to Settings > Company.
  3. Change the value in the Domain Name menu from Temporary Hostname to Domain Name.
  4. Click Save.

If you've completed all previous required steps, congratulations: your store is now open to the public!