Step 5: Switching Web Site Hosting Companies

So its time to switch web hosts… Step 5

At this point you should be sure that your new web site is working properly at the new host. This step will make your domain resolve to the new hosting account.

5) Switching the Name Server Entries at the Domain Registrar

The location that is accessed when using your domain on the internet is controlled by the name servers that are designated at your domain name registrar. Most hosting companies have their own name servers and automatically set them up to point to the correct location for you domain on their servers. When you are ready to have the public start accessing your site at the new web site location you will need to set your domain at the registrar to use the new name servers.

Switching the name server at the domain register used to be something that the new web host company did for you, however with the boom in domain name registrars and the variations on their DNS modification procedures, this is no longer feasible. Modifying the name servers at the registrar almost always needs to be initiated by the domain owner.

  1. Determine an appropriate time to make the name server modification. Since it can take a few days before everyone on the web receives the name server modifications it is a good idea to select a day that your site has the least traffic. For many people this would be the weekend so you would want to make the modification late on Friday afternoon.
  2. Update the domain record at the registrar with the new name servers
  3. Consider making a minor modification on your home page at the new host. This will let you know when the name server modification has propagated to your isp. Note that you may see the domain at the new host but others may still be seeing it at the old host for a brief period of time.
  4. If any of your users have pop accounts using the IP address of the old hosting company as their mail program’s mail servers update them to the new IP or to your domain name.
  5. If you are concerned about mail being sent to the old account you may want to request that the old hosting company update your mx record in their name server to point to the new IP address.

The period of time that it takes to propagate the new name server information across the internet is usually around 3 days. Most people will see the site at the new location within 24 hours. This can be a confusing time as some people see the site at the old location while others are hitting it at the new. Normally this is not a big problem for site owners but it is something you need to be aware of.

Site Move Quick Tip:
Domain name server modifications do not take effect for everyone at the same time. This is especially important to know regarding e-mail and files that are updated via the web. There are a number of different ways to address this.

One method would be to check the email accounts on the old host periodically using the IP address during the few days after switching your name servers. You will also want to check any files or databases that may get updated at the old host.

Another method to handle email during this “switch over” time would be to have the mx (email) record at your old host updated to point to the new IP address. Note that some web hosts charge for name server modifications. Many people switching from one hosting company to another are doing so because of support problems and avoid this method because of possible problems.

You may also want to consider doing a “meta refresh” forward statement on your old hosting account main index page to have it forward to the new IP address. This, however, will only work properly if all of your links use a relative path and not “http://…”. If your links include your fully qualified domain name (with “http://”), the user who is still seeing the site at the old location will be directed back there.


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