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Registration, DNS, and Web Service

You typically need four things to get on the air with a domain name.
  • Domain Name Registration from a registrar
  • Domain Name Service from a DNS Server
  • Mail Service from a Mail Server
  • Web Site Service from a Web Server
If you want to understand how your web site works, and more importantly, if you want to understand the fees you will encounter maintaining your site, it's important that you know the difference between these things. Let's take them one by one.

Domain Registration

Your registrar is who you pay to actually register the name in the .com or .net zone. Registrars are the guys that maintain that giant list of domain names (there's only one list, but many registrars). Next to each domain name, the registrars write down who has paid them to rent that name, and for how long. Normally registrars will list several contacts associated with the domain. These are the people and organizations that are allowed to make changes in the registration.

Don't take the contact listings for your registration lightly. Make sure they are accurate. You paid to rent that domain. If your contact listing is wrong -- maybe it has the wrong phone number or address listed -- you could end up being locked out of your own domain. The same is true for any password you are issued for your domain. We can't stress enough how important it is to have accurate registration information and to keep your passwords in a safe place.

JTAN can act as a registrar if you need a domain registered. There is an extra fee. When comparing registrar prices, keep in mind that the cheap registrars will shut off your domain and put it back for sale if your annual payment is late. JTAN has an auto-renew policy for domains. With JTAN, you can't accidentally lose your domain.

Registration is just registration. It's like those services that for $25 will name some obscure star or tiny moon crater after your pet goldfish. Domain Rame Registration, alone, is practically worthless. For you domain to actually do anything, it needs to be served. For that you need a computer providing Domain Name Service, or DNS.

Domain Name Service (DNS)

Registrars keep track of the human contacts associated with each domain, but they also keep track of one other very important thing: your registrar keeps track of the DNS servers (Name Servers) associated with your domain.

Whenever somebody or somebrowser wants to contact yourdomain.com, it will ask the global registrar database (the master list of all registrar information) for the address of a name server for that domain. The registrar hands over that information to the browser, and then it's between the browser and name server to figure out where the actual web site is.

It's very important to understand this, Contacting a web site is a three step process:

  1. Contact the registrar to find out where the DNS server is.
  2. Contact the DNS server to find out where the web site is.
  3. Contact the web site to get the pages from that site.
The middle step, contacting the DNS server, will only work if two things are true: your registrar has the current address of your DNS server and you actually have a working DNS server.

Some clever folks might ask: "Why do we need a DNS server at all? Why can't the registrar just point directly at the web site?" And that surely is a good question. As with most good questions, the answer is messy and complex and ultimately unsatisfactory. So rather than confuse and bore you with the truth, we'll just say this: "You need DNS Service because you do".

But you can't completely escape being confused, especially when we tell you that many registrars will provide DNS service along with registration. I think they do this so that their customers can pretend that DNS doesn't exist -- they can believe their registrar points directly at their web site without the intermediary of DNS, like children believe that Santa brings Christmas Presents without the intermediary of their parents. You, enlightened reader, now carry the burden of knowing the truth is otherwise. Even if your registrar provides DNS service for your domain, the DNS service must be there to get the job done.

JTAN can provide DNS service for your domain if you need that. A JTAN account includes free DNS service for your domains. We give you access to a globe spanning set of redundant DNS servers.

DNS service actually can do several very different things for you. First, it connects your domain name to your web site, as we have mentioned. Second, it connects your domain name to your mail server. Your mail server and your web server may be different computers, possibly located in different parts of the world. Mighty DNS can deal with this for you. Besides web and mail, DNS can also serve names for IRC bots, subdomain web sites, and other special services.

Keep in mind that DNS is just a Name Service. It takes a name like www.yourdomain.com and turns it into an Internet Protocol (IP) address like The DNS is just a fancy telephone directory. Give DNS a name, and it gives the phone number of the site. Your browser can then place a call to the site. But nobody will answer unless there is a web server at that number serving pages for you.

Mail Service (MX/POP/IMAP/SMTP)

One of the things your DNS indicates is your "MX" record. This record says what servers handle your incoming mail.

Mail is a big topic, but there is only one thing you need to know in the context of this discussion. At JTAN, when you add DNS service, you get Mail service if you want it. The two always come bundled. That means, if we are doing DNS for your domain, we will also accept mail (act as MX) for your domain. We also can provide POP/IMAP mailboxes and handle your outgoing mail with SMTP -- all included at no extra cost.

Of course, if you have DNS with us, you don't need to use the mail service provided by JTAN. You can configure your DNS to point at mail servers elsewhere. In fact, JTAN mail can be configured in "Independent" mode, which allows you to server your mail elsewhere with JTAN as your secondary MX.

Web Service

Web service is the last piece of the puzzle. The browser contacted the registrar and found the address of the DNS server. It contacted the DNS server and found the address of the web site. Now it wants to see web pages. How does that work?

Easy. Web pages are just files stored in a directory somewhere. That directory is called your Document Root. Normally document root is something like /home/username/public_html where "username" is your login name. The web server simply transfers these files on request to any browser that asks for them.

There's more to say about this, of course. Creating those files so as to make beautiful web pagess is no trivial task. There are walls of books written about it that you can buy at your local bookstore. But for the purpose of this discussion let's just say that your web site is a collection of files in some document root on some web server's disk drive, pointed at by the DNS server that you registrar indicates as the server for your domain. If you understood that last sentence, you now understand the difference between a Registrar, a DNS server, and your web site.

JTAN can provide web service for your site. A basic ~user site is included with every account. Domain based sites are a small extra charge.

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