When transferring a website from one host to another or putting a brand new website live, there’s one step that tends to confuse people. It’s called DNS which stands for Domain Name System. Explaining how DNS works can be a little complicated, but the concept by itself is fairly easy to understand.
For a website to be accessible on the internet a few things need to happen. The website files need to be hosted on a file server somewhere, usually accessed via FTP. The files then need to be accessed by means of a Domain Name which is the URL or address you type into your browser to get to that website. Google.com is a domain name, for example, as is sharpinnovations.com. But how exactly are these domain names linked to the servers that are hosting the website files? That’s where DNS comes in.
The DNS is essentially an address book for domain names that your computer uses to convert a URL that is easy to remember to an IP address, which tells the computer where to go to access a particular website. Think of it like a latitude and longitude of a business taken from the street address. 3113 Main Street is much easier to remember than the latitude and longitude. The URL you type in, such as sharpinnovations.com, is the easy-to-remember street address. The DNS then tells the browser the exact place to go to access that website.
Sometimes when changing hosts or launching a new website it can take several hours for that change to go live. This is because there are thousands of DNS servers that keep their own records regarding where different sites are located. Google has their own DNS server you can use, but there are many others. Your computer automatically selects a DNS server to use so that it is always that server’s records. These DNS servers refresh from time to time to make sure they are up to date. That means that if the DNS has been updated to point to a new IP address, but the DNS server you are using hasn’t been updated yet, you’ll continue to see the old website until your DNS provider updates their records. This explains how you may see the new website, but your other location may still be seeing the old one.
That is the basic concept of the DNS, but it goes much deeper than that. How these servers work and interact with one another to maintain updated records can be complicated, and some people even use their own internal DNS servers to block websites or use a local Exchange server. Those are topics for another post, though! So the next time you’re waiting for your new website to go live or for your email to transfer to a different server, you’ll know why it isn’t an instant process and can take upwards of a few hours to take effect.