NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
Want Your Own Domain?
It's Easy to Do
by Matt Lake, Syndicated Columnist, August 2001
(click to email author)

Some people study for years to get letters after their name. They sink thousands of hours (and dollars) in the quest for a B.A., M.S., or PhD to balance the initials they have in front of their surname. But these bright, overeducated people are missing one point. You can get .COM after your name and on the Web in a few days-for less than forty bucks. And getting your own Internet domain requires a lot less study.

The process of getting a .com, .net, and .org domain is pretty straightforward: You register a domain name, you get it hosted, and you renew it every year or so.

The trouble is that these three basic steps are buried in a mound of jargon. Do you know--or even care--about the difference between a registry and a registrar, or what URL forwarding and free parking mean? Well...you will, so you'd better read on.

Register a Domain
Until 1999, if you wanted a .com, .net, or .org domain, you had to go through Network Solutions, a.k.a. InterNIC. Even now, it's the sole registry of .com domains (under its new brand name, Verisign). But it's not the only place--or even the best place--for you to register domains. More than 40 registrars have been accredited to sell domains-and most of them undercut Network Solutions' prices substantially.

Confused yet? Don't be. All you need do is visit a registrar's site (I'll mention a few later), and enter the name you want to register. If the name's available, you can buy it there and then by entering your contact information (including phone number and email address) and a credit card number. It generally takes two or three days, sometimes a bit longer, for the domain name to go live (or "resolve" in domain registrar-speak).

Your domain, Your Web Site
But before you pony up your registration fee, remember that registering a domain doesn't give you a Web presence. Maybe the domain registrar will park your domain-but that just puts up a generic "under construction" Web page. To do anything substantial with your domain, you need to make arrangements for domain hosting. The good news is that many registrars can help you out there, sometimes free of charge.

If you don't have a Web site yet, consider a domain registrar that provides Web hosting (Catalog.com and DirectNIC throw in Web hosting free when you register a new domain). Or find a dedicated Web host service by clicking on the Web Hosting link at Builder.com. Once you've secured hosting, you'll need to log on at your domain registrar and change the name server settings (grim-looking Web addresses such as ns3.freeservers.com or worse, IP numbers such as

If you already have a Web site, look into URL forwarding options. Several registrars provide this service at little or no cost-after you've signed up, URL forwarding sends anyone who enters your domain name in their browser to an existing Web site. It's easy to set this up-once you've registered your domain, you log in at the registrar's site and type in the forwarding address. Just be aware that many registrars that provide URL forwarding also put their own frame on the resulting page, so your visitors will see their brand name. If you don't like this, you'll often have to pay extra to remove it. (Register.com and Dotster are two companies that put their own frame over forwarded URLs; DomainDirect doesn't.)

Your Domain, Your E-mail
Having a domain and a Web site is good, but it doesn't mean you have any e-mail addresses at that domain. If you're paying for domain hosting, you'll probably have five or more e-mail addresses at your domain-complete with POP e-mail boxes that you can access through your e-mail program. But that option carries a monthly fee.

A cheaper way to go is to make sure the domain registrar provides some e- mail services. Some will throw in one e-mail box at your new domain, gratis. This is usually a Web-mail box like the ones you get at HotMail, and the domain registrar gets to rack up a little advertising revenue to pay for the service. Some other registrars will give you POP access so that you can download messages to read in your regular e-mail software.

A more common e-mail freebie that domain registrars offer is e-mail forwarding. You have to be careful of the terminology here. Consider a registrar that offers "unlimited forwarding addresses." Sound good? Well, it isn't when all the mail gets delivered to the one e-mail address of the person who registered the domain-and that's often what happens. Another registrar may provide five e-mail addresses at your domain that can go to five different e-mail boxes. In a lot of cases, that's a better option.

Which Registrar?
You need to figure out what you want for your domain to make the best choice of domain registrar. If you want low cost registration, visit Dotster http://www.dotster.com or DirectNIC http://www.directnic.com, which provide $15 registrations with various bells and whistles. Some bargain hunters swear by European registrars Gandi http://www.gandi.net and Joker http://www.joker.com, companies that charge in Euros, which can be a good deal when the dollar's exchange rate is strong. If you're after a one-stop shop with registration and advertising-free Web hosting, Catalog.com provides that for $35 a year.

If like to shop around, there are several places you can find lists of domain registrars. ICANN, the nonprofit organization that administers the dot-com domain space, lists links to all the registrars it has accredited at http://www.icann.org/registrars/accredited-list.html The Domain Name Buyers' Guide http://www.domainbuyersguide.com provides a little more analysis and editorial comment about registrars--analyzing registrant rights and user agreements. And a site that I administer, RegSelect http://www.regselect.com, provides more basic consumer information-mostly price and service comparison tables.

These are the basic steps for getting a domain name registered and established. Things may change a little as new domain extensions such as .info and .biz come online. But no matter what the letters that appear after your name, the benefits and pitfalls remain the same. You'll always need Web and e-mail hosting-or at least forwarding-and some registrars will always try to charge you for it.

The good news is that you don't need to pick your registrar as carefully as you picked your college-if you don't like their service, you can jump ship to another registrar after 60 days.

Copyright, 2001 Matt Lake. Matt is a writer and editor. He's a frequent contributor to PC World, Computer User, and other publications. Reach him at 610/532-2302 or at mattlake@usa.net

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