DNS: We Got It And Now We’re Giving It To You!
If you already know how DNS works, the good news is we now have it as part of our hosting and you can have it too! If you’re not sure what DNS is and why you need it, Do Not Stress! Below you’ll find all you need to know.
But first, as mentioned, we are delighted to announce that WPMU DEV Hosting now comes with complete DNS management!
With our new DNS hosting you can just point your nameservers at us and we will manage and set up all your DNS records for hosting, email, and free wildcard SSL for your subdomain multisites…. skip to lower down in this post to find out all about that :)
Plus, coming soon, we’ll have:
- Auto-populating DNS from the site Domains tab
- Auto-populating DNS from the free hosted email tab
So, go straight here and do not pass go to set that up… otherwise, proceed onto our DNS explainer below (with cartoons… you know you want to).
Because unless working with IP addresses and networking is in your blood, most people wouldn’t know DNS from DNA.
The fact is, DNS is an essential part of what makes the Internet work.
Most people use DNS every day to surf the web, get their work done, run their business online, check emails, watch a movie on their tablet, or idle away their time playing games on their smartphone.
In this post, we explain:
- What is DNS and how does it work?
- How can DNS benefit you?
- How to set up and manage DNS for your domain name.
So … What is DNS?
Let’s say you want to call your friend Steve for a chat. You type in “Steve” into your phone contacts’ search box. When Steve’s name comes up, you click the call button, and next thing you know…your phone is dialing Steve’s number.
How did your phone know Steve’s number?
Easy…when you created a new contact for Steve, your phone added Steve’s number to his contact record along with other details, like his profile picture, etc.
You don’t have to remember Steve’s number (or even what his face looks like) to dial him–just type in his name and your phone’s contact management system works out the rest!
DNS works in a similar way.
DNS stands for Domain Name System (or Service or Server, depending on who you talk to and what you are referring to).
Basically, DNS makes it easy for someone to do things like find your website, or send you an email using your domain name (e.g. www.YourDomainName.com or [email protected]).
It does this by creating and maintaining a directory of records containing all the information associated with your domain name.
Now, because there are over 360 million domain name registrations across all top-level domains (TLDs), it’s impractical to store and maintain every record for every domain name in one single directory.
This directory would have to be super-gigantic, and keep transient information up-to-date like who the current technical administrator for the domain is, who’s currently hosting the website, and emails associated with the domain, etc.
So, one company called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) keeps a central database of domain name records and sets all the policies, standards, and protocols for making domain names work securely across the Internet.
ICANN then assigns the responsibility of maintaining accurate DNS records for all individual domain registrants to domain name registrars and web hosting companies.
These companies must abide and follow ICANN’s rules and protocols and agree to share this information with other servers, computers, and web browsers all around the world. Allowing users to access domains, websites, emails, etc. on the World Wide Web.
To paraphrase Wikipedia’s definition…
DNS provides a naming system for computers, services, or other resources connected to the Internet or a private network to associate various information with domain names assigned to each of the participating entities.
Let’s briefly examine some of the key concepts in the above definition.
What’s in a Name?
It’s important not to confuse an IP address with a DNS address.
An IP address is an address assigned to any computer (including servers) or internet-enabled device to identify it on a given network.
This can often be an interchangeable and temporarily assigned address.
For example, a search for “IP address” in Google displays the IP address currently assigned to my laptop.
A DNS address, on the other hand, translates domain names and hostnames into IP addresses (forward DNS), or IP addresses into their associated domain names/hostnames (Reverse DNS) with the help of a DNS server.
This allows users to easily find a website by entering the domain name into their web browser, instead of trying to remember a bunch of numbers and letters associated with the domain’s IP address.
An example of a DNS name used for hosting a website is “ns1.yourhostingcompany.com”.
To see the result of a DNS server in action, open up your web browser and type in this IP address: 126.96.36.199.
You will be taken to Google.com. Somewhere in the process, a Domain Name Server translated the IP address (188.8.131.52) into its corresponding domain name (Google.com).
The above allows a hosting company (e.g. YourHostingCompany.com) to host a bunch of websites, domain names, and email services under one DNS server address (e.g. ns1.yourhostingcompany.com), and manage all of their clients’ domain records.
Managing the DNS records of millions of domains worldwide is a distributed service.
This complex networking system allows Internet users all around the world to find websites by simply typing a domain name into their browser, and makes sure emails are sent and received correctly in the blink of an eye.
I could talk about DNS all day long (Do Not Stop), but I suggest instead that you check out our Ultimate Guide to DNS or just watch this really cool video:
(DNS totally explained!)
Now that you know what DNS is, how it works, and that it’s not a K-Pop boy band, let’s talk about WIIFM (What’s In It For Me).
How Can DNS Benefit You?
We’ve just seen that some of the benefits of DNS include things like:
- Making finding websites easier by using domain names instead of trying to remember long IP addresses.
- It’s fast, secure, and allows companies and people all around the world to set up websites, emails, servers, etc.
- It allows you to take advantage of an already-built complex and expensive infrastructure. So you can just enjoy all the wonderful things the Internet makes available.
Being able to use DNS and manage your own DNS records means that you can also easily do the following:
- Set up web hosting for your site and email for your domain (this can be on the same server or a different server depending on your hosting configuration and your needs.)
- Transfer your website from another web hosting company (for example, you can host all your sites with WPMU DEV)
In addition to the above, there are some unique challenges that you can encounter when trying to go beyond just setting up basic sites.
For example, what if you need to install and configure a WordPress Multisite network where each of the subdomains requires using their own custom domain?
WordPress multisite domain mapping only addresses part of the solution. If you are using a custom domain as your multisite’s primary domain (e.g. mysupersmultisite.com), subdomain subsites will be created as subdomains of that primary domain automatically (e.g. subsite.domain.com). This requires a DNS record to be set up with your DNS provider for each of your subdomains.
The recommended way to do this is to install a wildcard SSL. Setting up SSL for WordPress Multisite subdomains, however, is very challenging. Trying to understand what you can and can’t do with an SSL certificate when it comes to setting up subdomains, add-on domains, wildcards, and matching things up so that what can access who is trickier than trying to figure out how to make a bowl of hot curry when all you’ve got to cook with are cucumbers and ice cubes.
The best way to avoid all the hassle is to let your hosting company take care of these challenges. Passing the buck without paying your host big bucks, however, requires smart DNS management tools.
Introducing … DNS Manager by WPMU DEV
We’re very proud to announce the exciting addition of smart DNS Management to our hosting services.
DNS is complicated. Life is complicated. We love life and hate complicated, so we’ve set out to make life a whole lot easier for you. Our new DNS hosting and management tool comes with built-in automation, expert configuration, and a whole lot of differentiation.
Until recently, our members found using subdomain multisite on our hosting challenging because it requires a wildcard SSL certificate. They had to buy an expensive certificate and have us manually install it. Free SSL from Let’s Encrypt supports subdomain multisite, but only by verifying the domain with a DNS record.
Now that you can host your DNS with us, this gives us the access we need to provide free certificates for wildcard multisite. You’ve just saved yourself a bunch of money and a ton of hassle!
Just point your nameservers to us and we will manage and set up all your DNS records for hosting, email, and free wildcard SSL for your subdomain multisites.
I’m Happy With My Existing DNS Provider… Why Should I Switch?
Let’s say that Cloudflare is managing your DNS records. Cloudflare are a great DNS provider. If you are looking for free Let’s Encrypt wildcard SSL certificates for subdomain multisite, however, you’re going to need to purchase a dedicated SSL certificate and wildcard SSL isn’t Cloudflare compatible without an expensive enterprise plan.
Switching your DNS to us is not required, but it’s a lot easier to configure your hosting and email records if you are using our DNS.
So… basically, if you’re looking for free Let’s Encrypt wildcard SSL certificates, or to save time on WPMU DEV hosting and email configuration, then use our DNS. Otherwise, a provider like Cloudflare is a great option and you don’t need to switch.
As a WPMU DEV member, you already get access to a complete suite of powerful WordPress plugins and blazing-fast hosting for all of your (and your client’s) sites. Our state-of-the-art hosting includes features like Site Cloning, WAF, IPv6, Email, Backups, SSH, and more.
And all of this can be managed from The Hub (your central WordPress command and management center), saving you time and money.
Whether you’re an individual site owner, a web developer, or an agency hosting one hundred or more WordPress sites or Multisite networks with us, the ability to manage DNS for all your domains from The Hub puts you in complete control of your online presence.
And we’ve made our DNS management console really easy to use.
Let me show you…
Using DNS – Tutorials
Let’s go through three scenarios for configuring DNS using WPMU DEV’s DNS management console and hosting service:
- Configuring DNS for a brand new domain name.
- Setting up a brand new WordPress website with a new/existing domain.
- Migrating an existing WordPress site from another web host to WPMU DEV hosting.
See our official documentation section for complete step-by-step documentation on managing domains and DNS records from the HUB.DNS screenshots in the tutorials below are from our new Hub 2.0 interface. Our Hosting interface will be upgraded to Hub 2.0 shortly. Check out the new Hub 2.0 features here:
1. Configuring DNS for a Brand New Domain Name
For this example, we’ll set up DNS nameserver records to point a brand new domain name to WPMU DEV.
Once this is done, we’ll change the domain registrar’s nameservers to point the domain to WPMU DEV’s DNS server, so we can set up web hosting and manage DNS for the domain all from WPMU DEV.
To get started, log into your WPMU DEV member’s area, then go to The Hub and click on DNS.
Click the + symbol to add your domain.
Type in or paste your domain into the Domain field. After the system checks and validates your domain, click the blue arrow to continue.
As this is a brand new domain, there are no previous DNS records to verify, so let’s skip this step and click the blue arrow to continue.
Our system automatically configures everything and displays the DNS server addresses you will need to enter into your domain registrar’s records.
This will point your domain to WPMU DEV’s nameservers and allow you to manage your domain’s DNS from WPMU DEV.
Each domain registrar has its own process for managing nameservers.
For this example, I registered a free domain at freenom, so I’ve followed their documentation to change the nameserver records for my domain.
Refer to our documentation for guidance on editing nameservers using common domain registrars.
After changing nameserver records in your domain registrar, come back to The Hub DNS console and click the Check nameservers button.
Nameserver changes can take 24-48 hours to propagate.
If the nameservers haven’t propagated the new records, you will get a message letting you know that your domain is still not pointing to WPMU DEV’s nameservers. Give it anywhere from a few minutes to a day and try again.
For this example, we’ll use DNSChecker.org.
Enter your domain, select NS from the dropdown menu, then click the search button to check DNS.
In this example, my domain’s nameserver propagation happened really fast (in under 5 minutes).
Once the changes have propagated for your new domain, your DNS should be all set up.
2. Setting Up a New WordPress Site and Domain Name
Suppose you want to host one or more WordPress sites with WPMU DEV.
Here are the steps you would take:
- Set up hosting for your new website with a temporary web address.
- Transfer over your domain’s DNS records.
- Link your hosting with your domain name.
If you need detailed instructions on how to set up hosting for your site, see our hosting documentation.
Essentially, to set up a hosting account with WPMU DEV, you just:
- Go to The Hub and click on the Hosting menu.
- Locate and click on the Plus button to bring up the hosting options.
- Choose Create New Website.
- Create a temporary website URL (i.e. username.wpmudev.host).
- Click through the screens and follow the instructions until your hosting is fully set up, automatically configured, and your site with the temporary domain is ready for use. This should only take a minute or less.
When everything is set up, your new site will appear on your Hosting list. Click on the button next to your temporary domain name to access your site’s hosting management panel.
Inside the Hosting panel, click on the Domains menu item.
This panel displays the DNS records for your new site. You will need these to connect your domain name with your new site.
To add these records to your domain name, we first need to add your domain name to your hosting setup.
Click on the Add Domain button.
Enter your domain name, tick the optional www if you would also like the www version to be configured for your domain and click the Add Domain button.
After clicking the button, you will return to the Hosting panel’s Domains screen.
Now that we’ve added your domain name, let’s make your domain and hosting space aware of each other’s presence.
To do this, copy the DNS records from the Domains screen to your clipboard and paste these into a plain text file. You will need these for the next step.
Just for the A record … what’s your CNAME?
So far, we have set up a new hosting space on WPMU DEV’s server and added our domain name. Now it’s time to make these talk to each other.
This is where the DNS part of this tutorial kicks in (finally…woohoo!)
Before we can do this, you need to set up and configure your nameserver records for your domain, then point your domain name to our hosting servers.
This was covered in step-by-step detail earlier in Tutorial #1. Just follow those tutorial steps until you arrive at the screenshot below.
Once you have set up and configured your nameservers, click on the Add button to add the additional records saved in your text file to the DNS Manager.
Clicking the Add button lets you select from a bunch of different records.
Let’s start with the CNAME record.
Because you’ve chosen to set up and run everything from WPMU DEV’s hosting, just copy the details shown below, enter these into your own record fields, and click the Add button.
Repeat this process to add the A record for your IPv4 address (use the unique address saved to your text file).
Finally, do the same thing to add an AAAA record for your IPV6 address.
Your DNS records screen should look similar to the screenshot below.
All you have to do now is wait for the records to propagate.
If everything has been set up correctly, you should end up with a screen full of lovely green ticks like the one shown below.
All that’s left to do now is choose which of the options you’d like to set as your primary domain (e.g. with or without the www extension), and you’re all good to go for hosting, site, and DNS!
3. Migrating An Existing WordPress Site Or Domain
In this tutorial, let me show you how the DNS tool can help you when migrating an existing site or domain over to WPMU DEV.
For this example, I’m going to bring over a domain that I’m currently hosting somewhere else to WPMU DEV.
First, log into your WPMU DEV member’s area, then go to The Hub and click on DNS.
Click on the ‘Add a domain’ button in the Domains section.
Enter the domain you’d like to bring to WPMU DEV and click the blue arrow button to continue.
The DNS Manager automatically scans your existing provider and allows you to import any common DNS records it finds automatically to your new DNS configuration.
As suggested, you can also add additional records or remove any records you don’t need before updating your nameservers.
The DNS Manager will automatically import all your DNS records. All you need to do now is configure your nameservers as shown in Tutorial #1, then set up your hosting and migrate your site over.
For complete documentation on how to set up and manage your domains and DNS records, check out our documentation section.
Useful Tip: Check Your DNS Performance
You can check the speed of your DNS anytime you like. Just head over to DNS Performance and look at the results for DigitalOcean:
You don’t have to manage your DNS records through WPMU DEV, you can use another DNS management tool (e.g. your domain registrar), but you won’t have access to features like free email or multisite management, so…why not manage everything from The Hub?
Our DNS Manager is just part of our mission to deliver you the most convenient, reliable, fast, easy, and expertly-managed way to run all your (and your client’s WordPress hosting needs).
And like an “all-you-can-eat” electronic buffet, it’s all included as part of your WPMU DEV membership package.
WPMU members get access to our entire suite of sweet plugins and hosting for 3 sites included with their membership.