Would you give your mechanic your only set of keys and then ask to borrow the keys when you need the car? Would you give your mechanic the title to your car, and then ask to have the title back if you wanted to go to a different mechanic?
Probably not. But this is the situation many businesses are in when it comes to their domain name.
Frequently we receive a frantic call from a client that email is “down.” In 2013, Gmail was up 99.978% of the year. So email is not “down”, the problem is specific to this client. When a Google Apps clients goes “down,” with a 0.022% exception, someone has messed up the domain’s email routing records. These records are part of the Domain Name System, DNS.
Typically it is a web developer trying to launch a new website without fully understanding how DNS works.
Here’s a quick primer on domain names, registrars, and DNS records.
A domain name is your identity on the web. The part after the @ symbol in your email. The part after the www. in your website URL. Examples include umzuzu.com, google.com, yourawesomebiz.com.
To own a domain, you purchase the domain through a registrar like GoDaddy.com, Name.com, Register.com, NetworkSolutions.com, etc. The registrar claims the domain name on the internet for your sole use. The cost to own a domain for a year ranges from around $12 up to $40. There's not really a reason to spend more than $15/ year to own your domain.
To make your domain name useful, you need to point that domain to services like a web site and an email server. DNS records do the pointing! Humans like natural language while computers like numbers. People will reference “google.com” and the DNS records translate that into an IP address like 188.8.131.52. When you send an email, your computer queries the DNS records of the domain name (the part after the @) and then sends the message to the right server.
Computer: “You want to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org… looks like I need to send that to aspmx.l.google.com.”
DNS records make email and website URLs go to the right places.
Your DNS can be provided by your registrar (GoDaddy.com, networksolutions.com, et al). It is our recommended best practice to keep your DNS at your registrar. Registrars typically provide robust DNS services and these services are included when you buy your domain.
Problems arise when you give up control of your DNS.
Web developers like to control your DNS. This gives them some flexibility, but it locks you into their services, often to the point where you have to ask permission to make any changes to your website (like a new website developer!) or to your email service. There is no reason to give them this level of control over YOUR domain name which is your property.
Let’s return to our analogy. You buy a new car (domain name) and you receive the title (registration from the registrar.) You need some work done, so you temporarily hand your keys (the DNS) over your mechanic (web developer.)
You would never give your only set of keys to your mechanic and then ask to borrow the keys anytime you need the car. When the mechanic is doing a poor job, that puts you in the awkward position of very politely asking him to give you the keys so you can take your car to someone else.
Sometimes the situation is worse. The mechanic has control of the title (domain registration). How could this happen? Maybe you gave it to him to solve a problem, maybe he registered it for you when you first bought the domain name. At this point, he fully owns your domain name.
You should always hold the title (registration) and it should be in your name, with your address on it. Any service provider (web, email, etc) should be able to borrow your keys, make the necessary changes, and then move on. Don’t give up your DNS or your registration. If you do, you’re likely to find yourself without email and a website someday.