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Domain Names, DNS, and Propagation
Domain names and propagation - a waiting game.
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So, you type in your domain name but can’t see your site. Or, you can see your site but your e-mail isn’t working yet (or vice-versa). Here’s a layman’s example about the topic.

A Domain Name is a Shortcut
A domain name (like is actually a shortcut. The shortcut actually points to an IP address (like 123.456.789.99). Domain names were created simply as an easier way to reach a website.

In the majority of cases, however, an IP address (like noted above) is actually the IP of a large computer hosting a website (like yours). There could be 100s of other websites hosted there – that’s typically how it works.

So the “shortcut” to your site (your domain name) first has to reach the computer hosting your website. Once there, that computer has to realize that this surfer is looking for your website – not someone else’s. So it simultaneously "looks up" the "records" of the websites hosted on that computer – and sends the user to the right site – yours.

These "records" could be considered a spreadsheet that’s updated every so often. It happens at different intervals – sometimes hourly – sometimes daily – or even every few days. It depends on the hosting company. Only when these records are updated will people be able to reach your site by typing in your URL.

It’s important to note that e-mail addresses follow the same rules. However, there is a nearly identical but secondary list of “records” that handle e-mail – and this list of records is updated separately but in the same fashion. So you might be able to surf to your site but not get e-mail, or vice-versa. Note that this has nothing to do with individual e-mail users – rather, all e-mail users are affected the same.

The Registrar
Then, there is a quite similar aspect. We don’t control the domain name itself – your "registrar" does – that’s the place you reserved your domain name. We (or you) can log into their site. Once we do, we have the ability to "point" that domain name, in effect, to the IP address of the computer hosting your website. Similar to what’s noted above, these registrars keep "records" of what domain names should point to what IP addresses. They then make these "records" public.

Then, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like AOL, Comcast, Bellsouth, Earthlink, etc. go and view these "public" records and then update their master list of "records". This also happens at different intervals – sometimes hourly – sometimes daily – or even every few days – each ISP is different. Furthermore, many big ISPs have different "hubs" across the country, and each may update their records at different intervals.

Thus, your friend on AOL might be seeing your site at your domain name just fine. But you can’t see it through your Comcast ISP. But your friend in Denver who also uses Comcast can see it.

This process is called "propagation", and refers to both the propagation at the ISP level and at the hosting level.

Just Hang Tight!
Basically, there is nothing that we have the power to do to speed any of this up, as it’s out of our control. Universal propagation on all fronts is usually complete (including all the ISPs nationally), within a few days. Sometimes, it happens almost instantly. Or, you may think it’s done because it works for you, but the entire West Coast of Comcast users may be a day behind.

Ultimately, just hang tight and everything will work within a few days – or with luck – much sooner. And the best way to tell if it’s complete? You guessed it – keep trying to hit the site or use e-mail until it works.

On very, very rare occasions, however, there could be a glitch at any level of the process. So if the waiting time seems excessive (more than 4 days), get in touch and we’ll investigate.

For client support or questions, contact:
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