When registering your domain name, pointing it to Shift4Shop, changing it altogether, or just making basic updates to your domain, you will probably hear the term "DNS" being used over and over again.
If you've ever used a hosting service or enjoyed an online presence for a while, then you should be very familiar with DNS. However, we understand that many of our merchants are just starting online, and certain terms may be unfamiliar.
Let's face it, with so many acronyms like FTP, PCI, IP, MX, SMTP, SSL, ISP, URL, etc., being thrown at someone just starting in the eCommerce world, it's easy to see how "DNS" can become just another acronym and easily overlooked.
The problem, though, is that DNS is so important to your online business that a basic understanding of it is needed to fully grasp how your website works and helps you minimize "surprises" when setting up or changing aspects of your online presence.
This article intends to "de-mistify" DNS and offer a basic explanation for our new merchants so they can better understand what their webmasters and support personnel are telling them when it comes to DNS updates and changes.
The Importance of DNS
DNS stands for Domain Name System, which is the backbone of how your domain name works on the Internet. Everything related to a domain name (FTP, Email, location, hosting service, etc.) is related to DNS. Whether you're pointing something to or from your domain or even just checking your domain's email, if the domain name is part of it in some way, DNS is involved.
The simplest way to explain it is this:
On the Internet, everything has an IP address. Everything. Even websites. For example, as far as the Internet is concerned, your website is located on an IP Address.
DNS is the system that takes a domain name and points that "easy to remember" name to its base IP address. Without DNS, you'd have to enter a long IP address into your browser just to "Google" something.
The following information will outline the more common ways you (as a domain owner) will need to deal with DNS.
Registering your Domain Name
When you sign up for a Shift4Shop account, we'll ask you for your domain name during the sign-up process. We'll also ask if the domain name is already registered or if you would like for us to register it for you (for free).
After signing up, we'll create a temporary URL for your site that uses part of your domain - i.e., [something]. s4shops.com. This is done so we can assign server space and an IP address to your eventual domain name. We also create an entry on our DNS servers for your eventual domain name.
When you register a domain name with a registrar service (GoDaddy, Register.com, Network Solutions, etc.), the registration service will usually create and point your domain's DNS record to its service by default. This is usually fine if you plan to also host the domain on their services, but in your case, you'll be hosting the domain on Shift4Shop.
Therefore as part of your welcome email, we ask you to update your domain's DNS records to ours. This way, we can tell the Internet that [insert your domain] is located on our service.
As described in your welcome email, the Shift4Shop DNS servers are:
Now, it is important to be aware of who is controlling your DNS entries since this will ultimately determine who can make changes to your domain name system.
For example, it is fairly common for some domain owners and webmasters to keep the domain's DNS with the registrar and merely point the domain's CNAME to their shared Shift4Shop URL. This allows them to self-manage the DNS, but it will also negate any control Shift4Shop will have over making updates to the domain's DNS service. Therefore, please be aware of where your domain's DNS is controlled before requesting domain changes through Shift4Shop, as it might not be under our control. A simple WHOIS (see next section) should tell you where the domain's DNS is currently controlled.
"WHOIS" handling your DNS?
As explained above, there are several possibilities as to who is controlling your domain name's DNS service. It might be your registrar, it might be your old hosting provider, or it might be Shift4Shop. It all depends on where your domain's DNS is currently pointed to.
The easiest way to determine this is to run a WHOIS on the domain name. The WHOIS command looks up the authoritative record on the domain and returns registration information on the domain and its current DNS servers.
To check your domain's current DNS information:
Enter your domain name in the "Enter a domain name" field.
Click on "Lookup"
The WHOIS will return with your domain's current registration information. DNS entries will usually be at the very bottom of the WHOIS listing.
Other DNS situations
Aside from registration and hosting, here are a few other common situations where DNS will come into play.
MX record updates
Merchants will typically have their domain name's DNS service pointed to Shift4Shop's DNS for the hosting. However, for email, they will need to use an external mail service to host and handle their email. For example, Gmail for Business is available to handle domain email, or perhaps you have your mail exchange service that you'd like to use. For this setup, you will need to change the domain's "MX Record."
An MX Record is yet another acronym to be aware of, and it denotes "Mail Exchanger" information for your domain. It's the part of the domain's DNS that tells the Internet where mail is sent and handled.
If your domain's DNS is handled by Shift4Shop, you can use the "Manage DNS" feature in your store's settings to edit your MX records.
Log into your Shift4Shop Online Store Manager.
Using the left-hand navigation menu, go to Settings > General > Store Settings.
The Store Settings section will be presented in a series of tabs at the top, with the default (selected) tab labeled "Store."
Within the "Store" tab, look at the "Store Information" section and locate the "Manage DNS" button.
(it's directly below the "Secure URL" field)
Click the button to proceed.
The system will take a moment to view your store domain's current DNS information. Once this is done, you will be presented with a view of the domain's current MX and TXT information. From this view, you will have the ability to add or delete your store domain's MX Records and update it to your MX needs.
Please click here for more information on the Manage DNS tool.
Again, the above only applies if your DNS is with Shift4Shop. If you or your webmaster are handling your own DNS, then the MX record changes will need to be done with your current DNS entity.
In some cases, you may want to add a sub-domain to your main domain name. A sub-domain is something[dot]yourdomain where your main domain acts as the main site, while a prefix acts as its sub. This allows you to keep the same basic presence of the domain but with different prefixes for different aspects.
For example, you may be using a 3rd party service that requires a something[dot]the-domain. Again, whoever handles your domain's DNS (Check WHOIS) will handle the sub-domain change.
If it's Shift4Shop who is handling your DNS, you can also add this in the Manage DNS tool. For typical sub-domain setups, you will need to either create an A record on your DNS or a CNAME.
Waiting for Propagation
Propagation is another term that you'll hear often when requesting or handling DNS changes. This is basically the amount of time it will take for DNS Changes to be reflected across all nameservers on the Internet.
When a change is made to your domain's DNS - whether it's adding, deleting, or modifying entries - the DNS server on which the change is made will update itself with the new information and post it almost immediately. However, other DNS servers online will still need to connect to the DNS server to update their own records accordingly. During this requesting and updating process, there may be some instances where one connection will see the old information while a different connection will see the updated information. This interim period is called propagation, and it's just the amount of time it will take for everyone to "be on the same page," as it were.
Usually, propagation can be surprisingly quick, considering the amount of DNS systems across the World Wide Web. However, in some cases, some DNS servers may take longer to update than others. Therefore when making DNS changes, allow for a propagation time of 12 to 24 hours before seeing the changes online. In some very rare instances, you may experience up to 48 hours of propagation, but that is extremely rare nowadays.
Hopefully, after reading this, you will have a better understanding of DNS and how it can impact your website. While it's perfectly fine to control and handle your domain's DNS, we highly recommend having your DNS transferred to Shift4Shop when you host with us. This way we can make changes for you as needed much quicker and be able to assist you more effectively when the DNS information is controlled by us.