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Julian Florance
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Tech Support Officer.
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Where Is My Website?

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Usually when people come to me with website problems, something has gone very wrong. I work in the Hosting Team and our specialty is pushing sites live, so, conversely, we’re also the people who can tell you why a site isn’t online.

By the time an issue has landed on my desk, it will normally have attracted a few opinions on what’s gone wrong; a smattering of hearsay about who’s responsible and some pretty wild conjecture as to what’s required to get it fixed. The thing to remember in this situation is that there is a chain of requirements essential to the operation of any website and they all need to be operating correctly for your website to work properly. I’ll explore them for you here in the order that I would check them.

The important thing to remember here is: different companies might be responsible for different parts of the chain outlined below, and they all need to work together to make your website work.

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(Photo credit: Cubosh via Foter.com / CC BY)

The Domain Name

It’s your website address, it might also be in your email address, and, generally speaking, it represents you on the internet. Some fine examples include ‘google.com’ or ‘wikipedia.org’, but all domain names are equal in my eyes. The two things that I care about when it comes to domain names are:

Is it registered?

Domain names aren’t purchased for life – they’re leased for a set period of time, at the end of which they need to be renewed. If that renewal fee isn’t paid to the Registrar, the domain will expire and websites and email for that domain will stop working.

Is it delegated correctly?

Even if the domain registration is current and valid, the domain won’t work if it’s not delegated to name servers that can field requests for server addresses for that domain. Basically, browsers won’t know how to connect to “http://www.showtheinfo.com” if the domain name showtheinfo.com is not delegated to name servers that will respond to DNS requests correctly, even though the domain is registered and paid for.

The company that looks after the registration of your Domain Name is known as your Registrar, and they might not necessarily be involved in any other services for your website.

DNS Hosting

This is a frequently overlooked link in the chain. If a domain is registered and delegated to name servers correctly and those name servers are responding to requests correctly, the people running those name servers are said to be providing DNS Hosting for that domain.

This means that when somebody sends you an email or visits your website, their computer can talk to those name servers to get the numeric IP address of the email or web servers involved and establish a connection. This is the critical thing to remember: you or I might be happy using website URLs or email addresses to define where our data is coming from or going to, but if our computers can’t find the numerical addresses for the servers involved then that data isn’t going anywhere.

I won’t sugarcoat it, DNS can be mystifying stuff. You really need someone who knows what they’re doing to handle your DNS configuration. These days, you’ve got geolocation-aware DNS, DNS masking systems like CloudFlare and various other forms of voodoo going on to optimise performance or protect against attacks. However, at its core, DNS is still the sturdy old workhorse we’ve been relying on for decades, and once it’s setup it will typically never need maintenance. Keep in mind that the company providing DNS hosting for your domain name/website might be doing their job correctly and the website might still be broken for other reasons.

If your website’s DNS configuration is correct and functioning, the next thing visitors to your website will do is make a connection to your hosting provider.


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Web Hosting

If the domain name exists in the registry, and the name servers recorded in the registry respond to DNS lookup requests correctly, and the browser was able to retrieve the IP address of the web server for your website, it will make a connection to that IP address and attempt to retrieve the page requested.

As you are probably already aware, if a page doesn’t exist you will get an error message, usually including the numbers 404. Some other errors you might see if there’s trouble with the website itself are:

Error 500 – Internal Server Error

This error is typically caused by a programming error, but it might not necessarily be the fault of the programmer. A website that worked perfectly well yesterday might be broken today due to changes on the server hosting the website.

Error 403 – Forbidden

You’ve requested a page you’re not allowed to see. Often this will be shown if a login attempt has failed due to an incorrect username or password. This also frequently shows up when attempting to view the contents of a folder on a web server that doesn’t allow that sort of thing.

If you’re seeing errors like these, it’s a good bet that the problem is with the website itself and your domain name and DNS hosting are configured correctly.

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Email Hosting

Troubleshooting email hosting problems can take a little bit longer. Due to the nature of email, errors might not show up straight away and problems might take a little longer to diagnose.

Apart from domain name expiry issues, the most common email problems arise from:

Blacklisting

With the number of hackers and worms out there on the Internet these days, websites and servers are under constant attack. Occasionally, these attacks are successful to some degree. In the majority of these circumstances, the outcome will be that the victim website will start sending spam email for the hackers and the server hosting that website might get a bad reputation in the email world. When this happens, legitimate emails coming from that web server, such as password resets or order confirmations, might be marked as spam by companies like Hotmail or Gmail.

Generally speaking, the administrators of the web server should be able to identify and repair the damage from the hack very quickly and resolve the issue, but attacks are constant and administrators need to sleep. This is why it is essential that you keep your core website systems up to date. For example, if you use WordPress it’s worthwhile logging in at least once a month and updating to the latest version and updating your plugins too. In 95% of cases this will be enough to keep your website safe and prevent your emails being marked as spam.

Mailbox Quota Exceeded

All mailboxes have a disk storage limit on the server. This is usually measured in gigabytes. If your mailbox fills up then you might not know about it until somebody tells you that their emails to you are getting rejected.

So why isn’t it working?

Good question! Give me a call on 1300 663 995 and I can answer that question for you quickly and easily.

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By Julian Florance


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