What is Dynamic DNS and why do I need it?
DNS (Domain Name Server) is how the internet maps human style domain names (like google.com) to ip addresses. In the world of internet there are two types of IP address, static and dynamic. Static IP addresses don’t change, so it’s relatively easy to map domain names to the correct IP addresses. Dynamic IP addresses, on the other hand change from time to time. Most cable modem and DSL services provide dynamic IPs. That means that if you want host a file server on your home computer, or be able to access your files from work (or while on vacation), you’ll need some way to keep your IP address up to date in case your provider changes it.
This is the purpose (or one purpose) of Dynamic DNS providers such as dyndns.org or no-ip.com. You sign up for an account, choose a host/domain that you think you’ll remember, and then run a program on your computer or router that tells the service your current IP address. That way, no matter where you are me.ddns.net (or whatever you chose) will always point to your computer.
The problem is that DynDNS discontinued their free service and I could never seem to remember my No-IP hostname. Moreover, for a free account, in No-IP, you have to log in every month and tell them not to discontinue your service. Not too cumbersome, but still, can’t they just check user logs and only require that of dormant accounts?
So where do I get Dynamic DNS for free?
I thought there had to be a better way, enter Namecheap.com. In my Upgrade from Shared Hosting series, I suggested some benefits of separating your domain name registrar from your webhosting. I also suggested that you could even separate your DNS hosting from your Domain Name registrar. Namecheap.com happens to offer fairly competitive domain registration. They also offer free DNS hosting, so no matter, who you use as your domain registrar (even if it’s your webhost), you can still use Namecheap.com as your DNS host.
I did not know it until recently, but one of the features that Namecheap.com offers as part of their free DNS hosting is free Dynamic DNS. It is insanely easy to set up, and the best part is that the routers that I use have Namecheap.com already configured as a Dynamic DNS provider (meaning that you don’t have to run a program on your computer).
Describe this “easy” process
This only works if you’re using Namecheap as your DNS server. For this article, I’m assuming you already have it or have followed my directions here.
- Log in to Namecheap and choose “Your Domains/Products”. Then scroll down to “Free DNS” and choose Hosted Domains.
- Click on the domain name you want to use for Dynamic DNS.
- Choose a “host” for your dynamic DNS. So, if you want me.mydomain.com to go to your home computer, create an A record for “me” with a short TTL (time to live) and give it the ip address 127.0.0.1. (it doesn’t really matter, because it will be overwritten by your update client). Choose save changes.
- On the left hand side, under Advanced Options, choose Dynamic DNS.
- Choose enable, and then look at the directions. If you’re following me, you can ignore everything except the password. Copy down the password, and open a new browser window.
- Enter the Following URL into the Browser: https://dynamicdns.park-your-domain.com/update?host=[host_name]&domain=[domain.com]&password=[domain_password]/li>
- The [host_name] is the host you created the A record for above. The [domain.com] is your domain name. The [domain_password] is the ppassword you copied a second ago. So using my example above, the address would read https://dynamicdns.park-your-domain.com/update?host=me&domain=mydomain.com]&password=efg3234ksdfj234jfsdlk3/
- Hit enter and you’re done. Visiting that web address copies your current IP address into the A record you created in the first step. Now me.mydomain.com will point to the computer you used to enter the address above.
- You can read the official help files from Namecheap.com here.
Maintaining your Dynamic DNS
You need to have some way of updating your IP address. You could just bookmark the web address above and visit it once a day or once a week, but that’s not very automated or cool. You could set up a cron job to wget the address once a day (if you’re using Linux or Mac). Or you could install a DNS updater. But the easiest way is to configure your browser to do it for you.
The official Namecheap.com Dynamic DNS help files have directions for setting up a DD-WRT router. On my Asus router, after logging in, I went to WAN under Advanced settings (left hand side) and then chose DDNS from the options across the top of the page. Choose Namecheap from the server dropdown, and enter your information (host, domain name, password), hit save, and you’re done.
Free, simple, no brains Dynamic DNS. And the best part is you get to your own domain name instead of whatever leftovers DynDNS or No-IP happen to have available. Even if you don’t have a domain name, buying a domain from Namecheap (or other registrar) will cost you less than DynDNS’ least expensive option.
It’s pretty inexpensive and easy to set up a website these days. Companies like Hostgator and Dreamhost have you search for a domain name, fill out a couple forms, enter a credit card and congratulations. You now have a website. After a while, you may feel that your needs have outgrown your account, or that the service is not up to par or that your website is too slow. It’s obviously time for an upgrade, but from what to what?
Chances are you originally signed up for what is known as “Shared Hosting”. On a shared account, you share the server (computer hardware) with up to several thousand other users. If you get lucky, most of the websites are barely used at all, and your performance is decent. If you are unlucky, you may share the server with several other high traffic websites, which may impact the speed of your own site. Additionally, you share an e-mail server with several thousand other accounts, so if one account is flagged as a spammer, it may prevent you from sending any e-mail at all to some domains.
You essentially have three choices. You can upgrade to:
- a bigger shared hosting account and hope you have better luck. Sometimes these will be called premier or business plans.
- a Virtual Private Server (VPS).
- a Dedicated Server.
If you don’t need the additional bandwidth or storage space of the premium shared host, then you are really just paying for a fancy name most of the time. You are not really paying increased performance. But what about “unlimited plans”? To quote the T-Mobile Commercial, they’re more like Um…Limited plans. They’re just hoping you’ll be lured by the word unlimited but not take them seriously. If you do take them at their word, you may find that you account is suspended.
If you do opt for a shared hosting plan, you should get a “metered” account that has an allotment of a specific amount of hard drive space and bandwidth. Companies with such plans are generally less likely to oversell their servers.
A VPS is similar to a shared account in that multiple accounts are on the same server (computer), but in this case, the server is divided into several virtual machines. You have complete control over your virtual machine, so that you may customize it however (mostly) you like. VPS’s can be used to host website, e-mail servers, ventrilo (online gaming chat) servers, and even Minecraft.
There are two basic types of VPS—mananged and unmanaged. Managed accounts are very similar to shared accounts in that the webhost company takes care of most of the chores of managing the server, but you pay for the privilege; usually $25 or more per month compared to a comparable unmanaged account. In an unmanaged VPS account, you are solely responsible for installing and maintaining your server. The webhost will install a barebones operating system, and you will get to do everything else. The benefit is more control and a deep discount.
In a VPS, whether managed or unmanaged, you will also get to choose your operating system, usually Windows or Linux. Typically Linux accounts are much cheaper than comparable Windows accounts.
Accounts are usually priced based on the amount of disk space you are allotted and the amount of memory you can use. VPS servers can be oversold, so it’s a good idea to test your new VPS quite heavily while you are still in the money back guarantee period. It’s also a good idea (no matter what kind of plan you have) to pay month by month rather than yearly.
There are several virtualization methods available, such as OpenVZ, KVM, Xen, and “Cloud”. OpenVZ often gets a bad rap as being “easy” to oversell, but in reality, any VPS can be oversold, so choosing a reputable company and testing your VPS is still the best way to go. In many cases, upgrading your shared account or going with a better company may be a better option than VPS.
Dedicated servers are similar to VPS in how they run (managed or unmanaged) but instead of sharing a computer with other users, you get the whole computer to yourself. Dedicated servers are generally much more expensive than VPS. Personally, I think that unless you are making enough money to justify the cost of a dedicated server, you are better off going VPS (or even shared).
- Know why you want to move webhosts. You are more likely to choose a more suitable webhost.
- Balance your needs with you budget. Do you have thousands of active members in a forum or are you running a blog that not even your mother reads? Do you have half a dozen websites that you maintain? Are you making money off your website? How vital is it that your website not go down?
- How adventuresome are you in terms of learning new things? How much hand holding do you need?
- Check your current website’s statistics and see how much disk space you are using and how much bandwidth you used each month in the last year.
- Ask yourself if you could save disk space and bandwidth by moving video files to Youtube or Vimeo
- Do some research on a forum like LowEndTalk or Web Hosting Talk to find a reputable company.
- Pay monthly so it is easy to walk away if you are unhappy.
- Make a back up.
In future installments, I’ll talk about
- Some general best practices no matter which kind of account you use.
- Steps to take in preparing to change webhosts
- Considering Google Apps
- Setting up a Linux VPS
- Making the move