A common problem when rebuilding a website and moving it to another host is a situation where the web designer can see the client’s new website but the client cannot.

I recently converted a large HTML website into a WordPress website for one of my clients.  Doing this involved changing the name servers on the clients domain name to point to his new hosting.  Within an hour of changing the name servers the site hosting was resolving at my end.  After I finished moving the site I emailed the client to say it was up, but he couldn’t see the site.  All he could see was his old site.

Why does this happen?

There is a simple but slightly complex explanation and it has to do with how the internet works.  Firstly have you ever wondered how our computers know where websites are?  When you type in www.google.com into your web address bar Google’s website downloads into your browser.

This happens because of DNS  which stands for Domain Name System and Domain Name Servers.

Believe it or not every computer connected to the Internet has a Domain Name Server.  This server keeps a table of records of where sites are hosted.  So when you type in a web address that you haven’t been to before your Internet Service Provider will ‘look up’ their Domain Name Server to see where that site is hosted and route your request there.

Sometimes DNS records take a while to update to every Domain Name Server in the world, and typically, here in Australia some ISP’s Name Servers can take too long to update.  One Australian ISP in particular is often written about on tech forums as having quite a slow update rate .  Name Server databases need to be updated regularly so that when a site moves from A hosting to B hosting it should only be a matter of a few hours before ISP’s have the new record. When they still have the old record on their database they route the request to the old site.  This is really annoying and if you rely on your website to generate income then you have every right to grieve.  It’s not good enough.

If one company can update their DNS records on the hour, why can’t others?  It’s just the way it is but some ISPs need to do better.  Mind you I’d hate to be the person responsible for managing this – talk about complex!  Really we should pause and just think about the miracle of DNS.  When it works it really is a wonderful thing.

Although there is probably not much we can do to insist that ISP’s update their name servers more regularly, we can easily over come the situation where the client can’t see his or her new website.

The Solution

When I went to visit my client the day following the new site going live he still couldn’t see his new website so I changed some settings on his computer’s internet connection to use different name servers.  There is a company called Open DNS and they make their name servers available to anyone who wants to have a better experience than what their ISP is providing.  And it’s rather easy to set it up.  After configuring his computer to use  Open DNS he could see his new site, and we were able to log in  and do the necessary ‘after the site goes live’ stuff.

All I can say is thank god for Open DNS.  I discovered them many years ago when I had this issue the first time.

It’s not even necessary to create an Open DNS account for home use – you can just enter their IP Addresses on your computer’s  TCP/IP settings and you’re good to go.  They also have a comprehensive list of computer operating systems and how to guides on their website which makes it easy for non techie users to change their own configuration settings.

Open DNS also offer many other services so check out all their services on their site.  I have only mentioned one small feature of what they do.