The internet is a strange and wondrous place, but it is constantly changing. It’s hard to keep up. We are here to help by explaining “what does that mean?”
Despite the constant and miraculous spiral upward in the simultaneous complexity and accessibility of technology, some things are throwbacks. They are old school. They remind those of us who have been around a while what the Internet used to be and how slowly it often worked. And I’m not talking about waiting on a 100k photo to download or faxing in your request to purchase a domain name (nevermind waiting three days to hear back!).
In this case, it is one of the few things that remains a relatively slow process: domain name propagation.
What is it?
Whenever you purchase a domain name, the registrar controls how that name is located. Your website is on a server, like virtual postal address. Your registrar stores your virtual address and sends people there when they come looking for your URL (there are other options as well, but let’s go with this for now). To illustrate, check the flow chart:
In a way, it’s like the post office. You put a piece of mail in the mailbox. The postal service gets it and routes it to its destination. Of course, the online process takes milliseconds rather than days or weeks, but same basic idea applies.
Now, here’s where propagation comes in. When you move your website to a new host, you must tell your registrar so it knows where to direct people looking for it. It updates your domain name information, but not everyone gets that information immediately. It can take as little as a few minutes or as long as a day or two for every Internet provider on the planet to recognize that change. The time it takes to make that change is called propagation.
Why is it still a thing?
Despite being insanely fast, the Internet is still a vast web of computer networks (not a series of tubes) and not all of them respond as quickly or at the same time as others. While Comcast might find and make the change in 10 minutes, it could take another provider 12 hours. Propagation varies based on how often the network looks for changes and how quickly they can implement them.
How does it impact my website?
If you decide to move your domain name, you will likely have to wait for propagation to occur before it works for everyone. We’ve seen instances when checking a hosting change from a phone (on a cellular network, for example) produced a perfect result in minutes while an in-office wired network took several hours. In essence, if you have an old website on one server and a new one on another, it’s possible (likely even) that different people will see different versions of your website for a few hours while propagation continues.
What do I do about it?
There are ways around it. If you are keeping your email in the same spot, but only moving your website, you can change only that part of the domain name information – referred to as an A NAME record. Propagation for those kinds of changes often takes just a couple minutes, long enough for the registrar to update its internal records. But, if moving the entire domain name is necessary, you might consider making the switch late in the day. That way, propagation occurs during off-peak hours. The same goes for weekends, which is a popular time to make these kinds of changes.
Fortunately, this is something everyone must deal with, so you aren’t alone. And we can help you through it. If you are looking to make a move – maybe so you can get high quality services from trained professionals (hint, hint) – contact us today and we’ll make it as painless as possible, propagation and all.