Today we'll be taking a brief look at the considerations and requirements for transferring your domain hosting from an existing hosting provider to a new one. For this walkthrough, we will be using a domain already registered via Bluehost, but the requirements should be similar for a domain registered through any popular registrar. Registrars should have good documentation for the details specific to their platform.
Choosing a New Host
So, you decided it's time to move on from your old provider. Maybe they don't give you all the features you want, or they're too expensive. Whatever your reason, it's time to look for a new hosting provider. What do you need to consider?
Don't neglect the importance of a host company's reputation. It may not have a direct, visible effect on your daily operations - but then again, it might. For example, Digital Ocean is known for having lax policies and allowing people to run spam bots or scanners on its servers, which results in many companies blocking anything from them. (Check out my preamble in my deployment post for more details on that situation.) This could mean people not getting your emails, or even not being able to navigate to your site at all, without getting you whitelisted by their IT staff.
Even if you don't get in a situation like that, reputations are earned for a reason. Customer service and reliability are important and can make the difference between a problem that's easy to fix and something that takes a week of emailing back and forth. Services with good reputations also have the benefit of a larger community of users, which leads to more integrations, better third party support, a wider selection of tutorials and community support when you're working on figuring something out... The benefits are many and a company's reputation should not be overlooked.
What Kind of Server Do You Need?
Do They Have Email Hosting?
One of the big features you should be concerned about if you have an existing domain with an email account set up is ensuring a minimum of interruption to your email service, especially if you're actively receiving emails at that address. Some hosting services include their own email provider, which can simplify the process somewhat, but many don't and choose to focus their development and resources elsewhere. If your chosen host does not include email services, you will need to choose between hosting your own email server on your selected service, or using a third party provider, either of which add time and expense to the process. This is not to say that a provider that doesn't provide email is never the right choice, because they may be perfect for your needs otherwise and make it worth dealing with. Just don't forget to consider it.
Some providers have additional features that may be particularly helpful to different people. For example, some sites provides a website building tool, while others have ecommerce integrations that can save you time and effort if you don't want or need to build your own. Some hosts also offer data migration services. Additionally, speed, latency and uptime are all important features that may be worth paying more for depending on your audience and your website's needs. And especially if you aren't deploying into your own VPS and managing your own security, a host's security features are an important consideration.
Other features that are worth considering are the operating system the servers run on (if you need a Windows based server, for example), how much storage space you need, whether or not it has the option of customizing services to run a game server such as for Minecraft, or whether the hosting is on a shared server or dedicated.
This might seem like an odd option to leave for last, but ultimately getting the right services for what you need should be a higher priority than how much it costs. Your budget, of course, will dictate which options are in your range, and might require you to make compromises if you have been itching for a lot of features, but for the most part price should be a deciding factor after you've narrowed down the field based on your other criteria.
Okay, you have a good idea what features you want in a hosting provider, how do you find one that meets your needs? Your best bet is to check out review articles and roundups from respected review sites, as well as any additional searching you decide to do. Be cautious of reviews on unknown sites as they might contain paid promotion or be low-effort articles based only on generic information without an in-depth knowledge of the products they're discussing. Ultimately, it's a good idea to corroborate any information from multiple sources before you send your hard earned money to a provider.
Here are a few places you might want to start (although a quick search for "best web hosting" or "best cloud hosting" will get you scores of articles to look through). These seem to be largely evergreen addresses, but be sure to check the dates and make sure the articles are still up to date when you use them.
- PCMag's Best Web Hosting Services Roundup
- Tom's Guide's Best Web Hosting Services Roundup
- Tom's Guide's Best Cloud Hosting Services Roundup
- CNET's Best Web-Hosting Services for Roundup
- TechRadar's Best Cloud Hosting Providers Roundup
Keep in mind no reviewer will have looked at everything out there, so it's a good idea to go through a few articles before narrowing down your choices too much. Also, different reviewers will rank providers on different criteria, so take a look at not just who they say is the best, but why.
Making the Switch
Get Email Set Up First
If your domain switch requires you to change email providers, getting the new email provider correctly set up in both the old and new hosting platforms before you change anything else can help minimize email downtime. With your new email provider, walk through the steps to verify it and associate it with your domain. This will require you to log in to your domain registrar and modify the
TXT records. Meanwhile, add the same records to the DNS Records on your new host. If you do this before setting the nameservers to your new host, when the nameserver changes propagate throughout the internet, the new host will have the updated records as well.
If your new host is handling email instead, ensure that it is set up correctly to receive email on the intended accounts before swapping the nameservers over. Many hosting providers also have processes and tools in place for migrating accounts and existing data.
Change The Nameservers
Once your new email setup is verified working, or if your new host is also handling the email, once it is ready for the cutover, it is time to switch out the nameservers. This is done on your registrar's site, and your new host should provide you with the nameserver addresses to use. (In some cases, rather than switching the nameservers themselves, your new host may instead give you
A, and possibly other records to update with your registrar.) This is typically as simple as finding the domain management screen and pasting the new records into the correct fields.
After saving the updated records, allow some time for visits to your site to route to the new hosting provider. DNS records take some time to propagate throughout the network, possibly up to two days for some DNS providers, so don't be alarmed if your site does not reflect the new host immediately. Your hosting provider's user interface should be able to tell you if the records are set up correctly.
That's it! Now you can sit back and relax while you wait for the network to do its thing.