Need a beginner's guide to setting up domains and webspace
July 4, 2006 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Where can I find a beginner's guide to setting up domains, webspace, email and all that, with simple, comprehensive instructions, but without chapters of "there's this thing called HTML"?

I hate myself for asking this. I'm not a technical idiot -- I've built networks, rebuilt PCs, edited magazines about the web, etc. -- but I simply can't get a handle on all the steps necessary to set up the fairly basic websites I want. I have domain names. I have host space. I have GoLive. I even have a placeholder up on one of the domains. What I don't have, and can't find, is a simple yet comprehensive guide to getting my domains configured and pointing at the right places, arranging things so email from each domain arrives on my home machine, getting one host to hold multiple websites, and so on. And dammit, I can't find one: not on the web, nor in bookshops.

I am aware that the answers are likely to be impossibly simple, but all I can find on Google is either people trying to sell me host-space, or discussion boards that are far too technical for me. I don't need java, javascript, AJAX, DHTML or PHP, not yet anyway, and I do not need a book that talks about them. I don't need anything that tells me how to put the site together in HTML -- too many books devote ten unnecessary chapters to that, and then add a cursory "Oh yeah, you'll need a domain and a host and good luck" section near the end.

I can't find a For Dummies or Idiot's Guide that fits my bill, but there may be one.

Just to stress: I'm not asking you to tell me how to do this; I'm asking for a book or website that'll tell me.
posted by Hogshead to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Hogshead, I'm sorry to say that there really can't be one of these things. The hosting space is so varied in it's technology, it's set up, it's... well, everything... that there's no standard way to do this.

It depends on your host (mostly) and how their system is configured as well as what sort of "control panel" they do or don't provide. Any good host will have a step-by-step instruction somewhere on their site or in the welcome email they send you. If not, you might be with the wrong host for a beginner.

It can also depend on your domain name registrar to a much lesser degree, assuming you have your domain name(s) registered separate from your hosting.

Finally, it also depends on your local system set up: what email client you use, etc.

The company I work for acquires web hosting companies and I'm constantly amazed at how each of them has different set ups. Their welcome emails all detail different steps for their customers to take to set things up. It's truly mind-boggling that a true standard hasn't been developed in this space.

Now, if you want help setting up YOUR situation, we can probably help with that, but you'd need to give us some information.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:19 AM on July 4, 2006

The websites you're looking for are your domain registrar's and your web host's support sites. The answers to your questions vary greatly depending on where you registered your domain and where you are getting your site hosted. There's probably a web interface for doing everything you want, but it's different for most services.

Also, you might want to post who you registered your domain with and where you're getting your web hosting, because if someone here is using the same system they'll be able to point you in the right direction.
posted by revgeorge at 8:31 AM on July 4, 2006

You may want to flip through Head First HTML and CSS in a bookshop, and see if it doesn't have the info you want. Yes, it's mainly about HTML, but as I recall it does spell out the kind of stuff you're asking about as much as possible. It won't be specific to your hosts, of course, but it's certainly a lot more detailed than "you'll need a domain and a host and good luck."
posted by bingo at 8:36 AM on July 4, 2006

Wow. Okay. That would explain the problem, yes.

The domains (most of them anyway) are registered with; the hosting is with Dreamhost. (The one domain that I've fiddled with enough to get a placeholder up was registered through Dreamhost.)

Email client on my home machine: currently Mozilla Thunderbird, but am likely to be changing that soon.

Many thanks in advance for any help.
posted by Hogshead at 8:40 AM on July 4, 2006

DreamHost sends you a pretty detailed welcome letter. Find that.

Then visit their Wiki. Here is their Getting Started page.

Information for setting up your email.

Information for domain transfer and pointing. (kind of convoluted, yikes!) If you want more help here, let us know.

Information for uploading your site.
posted by FlamingBore at 9:08 AM on July 4, 2006

Laughing Squid who I host with have obsessively detailed guides to doing absolutely everything on their servers.
posted by Happy Dave at 9:17 AM on July 4, 2006

You might want a little essential DNS knowledge. As others have mentioned above, virtually every managed hosting service has their own, proprietary way of managing the data. Underlying that, though, everyone’s Internet uses DNS to figure out where the server hosting “” is. Read that whole wikipedia article if you have some time, but first skip down to Types of DNS Records.

There are 4 main types of DNS records that are likely to concern you. They are:
  • A record. The basic record which maps a name like “” to an IP address, which identitfies a place on the Internet where we expect there to be a server. When the world finally gets around to IPv6, we’ll be using AAAA records. There can be many of these.
  • CNAME record. A basic nickname, which makes one domain an identical record as another. See Virtual Hosting
  • MX record. The Mail Exchanger. An IP address, where we should be able to find a mail server. There are usually several of these, each with a different priority, so that if one server fails, another can act as a backup.
  • NS record The name server. This IP address will point you to a server that maintains DNS data. There are usually a few of these, as well.
There are web-based services that allow you to query DNS data for any domain.

Domain Registration

The WHOIS system can be used to query registration information for a domain. The data is maintained by the registrar, i.e. the company you paid a yearly registration fee for the domain. Transferring a domain between registrars can sometimes seem like a Sisyphean task. The registrar also maintains the NS record portion of DNS. Remember to keep this information current, because the registrar will typically remind you when you need to renew your registration.

Virtual Hosting

There are a couple of different ways of achieving the same result, but it essentially means that one IP address can have many different domain names serve up different content for any of them. This is what allows hosting companies to provide affordable service: a single physical server can handle dozens of low to moderately trafficked websites.

The hosting provider, i.e. the company you pay for website storage space and an email account, maintains the other DNS data. They’ll usually take care of it in a way that doesn’t give you any details about the above information, but some will also give you an “advanced” interface. Hopefully, you've chosen the same company to be your registrar so that you don't have to manage two different interfaces.

Mail Exchange

Mail is probably one of the most complicated networked systems ever devised. Your hosting provider will again probably have a proprietary interface for managing mail. It’s best to refer to their own support resources. They'll be able to tell you how to create email forwards, configure your mail client to talk to their servers, etc.

If you have any specific questions, feel free to email me.
posted by ijoshua at 10:52 AM on July 4, 2006 [2 favorites]

I found the tutorials at w3schools very helpful. Maybe something there would be of use.
posted by DrJJ at 11:01 AM on July 4, 2006

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