Best Free Domain Name Tools and Tips

A domain name is an online address. It is a means for people to access a website. Learn more about domain names here and Top Level Domains(TLD) here. Take note that a domain name is an online brand, so when deciding, choose carefully. First, read Moz’s domain name guidelines. An important tip: don’t exceed three syllables for easy memory recall.

Coming up with a domain name is a meticulous and time-consuming process. One may come up with a perfect name, only to find out it is already taken. To help, there are several free online domain name searches and generators such as NameCheap, NameMesh, NameSmith, and Panabee. NameStudio has an API that allows embedding of their search UI into a website. But the easiest to use is NameQL, but it is limited to just .com extension.

On top of name generation tools, DomainHole sends notification when a domain is dropped or expired.

Instead of sweating it out, a better option is to search for and buy an existing domain at DAN. It is a domain parking and marketplace service. Domain parking is free, but once a parked domain is successfully sold, they charge a 9% commission. The domain transfer feature ensures safety for both the seller and the buyer. It has a unique rent to own feature, which is their way of monetizing since they don’t do ads. Check out how it works hereAlter is on another level. They take care of everything: appraisal, sales and marketing of your domain, including content and logo. They charge a 10% commission.

In cases where the domain isn’t listed on any marketplace and direct contact is initiated by the buyer, use Escrow. The service guarantees that the buyer gets the domain and the seller gets paid. They charge a 10% commission.

Once a domain name has been chosen, register it. There are domain registrars that offer domains for free, like Freenom. However, since it is free, it can be taken away at anytime for one reason or another. It is better to be safe than sorry. Buy cost-effective domains at CloudFlare, they are the cheapest as they sell at cost with no markup. Other low-cost options are NameSilo and DynaDot.

Namecheap Domain RegistrarNameCheap from time to time, has promos that lower domain prices by as much as 50%. During promos the .com sells for $5.98 and .website extension is $1.98 and renews at $9.98. The interface is easy to navigate. It has free domain privacy and domain locking features. The NS server is fast and reliable. It takes just a few minutes for the DNS records to propagate.

After purchasing a domain, it will not work right off the bat. Its DNS(Domain Name Service) needs to be set-up first. Most domain registrars offer free DNS as part of their package. However, if you choose to use an independent DNS host, then CloudFlareNameCheap1984 Hosting and Hurricane Electric offer free DNS hosting. GeoScaling limits DNS requests to 1 million a month.

The DNS’s basic function is to map names to numbers, just like a phone book does. A domain name, for example, can be identified by its IP(Internet Protocol) address that looks something like this: 64.20.41.122. An individual map that links an IP address to a resource is called a Resource Record. It is the base unit of the DNS system, and it is a one-line text description consisting of multiple fields separated by whitespace or tabs:

  • TYPE is an abbreviation for the type of data stored in the subsequent data field. For example, A for Address and MX for Mail Exchange.
  • HOST or NAME refers to the hostname of the record.
  • VALUE or DATA, is the data payload needed for the particular type of record. This part may contain one or more elements separated by white spaces.
  • TTL(Time To Live) is the amount of time in seconds that the record is allowed to be cached. A TTL of 3600 means the record will be updated every hour.

Resource records are collected into Zones and stored in Zone files, which are stored on NameServers or NS. A NameServer is a specialized server that handles queries about the location of a domain name’s services, such as a website or email. A site’s DNS settings will include at least two nameservers, a primary and a secondary as a backup.

Below are some of the commonly used DNS records:

  • CNAME stands for Canonical Name. It is used to redirect from one domain name to another automatically. In some cases, it is used to validate ownership of the domain. For example, if one wants https://shop.ric.website to go to a Shopify store, add a CNAME record with HOST/NAME set to “shop” and the VALUE/DATA to “shops.myshopify.com”.
  • A or Address maps a domain name to an IP address. For example, if there’s a need to make an A record for https://ric.website, add “www” for the HOST/NAME and 64.20.41.122 for the VALUE/DATA.
  • TXT allows the addition of text data. It is primarily used for ownership verification, SPF, DKIM, DMARC, etc.
  • MX stands for Mail Exchange. An MX record points to the mail server that should be used to deliver mail for a domain using SMTP(Simple Mail Transfer Protocol).
  • NS record indicates which server is responsible for processing queries for a domain. Useful when availing of a monetized domain parking service or domain marketplace where there’s a need to point the NS to theirs.
  • PTR (Pointer) record, also called a reverse DNS record, resolves an IP address to a domain name. It is often used for outgoing mail servers because many mail providers will reject or mark as spam messages received from servers that don’t have a valid PTR record. Most domain host already configure this by default.

To keep things as simple as possible, bear in mind this tip. The NS record stays as is and uses the A record to point the domain to the web host server’s IP. Also, set up the MX record and add the TXT entries as needed.

How many people know that the www in a full domain is actually a subdomain? Yes, it is, and so is FTP and anything else that comes before the domain name. What is a domain without a subdomain called? The naked domain, of course. Nobody saw that one coming, haha. It is also called the Zone Apex Domain.

So what is a naked domain that does not redirect to the full domain called? Geeks call it the “naked domain problem,” and it’s a big problem worth fixing. Just imagine a domain roaming around the world wide web naked! Seriously, people may see an error message if they miss the WWW part when typing the URL. It also affects the page’s SEO value because search engines may serve different versions(WWW and non-WWW) of the same page.

If one encounters this problem while setting up a domain. Resolve it by adding an A record in the domain host/service. Just set the “name” of the A record to the naked domain, for example, ric.website and set the “value” to an IP address. Google offers several IP for this purpose and for free. Use any one of the following:

216.239.32.21
216.239.34.21
216.239.36.21
216.239.38.21

To redirect www to non-www, add this in the .htacces:

RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^www.(.*)$ [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ https://%1/$1 [R=301,L]

Please don’t ever let your domain go naked ever again.

Learn more about DNS.

If the domain’s DNS settings have been changed, check if the A record or CNAME has been added or updated. To check if the DNS changes have finished propagating through the internet, use DNSChecker and Google’s Dig to check. Here is their dev centric version and this one displays all records. NSLookUp is a cool tool too. DNSMap Nexcess checks it from different locations around the world. To extract all the entries including those of subdomains, use CloudFlare. Another option is DNSWatch.

GeoKeeper shows what the website looks like in different locations. Useful as a visual DNS propagation checker, especially when the website has a new design and then migrated to a new server or webhost. TestLocal.Ly has fewer locations.

To know the real IP behind a website proxied by CloudFlare, use Shodan.IO and SecurityTrails.

ViewDNS has a comprehensive DNS report toolIntoDNS does that too.

If the DNS propagation has not yet finished, fret not. SkipDNS is a website previewer. Just input the IP and the website name, and it will give a link to view it. If it fails, modify the host file on Windows. You have to clear the DNS cache by running this command: “C:\Users\your_username> ipconfig /flushdns” in cmd. Change your_username to yours.

Use WhoIs and DomainTools‘s to know who is the domain registrar, owner, and other details. To find the web host, use HostingChecker.

Some web hosts are so greedy that they even sell domain WHOIS privacy protection, which is a shoddy service. WHOIS privacy is important for those who don’t want their personal information floating around the net. Anonymize offers it for free and it’s quite effective. The generated email address is actually contactable.

Here’s a list of different DNS tools.

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