Yes, you can register a domain name and point it to a hosted blog. This post is assuming you’ve already decided not to continue with a hosted blog. See Part 1 of breaking free from hosted blogs — the web host for information about web hosts.
What is this crud?
So if the web host is the SPACE on the internet to put your stuff, the domain name is how people find that space. A domain name makes it so your visitors don’t have to type in a bunch of numbers to find you. All domain names “resolve” to a set of numbers known as an IP Address. This is why we have “DNS” (Domain Name Servers). This is getting all very techie, but suffice it to say, domain names are lovely things (I’ll probably reference them as just “domain” later in the article).
In the last fifteen years there have been many improvements in domain name options. There used to be one “Registrar” who controlled everything (One ring to rule them all?). Now there are tons. You’ve probably heard of GoDaddy. Mostly because they advertise the shit out of themselves. Does that make them better? I don’t know. I’ve never used them. You know how movies that advertise a lot tend to suck hippo nads? Yeah, I kind of assumed it’s like that with registrars.
I’m going to talk about the Registrar I’ve used for the past fifteen years, MyDomain.com. They’re $9.99/year to register a domain name. They try to offer you a lot of extra options but you don’t need any of that. Their standard $9.99 package has everything you need (at least everything I’m going to address in this post).
I suspect MyDomain is pretty standard in terms of features. So what I mention here, are probably things you can find on your other Registrars’ web sites. They might just be labeled differently.
There are several ways to get people to your site using a domain name. The first is:
Cheap stealth method
This involves registering a name with a Registrar like MyDomain and using them as the primary DNS host. If they’re the host (they will be by default), you can use their tools to point your domain name at an existing site. This was useful back in the GeoCities days when people had super long Addresses/URLs that didn’t mean anything. This stealthy pointing was a way to look a little more professional without having to pay for a hosting account. Here are the options MyDomain gives you:
Destination would obviously be changed to something other than the domain otherwise it will go in a constant loop ending in an error.
Pass subdirectories is important otherwise when someone clicks a link, it’s going to display the big ugly original URL.
As you can see, you even have the option to setup stealth forwarding on a subdomain.
This would be useful if you have an author web site hosted on one free web host and a blog on another. You could setup http://blog.yourname.com and point it to the blog, while http://yourname.com pointed to your free web site.
But what about e-mail, Anya?
Most Registrars have options for forwarding messages to an existing account (think of this like stealth e-mail forwarding). Here’s a screenshot of this Registrar’s mail options:
As you can see, you can create your fancy address “email@example.com” and have it forward to an existing e-mail account (Hotmail, Google, etc). Anything sent to your firstname.lastname@example.org address will get sent to your Hotmail, Google, etc account.
You can even set up your “Reply-to: address” on your account so that when someone hits reply it goes to your new fancy address instead (or if you’re using an actual e-mail program, you can fill out the settings so the address showing is the new one).
You can even make email@example.com point somewhere if you were so inclined.
What if I want a new account just for e-mail sent to this address?
If you want a brand new account on your fancy new domain and you don’t have that option with your current web host, you might want to consider Google Apps for Individuals. (Yes, they’re evil, but they know what they’re doing). Google Apps is free for up to 10 users and it gives you access to more than just e-mail.
Add-on Domain Method
The add-on domain method assumes your web host has this option available.
Mine does. I’m running something like 6 domain names off my one web hosting account without paying extra. For example anyabreton.com is actually a subfolder beneath my primary domain–bet you couldn’t tell!
I’ve set my DNS settings in MyDomain’s dashboard so that my web host (Lunarpages) is the DNS host. That means all this fancy stealth forwarding etc now falls on their shoulders.
The Lunarpages control panel (cPanel) let’s me point my add-on domains to subfolders in my primary domain. They also let me create e-mail accounts, e-mail forwarders and subdomains on my add-on domains.
That’s probably about 50% more than you wanted to read. But that’s domain names and Domain hosting in a nutshell.
There may be a part 3 — the blog software…whenever I get around to it 😀