Understand how custom domains work

Instructions for connecting a domain

Instructions for connecting a domain are available. Domains are connected to a nation in Settings > Domain. 

To protect your email reputation when sending blast emails, the domain must be attached to your nation. This is true even if you do not plan to connect the domain to a website in your nation. If you are managing your domain elsewhere, attaching it to your nation creates the records needed to authenticate your email. 

The information in the Understand how custom domains work HOWTO provides a primer on domains. To use a custom domain in your nation:

1. Connect the domain to your nation

2. Attach an email address to a broadcaster

Definition of a custom domain

A custom domain is a unique branded name that identifies a website. For example, NationBuilder’s custom domain is nationbuilder.com. Custom domains, also known as vanity URLs, appear in the address bar at the top of every browser. We use them every day to navigate around the web; you probably have many of your favorites memorized or bookmarked.

But computers don’t understand domain names the way people do. Networked devices like computers and phones use numbers and codes to communicate, rather than letters and words. Luckily, the internet has a system in place to translate between a domain name that we type into our browser, and the IP addresses that computers use to identify themselves on networks. It’s called DNS, or the Domain Name System. DNS is what allows us to have custom, branded domains attached to websites.

Features of a domain: web address and email

Your new domain gives you two powerful features: a web address all your own and the opportunity to create custom domain email addresses. Your domain registrar may offer both web hosting and email services in addition to registering your domain name. You don't need to pay for web hosting because that's included in NationBuilder. You can also use NationBuilder as your email provider with our mailboxes feature. Using NationBuilder as your email provider limits you to viewing email from within your nation's control panel. You wont be able to read your email on a mobile device and you can't create a private inbox. Given the limitations of using NationBuilder as your email provider, we recommend using a third-party email provider. While you can do this through your domain registrar, we recommend Google Apps. We use Google Apps and NationBuilder Mailboxes for our custom domain email addresses. 

Your web address includes the root domain (example.com), the www domain (www.example.com), and subdomains (word.example.com). Most websites are set up so that if you type example.com into a browser, you'll be redirected to www.example.com. Some browsers add the "www" for you. It's actually a technical process to connect your root domain to the www domain and involves creating a HTTP redirect in your DNS records. This is a major reason we recommend having NationBuilder host your DNS records. Secondary websites can be attached to subdomains (word.example.com) where "word" represents any word you place before ".example.com"

How to purchase a custom domain

You'll need to purchase your domain from a domain registrar. Only one person or organization can own each address that exists on the internet. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) oversees the domain name system (DNS) and gives registrars the ability to register a domain to an individual or corporation. They're also in charge of deciding when to open up new top level domains - the most common are .com, .org, and .net along with geographic domains like .uk (United Kingdom) and .au (Australia). 

You have a lot of options when it comes to domain registrars. We recommend NameCheap because they're easy to use and have good security. When you register a domain, your contact details are connected to it. When someone looks up your domain, they can access these contact details. Your domain registrar can hide your contact details. This is called making your WHOIS information private - NameCheap provides this service for free for the first year. 

How to configure custom domain email

Bulk email, sometimes called email marketing, is sent and handled differently than one-to-one email. For this reason, you want to be very careful when linking your custom domain to a broadcaster and preparing your nation for sending email using that domain.

The four main components of sending email from a custom domain from your nation are – 

1. Your domain host. This is where you purchased your domain. It is often the same as your email provider.

2. Email provider. Your provider allows you to create email addresses and it sends the one-to-one email on behalf of your domain. It is easily identifiable because it is where you go and check your inbox. Often, your provider is where you purchased your domain. You can use NationBuilder as your email provider or you can use a third party provider. Please note that you can use NationBuilder as your email provider without a custom domain.

3. Records. Think of records as the postage information you use to make sure your email is directed to the right place. Depending how your DNS is set up, you may have to add DKIM, SPF, and/or MX records to your email provider or your nation.

4. Your nation’s broadcaster. Your broadcaster is where you connect an email address to send or receive email from your nation.

You will need to attach the domain to your nation. If you are already receiving email, we recommend keeping your DNS hosted elsewhere. To protect your email reputation and authenticate email sent from NationBuilder, your domain must be attached to your nation regardless of whether you connect the domain to a site in your nation. 

Once this process is complete, you attach an email address to a broadcaster to send email. 

How to connect a subdomain

A subdomain is a domain that is part of a larger domain. For example, east.abe4prez.com or west.abe4prez.com are both subdomains of the abe4prez.com domain. Your nation's primary site can be connected to a subdomain. You can also use subdomains for microsites or any other site in your nation.

Please follow the instructions if you have not attached the domain to your nation yet.

If the domain is already attached to your nation, go to Settings > Domains. Click the edit icon next to the domain and click +New Site. This will allow you to attach a subdomain to a site. 

If NationBuilder is managing your DNS records and you want to create a subdomain and point it to a website not hosted by NationBuilder, please email help@nationbuilder.com for support.

How to use redirects with NationBuilder

Redirects can be very useful for ensuring people see your content. There's one exception: the infinite redirect loop, which makes it impossible to visit your site. 

When you own multiple domains referring to one site

If you own the three domains example.com, example.org, and example.gov, you need to choose the primary domain and attach that domain to your site. So, if my site is at example.org, I'll redirect traffic from example.com and example.gov. This way, people will always wind up at example.org and see my content. 

Root domain to www site

Your root domain, also called a naked domain, is when people type in example.org rather than www.example.org. When you point your name servers to NationBuilder, we handle this process for you. If DNS is hosted elsewhere, you'll need to sort out redirecting the traffic since we don't support attaching naked domains to sites on NationBuilder. While root domain forwarding is not a DNS record, most DNS providers include this service. Ultimately, you’re looking to create a 301 permanent redirect (no masking).

Many web hosting companies use a single, dedicated IP address to connect a domain to a site. Our domain infrastructure pools IP addresses, providing additional protection against denial of service attacks. This is why we cannot provide an A record for domains hosted elsewhere.

If you are connecting a subdomain to your nation, e.g. action.example.org and maintaining your primary website elsewhere, then you do not have to worry about this issue.

Do not redirect your primary website to yournation.nationbuilder.com

It's important to connect your primary website to your nation. If you have a redirect on your domain sending people from example.org to yournation.nationbuilder.com, the first thing you need to do is remove that redirect. If you attempt to connect a domain to your site when it has a redirect on it no one will be able to visit your site, as you will have created an infinite redirect loop.

We recommend waiting 48 hours after disconnecting a redirect before beginning to connect your domain. It can take that long for the first change to propagate across the internet. Because of this delay, we strongly recommend never creating a redirect for your site's primary domain.

Length of time before domain changes take effect

When any changes are made to a domain (CNAME, TXT records, name servers), it will take some time before that change is reflected across the internet. The change has to travel between root servers, web servers, and name servers, located across the world. This is known as ‘propagation’, and in some cases, it can take up to 48 hours for your website content to appear at your custom domain. Using a tool such as What's my DNS can help you follow the change you made as it propagates across servers worldwide. Check out how the change to my DNS settings propagate across the web in the GIF below.

PROPOGATION-GIF.gif

Useful DNS tools

There are several websites that allow you to look up the DNS records of a domain. This is particularly useful for clarifying who your email provider is and what instructions are needed to direct email traffic, i.e. MX records.

MXToolBox - Easily look up what the current MX records are for your domain. The user interface is clean and focused on email records. 

Central Ops - Find all the DNS information about a domain, including MX records and name servers. Can be more difficult to read the results compared to a search on MXToolBox.

What's my DNS - Tracks propagation of DNS records. 

 

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