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Let's face it - quite often many people tolerate less than great service from their hosting provider simply because it can be a real pain to move your site, your domain name and your email accounts without creating major downtime for you and your site visitors. Here's a general checklist to follow to ensure that you have the smoothest move possible, and hopefully with no down time.
Note: although this procedure will work fine on most all sites, there are some template generated sites that this procedure may not apply. For example, if you have a CitySearch site then you are going to need to just rebuild a new site.
Step 1: Get all of your files local.
Using a basic FTP program or whatever development tool you may be using, such as FrontPage, download all current files used in your web site including graphics, html files, and anything else that may be used in your site. Most likely you already know this - but when you are copying down your files you want to keep the directory structure exactly as it is on your web server. If you built the site then most likely you already have all of this.
Step 2: Analyze your hosting needs and select a new host.
Is your site just basic html or will you need a Cold Fusion host or one that supports active server pages? Depending on your site needs, select a host that can provide what you need. HostChart.com features some of the most advanced and reliable hosts out there, so finding a good one should not be hard. Most hosts these days allow you to either handle the domain name change yourself, or they can handle it for you. Just so your domain name does not get switched faster than you can get your new files posted, you may want to handle the domain name change yourself. Be sure they know to still add a record the their DNS, but that you will handling the NIC record change.
Step 3: Get everything loaded to your new server.
Before making the domain name change, go ahead and load up all of your site files to your new host using just the IP address. If your new account does not have a dedicated IP address, then request that they create a subdomain for temporary use from their domain - something like newcustomer.hostingcompany.com for you to work with before transferring your name. Most should gladly do this for you. Although they won't really work yet, go ahead and set up all of the email accounts that are used on your domain as well. Be sure to create a "catchall" or "wild-card" address just in case you forgot to someone - at least their email will not bounce.
Step 4: Initiate the domain name record change.
Either through Network Solutions or whatever registrar you used to register your domain, initiate the name change. Technically speaking the only thing that really need to be changed in your record is the name server information. If you host has not already provided you with this information, just email their support and ask what their Name Server information is. It is also a good idea to update the technical contact on your domain name record to your new host, although that is not required.
Step 5: Monitor for the domain name change.
Depending on who you used to register your domain through, you should get one or more emails confirming the domain name change. Once the change has been initiated it will typically take 24 - 48 hours for the entire world to see the change. This period is called propagation and is simply the time it takes for all the DNS servers around the globe to "catch up" and take note of your domains new location. Once propagation has completed its course you are free to safely cancel service with your previous host.
A note about the Propagation period: As mentioned before, it takes about 24 - 48 hours for the domain name change to propagate through everyone's DNS server. This means that during this time some people will get the new site, and some will still get the old site. As far as web surfing, that's really no big deal but can be tricky in regards to email. Depending on where an email is from, it may go to your new email server or your old server. To safeguard against losing messages, try creating 2 accounts for your email address, and use each mail server's IP address instead of the domain name in your POP settings. For example, if you are using mail.yourdomain.com as your pop settings, try replacing that with the IP address of your web site or email server. Creating an account that checks both mail servers insures you don't miss any messages during this 24 - 48 hour period.