Returning from domain hell

The past few days our website has been offline. Thankfully it’s finally back and believe me when I say, having an extended unscheduled outage pains me to no end....

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The past few days our website has been offline. Thankfully it’s finally back and believe me when I say, having an extended unscheduled outage pains me to no end. So what went wrong? The outage essentially boils down to our domain name expiring.

A normal domain renewal (we’ve been through many before) typically involves notification in the lead up to the expiry so the domain owner has plenty of opportunity to pay the domain reseller, ensuring the domain stays online. This didn’t occur.

During the 3+ days of downtime I sent more than 30 emails and spent more than 2 and half hours on the phone attempting to resolve the issue. The journey was not a fun one and at times I thought I had lost the techau.tv domain which would not only break 7 years of inbound links, but also apps that have hard-coded domains.

One of the reasons for detailing this experience is to give some tips to avoid it happening to others. If you operate a website and have registered a domain name, it’s time to pay attention.

Custom Designed Server Boards

Background

When techAU began around 7 years ago, I looked around for a good web host and domain registrar. I quickly discovered that domain resellers are like banks, everyone has a good and bad story. Fast forward till today and the situation really hasn’t changed. There’s a lot of terrible providers out there and if there was a perfect one, everyone would be with them.

While venting my frustrations online over the years, I’ve had plenty of suggestions for alternatives for both hosting and domain registration. The reality is techAU is a decent sized site and after a little investigation I discovered that most recommendations of ‘these guys work great for me’ was in reality for either a very small sites that aren’t a good source for comparison.

All was well for years until around 2 years when something very, very strange occurred with the domain name. Without confirmation or any communication with me, my domain name was moved to a new provider. Essentially AustDomains had lost the domain I registered with them.

It’s now time to talk about the insanity that is locking and unlocking domains. For those unfamiliar with the process, despite seeking out a domain reseller and initiating a business relationship with that provider, that domain isn’t actually tied to that provider. In some instances (I discovered this the hard way) domains can be moved if they aren’t locked. I’d like to say in most cases this is a parent company that reaches into a reseller at the bottom of the chain and moves the domain.

The timeline of my domain name’s unsolicited move occurred around the time AustDomains was acquired by CrazyDomains. A quick look at their GoDaddy-style website, I would never select them by choice. At the time the domain hadn’t expired, but I needed to renew sometime shortly after. At the time I was given the run-around in terms of what had transpired and no-one could answer me.

The easiest way to who the current registrar for a domain name is to do a whois lookup. http://whois.domaintools.com is a great one, but there are many. I discovered at the time that PlanetDomain had become the provider. After getting no sense out of them I discovered their parent company was NetRegistry.

Finally at the time I tracked someone down who could help me and guess who else is owned by NetRegistry? Yep, AustDomains. This whole tangled mess of TLD wholesalers who sell to resellers, who sell to resellers, who eventually sell domains to people, is an unmitigated disaster. Thankfully most web users never have to deal with this crap.

Merry-go-round

What happened

As indicated above, the domain renewal was due on the 14-March-2013. Just like your superannuation balance, your domain renewal date isn’t something you check on a daily basis and rely a simple email notification to remind you. Keep in mind that selling domain names and getting paid for them, is the core business of a domain registrar, so you’d think they’d make it easy. Apparently not.

After the domain expired, I once again headed to the Whois tool which this time indicated that SRSPlus owned techAU.tv. My heart sank. A US-based company I’d never heard of, let alone engaged in business. At multiple times throughout the conversations with people behind basically every contact detail I could find on AustDomains, PlanetDomain, NetRegistry and SRSPlus, I thought the domain was lost.

Late last night SRSPlus finally replied and clearly defined who the current owner was. It’s PlanetDomain. I forward that email to PlanetDomain to be told actually that still resides at AustDomains. Remember this wasn’t a single individual, I made sure to call back / email multiple times to eliminate an unskilled employee exacerbating the path to resolution.

Hitting that dead end, I then went back to old emails from the resolution I got 2 years ago. Found the person at NetRegistry who knew the back story and would hopefully be the saviour. Unfortunately that email failed to receive a reply and I assumed the person left the organisation.

The support from NetRegistry continued to tell me to use a whitelabel partner portal which had a subdomain austdomains (https://austdomains.partnerconsole.net) to add to the confusion. Of course AustDomains staff knew nothing of this site. After a password reset I was able to login, but there was no capacity to reset, instead it said the domain was no longer with this host and to contact AustDomains.

The ridiculous merry-go-round was a ride that I was well and truly tired of by this point. It seemed I needed to look for other options. I remembered techAU.com.au was available and had the idea that I could register this domain and simply point it at the existing hosting. Sure a lot of links would break, but with days of downtime, anything was better than nothing.

I have regular readers, advertisers, writers to try and keep happy, all while trying to avoid the reputation and revenue of the site decintegrating before my eyes. 7 years of bloody hard work to build it, a recent refresh that leaves the site looking all grown up and people can’t access it, the blood was boiling.

It turns out web hosting sits underneath a domain name. This means the new domain wasn’t able to point to the hosting, it can only point to an existing domain, which if you don’t own, your out of luck. The recommended solution from AustDomains was to backup everything, they could delete the hosting and setup new hosting under the .com.au domain. This was no better than leaving them for another provider, even at the management level, they agreed this was the only option. Crazy.

Bill and Matt

How it was resolved

Starting from scratch was not an inviting option, so I decided to go one more round of emails in a last ditched attempt to get my domain back in my control. It turns out, the resolution was simple. Get the right person at NetRegistry and the problem was resolved in a matter of minutes.

Ian said he had read my email chains and had been on the phone to AustDomains for more than half an hour attempting to resolve the issue on my behalf. As the parent company he had the authority to setup a new account and payment portal to manage the domain, as well as moved the ‘locked’ domain to the new portal.

I logged in, paid the renewal and a few minutes later the domain name servers began to update. The site was back.

There’s been reports on Twitter and Facebook that people are still not seeing the change just yet, but DNS can take 24 to 48 hours to update.

moving forward

Moving forward

The money I paid to register techAU.com.au isn’t money wasted, it’s a great domain and have set it to redirect to techAU.tv. I’ve already heard from a number of people that they mistakenly type that in often, so over the coming weeks we’ll see if that results in a traffic boost. I know the 3-4 days down time will hurt us in the monthly stats, but words cannot describe how it feels to have my baby back.

So my recommendation to anyone who’s operating a website and is in charge of renewing your domain name, never ever rely on the service provider to remind you. Set a reminder in your own calendar to login and check. 3 months out, 1 month out, 1 week out and 2 days out to make sure this doesn’t happen to you.

I didn’t spend much time coming up with techAU as a name, a brand, a domain, but over the years I’ve found it’s a perfect fit. Look forward to continued technology coverage from all the writers at techAU and thanks everyone for putting up with our longest outage since launch.

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Internet

This post is authored by techAU staffers. Used rarely and sparingly when the source decided to keep their identity secret, or a guest author who isn't seeking credit.
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