Dennis Pelton / Development / July 18th, 2014

How to Avoid a Surprise Domain Crash, Courtesy of Sony

No one will dispute that uptime is a big deal – in fact, we made a video on just how important website speed is. But in a world where even a few minutes of downtime can make an impact, one crucial thing often gets overlooked: domain registrations. Yesterday, that oversight came back around to seriously damage a major Sony Entertainment website.

Even with the best hosting environment available, an expired domain name will mean a day or more of downtime for your website, as well as any other services using your domain, like web apps, forums and email.

Want to know what’s worse than having your site down? Not having the ability to send or receive emails while your site is down.

Sony Entertainment experienced this firsthand on July 15 when its domain sonyonline.net expired, causing dozens of online games to fail, along with its sites, forums and emails. Even though Sony uses the domain SOE.com to deliver all of that content, the company failed to realize that the site and all of its services use sonyonline.net nameservers (here’s how those work), meaning that every domain associated with it went dark.

Image: Arrested Development, Fox
Image: Arrested Development, Fox

Here is where it gets all complicated and support-y, but it’s important for business owners and webmasters to understand: if you have multiple domains tied together, you need to keep track of them and what they’re doing.

Down for the Count

Situations like Sony’s highlight the importance of an active domain. When a domain goes down, everything that uses that domain will go down with it, no matter what server or host it is on.

The story with Sony went as it almost always does: the WHOIS information was stale, and the reminder emails were going to the wrong address. The domain was originally set to expire on May 26, but for some reason Sony was given extra time before Network Solutions finally pulled the plug on the domain.

By the time hordes of angry gamers took to the Internet, the damage was already done, even though Sony quickly resolved the issue by renewing their domain.

Why So Serious?

In this age of instant gratification, it’s tough to understand a day or more of downtime. Once a domain expires, renewing it is no longer as simple as paying the renewal fee and pushing the expiration date a year out. The domains DNS will need to re-propagate out to all of the nameservers, some of which may only sync every 24 hours or more.

So how can you prevent this from happening to you? The first step to ensuring that your site stays up is to keep your WHOIS information up to date. Start by setting the contact email address as a mailing list that hits multiple people. This will prevent an untimely sysadmin vacation from taking your site down. This will also make adding or removing email accounts from the domains contact list a much simpler process.

Keeping this information up to date is important, but it won’t help you at all if you just ignore all of the emails from your registrar. Reading your domain emails and acting accordingly is the second step to keeping your domain active. But, just like with every other email, you need to be on the lookout for predatory registrar emails.

Some less scrupulous registrars will send out emails that look like domain renewal invoices, but are just trying to persuade you to transfer your domain to them. Make sure that you are only dealing with your own registrar.

To check on your own domain and find out when it expires and who is listed as a domain contact, type your domain name into http://whois.domaintools.com and click search to view your full WHOIS data.