Frequently Asked Questions

The NearlyFreeSpeech.NET FAQ (*)

Getting Started (*)

What is the difference between Domain Registration, DNS Service, and a web site?

This is a source of much confusion to people new to setting up websites as well as to many experienced webmasters. Each of these services has a different purpose and is billed differently. Together, these three components form the chain that links a domain name (like example.com) to a web site (like example.nfshost.com).

Domain Registration is the process of reserving a domain name with a central authority (called a registry) so that no one but you can use it. Domain names are of the form example.com as opposed to host names (aka site aliases), which tend to be of the form www.example.com. (You can use example.com as both a domain name and a site alias but doing so has certain hard-to-understand limitations, and we do not recommend it.) Domain registrars act as intermediaries between you and the registry, and they charge a fixed annual fee for this service. We provide domain registration services for the most common generic top level domains (aka "gTLDs").

DNS or Domain Name Service is used to tell the world what you want to do with your domain name. Most commonly, it is used to create a hostname. Most hostnames have another word attached to the domain name like www.example.com. Each hostname corresponds to a website. It is possible to have more than one hostname per website, but a hostname can only refer to a single site. DNS links this hostname to your website, so when people want to visit www.example.com, their web browser can find it. This is a little like calling directory assistance to have them find a phone number based on someone's name. We offer low-cost DNS service that provides this functionality.

A web site refers to the storage and retrieval of your actual web pages. After a web browser has checked with the registrar to see that your domain name is valid, and checked with DNS to find out what web host has your website, it goes to that host to retrieve your web site's pages. This is the simplest of the three, and the only one that can work by itself: if you don't have a domain name registered or DNS service, you can always still refer to your site by a name like example.nfshost.com.

For more information about domain registration and domain name service (DNS), please see those sections of our FAQ.

Why does my domain not point to my site yet? (Or: What is an alias and why do I need one?)

If your domain is registered and has DNS service but your domain name does not point to your site, the most likely cause is that there's one more step you need to follow after registering your domain and setting up DNS service, either with us or with your third-party DNS provider: Add an "alias" to your site for that domain.

An "alias" is a domain name (e.g. example.com), such as the one you registered. An alias will commonly include "www." (e.g. www.example.com); further explanation appears on the "Add a New Alias" page. Here's how to add one (note that while changes often take only minutes to take effect, they can sometimes take a few hours or longer, since they will depend on the propagation of DNS updates):

  1. Visit the Sites panel.
  2. In the "Short Name" column, click on the name of the site you just created.
  3. If you don't see the alias you want to use already listed under "Site Names & Aliases," click the "Add a New Alias" button at the bottom of that same box.
  4. Follow the instructions.

See also the complete "Domain Name Service (DNS)" and "Domain Registration" sections of our FAQ for other related issues that could keep your domain from pointing to your site.

DNS considerations: Please be aware that, if you are using our DNS service, adding an alias will result in the automatic addition of a CNAME record to your domain's DNS. If you later want to point the same hostname (www.example.com) elsewhere via a new DNS record, you'll need to first delete the alias you created so that the CNAME record our system added to your DNS will also be removed; otherwise, you won't be able to add a new DNS record for that hostname.

If you already have a correct alias added to your site and you have set up our DNS, but it is not working, it is also possible that you have incorrect name servers listed on your registration. See this FAQ entry for more information.

How do I connect to my site to upload files?

Start here, and be sure to check out the rest of the "Uploading" section for more details.

What's the recommended way to install WordPress on NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

We've written up a page of instructions you can use that is available here.

If you are encountering uploading or other safe_mode errors with an existing installation, or if you need to get plugins working, after reviewing the above you might want to check out this FAQ entry as well.

Should I make my own backups?

Yes. You should adopt a backup policy that assumes we are storing crates of sweaty dynamite on top of the servers that hold your important data. (Even though we aren't.)

For site content, we use RAID to protect live data, we take backups twice per day, and we maintain offsite encrypted backups at an undisclosed location. For member MySQL processes, we have less flexibility but we still take full backups of each process, refreshed daily.

In the event of a serious catastrophe, the most harmful consequence would probably be the loss of everything since the most recent backup, which averages 6 hours for sites and 12 hours for MySQL processes.

That should not trick you into thinking you do not need to make your own backups early and often. If we actually had to restore backups from scratch, the amount of data involved is very large and it would take a really long time, during which you might want a copy of your data.

For sites, tools like rsync, Unison, or version control tools like git can be very helpful in backing up (and controlling the deployment of) site content. MySQL backups are also strongly recommended, especially before undertaking major changes to your MySQL data.

Make your own backups, please!

If for some reason you haven't made or can't use your own backups, we may be able to help. But as much as we love to save the day, there are no guarantees and it stinks when we have to tell someone that we can't help them get their hard work back.

How do I create a site on your system?

NOTE: If you plan to register a domain name when you set up your site with us, you can use the instructions in our Getting Started Guide.

By "site" we mean the method by which you instruct our system to set up space in which you can create a web site. This is a necessary first step (after creating a funded account that will pay for the resources your site uses) before you can do anything else, such as uploading files or associating a domain name with your site.

  1. First, make sure you have created and funded an account. Visit the Accounts panel and verify that you have at least one funded account available. If not, click "Create a New Account" from the "Actions" box and follow the instructions.
  2. Visit the Sites panel and click "Create a New Site" from the "Actions" box.
  3. Choose a funding source (if you have more than one account).
  4. Pick a "short name" for your site.

(The "short name" will be used as the subdomain of .nfshost.com (such as example.nfshost.com) that you can use to access your site via a web browser; it is not necessary to register your own domain name to host a site on our service.)

For more information on associating a domain name with your site and setting up DNS, see the "Domain Name Service (DNS)" and "Domain Registration" sections of our FAQ.

For more general service-related questions, please see the "Our Service" section of our FAQ.

I uploaded a new page, but my browser still shows the old one. What should I do?

This is caused by browser caching and/or the mechanism we use to efficiently distribute your content within our network. If you wait a few minutes, the files should resynchronize automatically.

If you prefer not to wait, you can also help the process along by visiting the modified page yourself and doing a forced reload. For Internet Explorer and Chrome (Windows), this is done with CTRL-Refresh (or CTRL-F5) and with Firefox, Safari and Chrome (OS X) this is Shift-Reload (Ctrl-Shift-R on Windows, Command-Shift-R on Mac). This will force that page and all related content (images, .js files) to be resynchronized immediately. Since we have a lot of caches and requests are load balanced among them, you may need to do this a few times to get every cache that might answer for your site.

If you wish to do this from the command line, you can use curl to force the refresh:

YourPrompt> curl -H 'Cache-Control: no-cache' -i http://www.example.com/stale/content/url

Again, do this several times for each affected URL to make sure you get all the caches.

There is a case where if you access the site before the IP addresses are assigned (within the first minute after it's created), you'll get a DNS error. Once that happens, some versions of Internet Explorer will keep returning errors long after the site is created, even if you use a forced refresh. Waiting a few minutes, restarting IE, and sometimes rebooting have all appeared to help this under various circumstances.

If your site is correctly set up but you have not uploaded any content, you should see a "Not Available" message when you access the site, which you should be able to "refresh away" once you have uploaded something.

Is adding an alias to my site or creating DNS for a domain the same as registering it?

No. Domain registration is an entirely separate and required step if you want to use a domain name (like www.example.com) with your web site. Please see this FAQ entry for further explanation of domain registration and related terms; please see this page for information about our domain registration service.

You might also wish to read our Getting Started Guide for a step-by-step approach to registering a domain and setting it up with your web site.

To verify the ownership or availability of a domain name, visit a site like easyWhois or Better WHOIS. (Our registration system will also tell you if a domain is unavailable when you attempt to register it.)

Note that it can take up to a day or two for a domain registration to become live on the Internet and your site to be reachable using your new domain. Often this happens in a matter of minutes, but a little patience is usually the solution if you don't see your new domain working immediately, and you've checked our FAQ to eliminate other common configuration issues with your site, domain or DNS.

What's the easiest way to register a domain and set up a web site on your service?

We've written a Getting Started Guide that covers this common situation. Check it out.

After I set up, how long does it take for things to start working?

Many of the changes you make have immediate effect. The ones that don't tend to involve DNS or domain registration changes.

Most DNS changes, such as associating a name like www.example.com with a site hosted here (by adding an alias), take effect within a minute or two. However, there is a catch. If you recently accessed the name before you set it up, your browser and/or local ISP may "remember" the old information. (Either that it pointed somewhere else or that it didn't work.) Exactly how long that will last depends on what the previous setup was; if it was moving things around on our system it should be visible within a couple of hours. If you changed a domain from somewhere else, it may take a day or more depending on what the other provider had set.

How long it takes to see DNS changes is controlled by the time-to-live (TTL) value for the relevant DNS records. (If a record doesn't exist, the domain contains a setting called Minimum TTL which will be used to tell people how long they can assume that record will continue not to exist.) When you look up a domain name, your local name server (usually run by your ISP) will look at the TTL value and will keep giving you the same answer for that long, even if there are changes in the meantime. (Members who are comfortable with the use of advanced DNS tools such as "dig" can query their name servers to see how much time is left before a given record is rechecked, but that's beyond the scope of this FAQ.)

The root DNS servers operated by the domain registries store your name server records with TTLs of two days. That means if you change your domain's name servers, that change can take up to two days to be fully visible throughout the Internet. (The same applies if your domain expires and gets the "parking" name servers, so don't let that happen!)

For a newly-created domain name, things will often work within a few minutes if you don't try to see if it's working until it's already working. If you happen to hit it before it's ready, you'll trip the DNS TTL delay and may have to wait a couple of hours to see your new domain. You should, in all cases, be able to see a new site using our nfshost.com domain within 10-15 minutes.

Where can I find more information about whether or not your service supports the software I want to use on my site?

In addition to our member FAQ, you can find relevant information in the following places:

See the Support section of the member site for more support-related links and information.

How do I make a deposit?

If you already have an account:

  1. On the Accounts tab, click the name of the account you want to fund.
  2. On the Account Information panel for your account, click the "Deposit Funds" link in the Actions box.
  3. Choose your payment method and proceed with your payment.

If you don't have an account, you'll need to create one to make a deposit:

  1. Visit the Accounts tab in our member interface.
  2. Select the "Create New Account" action in the Actions box.
  3. Fill in the requested info and click "Save Changes."
  4. On the resulting page, select the "Fund this account now" action from the Actions box.
  5. Choose your payment method and proceed with your payment.

In either case, you will be sent an email after your deposit is complete that serves as your receipt.

Does it matter if filenames are uppercase or lowercase?

Yes it does. We use Unix systems, which employ a case-sensitive filesystem. It is entirely possible to have one file called index.html, another called Index.html, and another called INDEX.HTML. Of these, only index.html will be recognized and examined by the system.

This occasionally comes as quite a shock, particularly to Windows users who are used to ignoring filename case.

To avoid confusion and promote consistency, it is recommended that all files be uploaded using only all-lowercase filenames unless there is a specific reason to do otherwise. By adhering to this convention, you never have to wonder or remember whether (or how) you used uppercase letters in your filenames.

Many uploading utilities on systems that ignore case distinctions offer the ability to automatically convert filenames to lowercase. Using this option is highly recommended, but it is also necessary to make sure references to external files, such as images linked in an HTML file, also use the correct case.

How do I remove a domain that is listed on my account?

These instructions are for domains that are not currently registered with us:

If the Remove link is not there, then the domain is either registered with us or is otherwise in use with some other service.

If the domain is registered through us, you will have to abandon it or transfer it to another registrar before the Remove link will appear.

How do I delete a web site?

You can delete a site from its information page. To find this page, visit the Sites panel and select the site's "Short Name" from the list.

For more basic service-related questions, please see the "Our Service" section of our FAQ.