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 and many experienced webmasters. Each of these services has a different purpose and different costs. 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 hostnames (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. It's a little like calling directory assistance to find a phone number based on someone's name. We offer a 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 you have checked with DNS to find out what web host has your website, it goes to that host to retrieve your web site's pages. If you don't have a domain registration or DNS service, you can still access a site hosted here using its short name in the domain nfshost.com, 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 your site is missing an alias.

An "alias" tells our systems what name(s) are associated with a web site. An alias will commonly include "www." (e.g. www.example.com) or be just a domain name (e.g. example.com). In most cases, you'll want both.

  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.

While changes often take only minutes to take effect, they depend on the propagation of DNS updates, which can sometimes take an hour or more.

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, delete the alias you created here first 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.

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

To get started, please check out our Installing WordPress guide.

To get the most out of WordPress on our system, especially to make it run well under heavy loads, please take a look at our Advanced WordPress Configuration guide.

Should I make my own backups?

Yes. Assume that we are storing crates of sweaty dynamite on top of the servers that hold your important data and design your backup strategy accordingly.

That sounds absurd. And it is; we take your data very seriously. But a good backup strategy assumes the worst, so this is pretty much the only time we'll tell you to assume we're incompetent. If you don't, whatever backups you do—or don't—make are unlikely to help in a situation where we can't.

For sites, synchronization tools like rsync or Unison or version control tools like git can help back up your content. If you're developing your own site, we recommend building it locally and using a tool like one of these to send it to us. That ensures that you've always got the master copy.

MySQL backups are also strongly recommended, especially before undertaking major changes to your MySQL data.

If it's already too late and 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. It stinks when we have to tell someone that we can't help them get their hard work back. Please make your own backups!

How do I create a site on your system?

Note: Our Getting Started Guide provides the best introduction to getting set up on our system for new members.

To create a site:

  1. Make sure you have created and funded an account.
  2. Visit the Sites panel.
  3. In the Actions box in the upper right, choose the "Create a New Site" action.
  4. Choose a funding source (if you have more than one account).
  5. Pick a "short name" for your site.
  6. Select the "Next" button.
  7. If you have another name (or names) for your site (like www.example.com and/or example.com:
    • Enter the only or most important name for the site (usually www.example.com) as the Canonical Name.
    • Enter any other names as an "Additional Alias." (If you have more than four, you can add the rest later.)
    • Indicate whether you want us to set up DNS for any domains associated with that name. Unless you know you're getting DNS from a third party, you probably want "Yes."
    If not:
    • You don't need to do anything on the aliases page.
    • You'll be able to access your site using its short name plus the domain nfshost.com. For example, if your site name is example, then you have the option to access it as example.nfshost.com.
  8. The remaining settings are optional; the defaults will work for almost everyone. The choice of a Production or Non-Production site may be worth reviewing, as it affects the cost of your site and what you're allowed to use it for.
  9. Select "Finish" (or keep hitting "Next") to get to the summary of site setup.
  10. Make sure everything looks good to you.
  11. Select the "Create This Site" button to make it happen.

It usually takes new sites less than a minute to get set up. Once it's ready, you can get started uploading your content.

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 distribute your content within our network efficiently. If you wait a few minutes, the files should resynchronize automatically.

If you prefer not to wait, you can also help the process 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). With Firefox, Safari, and Chrome (macOS), this is Shift-Reload (Ctrl-Shift-R on Windows, Command-Shift-R on Mac). This will force that page and all related content (e.g., images, scripts, and CSS) 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 https://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 Internet Explorer versions 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 you have uploaded content, but your site still displays the new-site "Not Available" message, you should be able to use this same technique to get rid of it.

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, DNS, hosting 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.

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.

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.) If you're moving things around on our system, it should be visible within a couple of hours. If you moved a domain over from somewhere else, it might take longer depending on their setup.

The time 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 should 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 "remember" (cache) the answer for long, even if there are changes in the meantime.

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 expired "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 bit longer. If it's not working after an hour or so, check for configuration issues with your site, DNS records, or nameserver settings.

You should always be able to see a new site using our nfshost.com domain within a few 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 membership?

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 wait for the domain to expire and go through the whole deletion process or transfer it to another registrar before the Remove link will appear.

How do I delete a web site?

To delete a site:

  1. On the Sites tab, select the site's short name from the first column of the list to access the Site Information panel.
  2. On the Site Information panel for the site, in the upper right corner, inside the Actions box, select the "Remove This Site" action.
  3. On the "Remove Site" panel, enter the short name of the site and your member password. (Note that instinct may make you type your username here; that's not correct. The form asks for the site name to minimize the chance of deleting the wrong site if you have more than one.)
  4. Select the "Remove This Site" button.

It takes our system a couple of minutes to fully remove a site.