See your website before it goes live

Turn back time on your new website and see the old one - or jump forward from the old website and see the new oneHow do you see your new web site before it goes live, and how do you see your old site after it is gone?

It is an exciting time when your new website goes live, I am going through this process at the moment with a client and it is fun and informative to be able to see each stage on the Internet taking place. It’s also important to know how to jump forward and back in the process to check your site before it goes live, and also to check the old site or access email on your old site.

So what is the process when a new site goes live?

So, let’s say that “making a site go live” means that anyone out there in Internet land will go to your site when they put the address into their browser. And any email addressed to your site will go to it’s new home rather than the old one.

The thing that controls whether traffic goes to your new or old site is a record kept by your domain name registrar. It is called your DNS record, DNS stands for Domain Name Server and it is the record that all the computers on the Internet refer to as the master when it comes to your domain name. It can point somewhere else for more details but let’s not worry about that for the moment.

Any serious web hosting company will have a ‘Name Server’ and this is just a big server that takes the names of a website and turns it into a special unique number your computer understands – an IP Address that is 4 sets of 3 numbers, eg www.bbc.net.uk =  212.58.246.93

By giving your new web hosting companies name server to your domain registrar (or updating the DNS record via their website yourself) you are saying to the Internet, “go here to find out where my website lives”

So how do I go to my website for testing before it is live

Before your website is live you may want to visit it in it’s full glory to make sure that it is working as you expect. You can trick your computer so that it does not go out the DNS or Name Servers to find out where it lives. The very first place your computer looks is in a file on your hard disk. If you change this file then it will bypass whatever is in external DNS and jump straight to your site.

This file is called your hosts file. In windows it is normally located at C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts

It is located elsewhere for other operating systems like Mac or Linux, but the same principle applies. If I add the following lines then when I type www.peoplesgeek.com into my browser I will automagically appear at the bbc!

212.58.246.93 www.peoplesgeek.com
212.58.246.93 peoplesgeek.com

(not really useful but it proves the point – my browser is now bypassing the DNS)

So how do I get the IP address (the funny numbers) for my new and old site?

The easiest way to get your IP address for your current site is to simply ‘ping’ it. Go to the command line and type ping followed by your site address and it will return the IP address along with some other information.

It is a different command to get the IP address from a different name server. Remember that our new and old web hosting companies will have a different name server. The command to use is nslookup. The example below looks up the IP address for www.peoplesgeek.com at the nameserver called ns1.bluehost.com. Just insert the name of your site and the nameserver given by your host.

nslookup www.peoplesgeek.com ns1.bluehost.com

How do I use the address of my old site

One of the reasons that you may want to know the IP address of your old site is to collect any email that may have gone there while the Internet update itself to your new site. This can take up to 48 hours to happen globally so you want to go back and check nothing was left behind.

Most email clients will let you enter an IP address in place of a server name. If you put in the IP address of your old server then you will still be able to collect your email. (You can do this without changing the hosts file).

If you need to check your old website for any reason then you would update the hosts file with the old IP address and you can trip down memory lane while the rest of the world goes to your new site.

Name servers keep an up to date IP addresses

One of the reasons for using a name server is that sometimes the IP address of a server will change. This can happen for many reasons including maintenance and moving location. If you are only need to use the old site for a short time then you many not need to use nslookup. If everything suddenly stops working when looking at your old site then check the IP address has not changed.

After you are finished with your old hosting remember to tidy up

Once you are finished with your old hosting and happy with your new website then remember to tidy up. Return your hosts file to it’s original state so it does not confuse you in the future. Take action with your old host to make sure that they know you are no longer using them and to ensure that you are not billed for their services in the future. There is nothing worse than being automatically renewed for a service you are no longer using.

So here’s to being an expert time traveler and being able to visit you old and new websites as they transition.

Brian
your ‘Peoples Geek’

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