Setting up a custom domain and email address - for beginners, by a beginner


I was domainless a few months ago. Being domainless comes with some misunderstandings.
I used to think a custom email address was an automatic perk of owning a domain, since most cool programmers I noticed had an email that seemed to spawn from their website's URL (brad [at], joel [at], jozef [at], etc). And once I set up a domain / personal website, it was almost magical, like - poof - now I own this web address on the internet, bought with real money, and it should come with an email address for the internet too.

But no free lunch. Well, it can be mostly free, but it still takes work. Here's the steps I took from being domainless to having a custom email address, based around some simple truths that I wish were spelled out to beginners like me. Prepare yourself for lots of records and button finding:



That's pretty much it! Not too bad when you realize it's all about choosing services and connecting them with domain records.

...That's the optimistic view. I actually think the experience paralleled many painful parts of software development:


1There's a bunch of tips to learn about choosing domain names and registrars. For example: you might try a clever spin on your nickname jwong, like, but it would not be feasible because .ong is for special non-profits, and you would have to prove your non-profit status to someone, somehow.
And may not be great either because .ng is for Nigeria, and you would be subject to the policies of a smaller registrar based in the area, which can apparently include revoking your domain for no good reason, at least according to other people's experience, and so you should probably stick with more common TLDs and registrars.
And so you resort to something less clever, like, but that would not work because there you find a quaint little website, and you look up the WHOIS info and see wow it's from 1997 and there's some contact information, but that sounds like a dead-end because surely many other jwongs have tried and failed in these 26 years, and you start to feel a little guilty for coveting this domain because the website appears to be a family memorial page of sorts, although something has been lost in translation, and clearly somebody cares enough to keep renewing the domain, and you're familiar with the taste of defeat at this point, and so you accept that is untouchable.

But that's a personal journey of sorts, depending on your domain name. I found registering a domain name to be the easy part. The rest was annoying and confusing and harder to understand.

2** Doubly optional website step: your website host might want to manage your domain records in place of your registrar. They might convince you by using words that sound nice, like deploys and support and CDN. You might be swayed, especially if you weren't impressed by the button-finding experience back at your registrar. If you choose to do this, your host will give you new name servers (NS records) to plug back in to your registrar, like and This means finding more buttons. The buttons you found back at the registrar will not be useful afterwards. Your hosting service will have their own web interface with buttons for managing your domain records from now on. You must find this interface and its buttons, hidden among all the hosting buttons already crowding in, to move on.