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One Web site, many names: an introduction to domain forwarding

It's the computer nerd equivalent of a vanity license plate--and a very handy way to help people get to your online destination.

When my Defensive Computing blog went live in July, the Web page address (URL is the nerd term) assigned to it was blogs.cnet.com/8300-13554_1-33.html. Shortly thereafter, CNET assigned the friendlier address blogs.cnet.com/defensive-computing/

That's still a lot for me to remember, let alone repeat to someone else. When I wanted to find this blog, I started at blogs.cnet.com and then hunted for my name. The address/URL blogs.cnet.com is easy to type and easy to remember. Whenever someone asked where to find my blog, that is what I told them to do.

Until now.

I just invested $14 or so to reserve the domain defensivecomputing.info for a couple years. But there is no Web site there and I'm not planning on ever having one. Instead, the domain is forwarded here. I don't know how you found this Web page, but if you enter defensivecomputing.info into your browser you end up at this blog. It's the computer nerd equivalent of a vanity license plate. Try it.

The home page for this blog now has three names that all point to the exact same place:

  • defensivecomputing.info
  • blogs.cnet.com/defensive-computing/
  • blogs.cnet.com/8300-13554_1-33.html

My vanity extends to defensivecomputing.us , which is forwarded to a Web page for a class of mine on, what else, defensive computing.

Which Name To Show?

In both these instances of domain forwarding, you end up seeing the forwarded-to name, not the one you originally typed. It doesn't have to be that way; forwarded domains can be set up to show the originally entered URL.

For example, a relative of mine owns the domain dmdworkin.com. There is no such Web site, however; the domain is forwarded. He is a photographer and has an account at the photo site Digital Railroad.

The real Web site address is www.digitalrailroad.net/DMDworkin/Default.aspx. Whichever name you type, you end up at the exact same Web page. In this case, however, the real or target Web page address is said to be masked. You see dmdworkin.com in the address bar of your browser, even though you are at the Digital Railroad site.

Practical Uses

In the above example, domain forwarding is used to give the impression that Mr. Dworkin has his own Web site, when technically he doesn't. You could get a free website from any of dozens (if not hundreds) of companies, with a name something like harveysfreewebsitecompany.com/userxyz123 and then set up a domain such as michaelsstartrekclub.com and point it to the free website. If the company providing the free site goes out of business, you can sign up somewhere else and then just forward the domain there.

In my experience, domain names cost from $7 to $35 a year. You could print business cards showing your own domain name and pay more for the cards than the Web site.

Domain forwarding can also be used to give multiple names to a single Web site. Suppose, for example, your name is Groucho, you own a cigar store and the Web site for the store is grouchoscigarstore.com. You can prevent someone else from using grouchoscigarstore.org, .us. info and the like by registering those names too. If you own them anyway, might as well set them up to auto-forward to the Web site with the .com name.

Another use is typos. Have you ever been confused about the spelling of "Noble" in Barnes and Noble? It could end with either "le" or "el", both are valid spellings (at least phonetically). In terms of finding the company's Web site, it doesn't matter--both barnesandnobel.com and barnesandnoble.com work fine. So too, does bn.com. Two of these domains are forwarded, one is the real Web site.

When you register a domain, check if the forwarding feature is included for free (both with masking and without). The two registrars that I have used the most, GoDaddy.com and DirectNIC.com do include it for free. In contrast, Register.com wants an extra $50 a year to forward a domain and not show an ad for themselves when doing so.

And remember, you learned about domain forwarding at defensivecomputing.info.