The Early Years: ZoneEdit and NameCheap
I’ve had this domain for about 10 years. It was first registered at a registrar that did not have DNS services1, so I used ZoneEdit for zone hosting. Back then, they offered 5 free zones and had a super simple user interface. I actually kinda miss it.
However, at one point, ZoneEdit’s DNS service had a major outage that lasted for about two days. During that time, I was unable to get email, and it was super inconvenient.
Enter AWS Route 53
I then moved the domain over to Namecheap, which offered free DNS hosting. This worked great until it had a major outage that lasted for about a day.
I decided to move over to AWS Route 53, which I felt would be rock solid, with AWS’s infrastructure and Anycast network. I kept my domain at Namecheap but simply used AWS’s nameservers. At some point, I eventually moved my domains (about a half dozen of them) to AWS as well. So AWS was my registrar as well as my DNS host.
After a few years of paying $0.50+ per zone, I started considering free options again. A major issue though: Having my zones hosted at Route 53 gave me some benefits. It integrated very nicely with AWS S3 and Cloudfront, as well as offering free SSL certificates to boot. And I was using that setup for several of my websites (including this blog). A move away from Route 53 would force me to consider other website hosting options. More on this later.
Moving from AWS to Google
As far as DNS is considered, I looked around at other free options. I basically considered:
- Hurricane Electric: Wonderful free DNS service with an interface reminiscent of the old ZoneEdit interface.
- Cloudflare: Their Anycast DNS consistently rates as the fastest.
- Google Domains: Free Anycast2 DNS if you register your domain there. Unlike Hurricane Electric and Cloudflare, I would have to transfer my domains there in order to use it.
I actually really liked Hurrican Electric, but I had also read some threads on Web Hosting Talk discussing several outages they had over the years, often lasting for hours. In the end, I felt I could get more reliable service from Cloudflare or Google. I then set up all my zones at Cloudflare and set my nameservers for my domains accordingly. It worked great and I loved the interface. But something bothered me about using Cloudflare for DNS only, without using their CDN. I had decided to move my S3/Cloudfront hosted websites to Netlify, which already had its own CDN and free SSL, so Cloudflare would be redundant.
Of course, it is easy enough to click that orange cloud in the DNS settings to bypass Cloudflare’s Proxy, but I was afraid that Cloudflare would lose interest in providing free DNS-only services.
So I finally decided to move my domains to Google Domains, which uses the same infrastructure as their Anycast Cloud DNS offering. And I just trust Google to do DNS fast and reliably.
Google Domains Rocks
The transfer only took about 15 minutes, which was awesome. In the past, domain transfers used to take me 5 days or so. But Route 53 allowed me to instantly approve the transfer, and it showed up in Google Domains minutes later.
After playing around with Google Domains, I found some awesome features that made me glad I made the switch:
- I can share domains with other people. Now if I get incapacitated, my wife or brother can renew the domains, change Whois contacts, or even transfer to another registrar, directly from their own Google accounts.
- DNS is super easy to integrate with G-Suite (or Google Apps). I had my SPF, DKIM, MX, and CNAME (for mail and doc subdomains) records manually entered into my previous DNS providers, but Google Domains gives this to me with one click.
- Website redirects are super easy to setup. Cloudflare offers page rules, but was confusing to set up, whereas Google Domains was very straightforward.
- Free email forwarding was also nice for domains where I did not have a mail service setup.
Of course, now that I am off of AWS Route 53, I had to reconsider how to host static websites (previously on S3/Cloudfront). I moved it to Netlify, which will be a subject of a future post.
- It was registered at Dotster. And actually, maybe Dotster did provide DNS hosting back then, but for some reason I didn’t like it? I can’t remember. ↩
- I have not found documentation that definitively states that Google Domains’ nameservers are Anycast. However, if you use Google Cloud DNS (Google’s paid DNS service) and create a zone, you will see that it uses the same nameservers as Google Domains: i.e.
ns-cloud-b1.googledomains.com(or c1, d1, etc). Google Cloud DNS is advertised as Anycast, so it should be safe to conclude that Google Domains’ nameservers are also Anycast. ↩