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Understand how custom domains work
Understand how custom domains work

All you need to know about custom domains!

Updated over a week ago

Definition of a custom domain

A custom domain is a unique branded name that identifies a website. For example, NationBuilder’s custom domain is Custom domains, also known as vanity URLs, appear in the address bar at the top of every browser. We use them every day to navigate around the web; you probably have many of your favorites memorized or bookmarked.

But computers don’t understand domain names the way people do. Networked devices like computers and phones use numbers and codes to communicate, rather than letters and words.

Luckily, the internet has a system in place to translate between a domain name that we type into our browser, and the IP addresses that computers use to identify themselves on networks. It’s called DNS, or the Domain Name System. DNS is what allows us to have custom, branded domains attached to websites.

Features of a domain

Your new domain gives you two powerful features: a web address all your own and the opportunity to create custom domain email addresses.

Your domain registrar may offer both web hosting and email services in addition to registering your domain name. You don't need to pay for web hosting because that's included in NationBuilder.

You can also use NationBuilder as your mailbox provider with our mailboxes feature. Using NationBuilder as your mailbox provider limits you to viewing email from within your nation's control panel. You wont be able to read your email on a mobile device and you can't create a private inbox. Given the limitations of using NationBuilder as your mailbox provider, we recommend using a third-party service. While you can do this through your domain registrar, we suggest Google Apps. We use Google Apps and NationBuilder Mailboxes for our custom domain email addresses. 

Your web address includes the root domain (, the www domain (, and subdomains ( Most websites are set up so that if you type into a browser, you'll be redirected to Some browsers add the "www" for you. It's actually a technical process to connect your root domain to the www domain and involves creating a HTTP redirect in your DNS records. This is a major reason we recommend having NationBuilder host your DNS records. Secondary websites can be attached to subdomains ( where "word" represents any word you place before ""

Purchase a domain

In order to replace your default "" URL with a personalized URL, you'll first need to purchase a custom domain from a domain registrar.

You have a lot of options when it comes to domain registrars. We recommend NameCheap because they're easy to use and have good security. Once you purchase a custom domain, you can connect it to your NationBuilder website.

When you register a domain, your contact details are connected to it. When someone looks up your domain, they can access these contact details. Your domain registrar can hide your contact details. This is called making your WHOIS information private — NameCheap provides this service for free for the first year. 

Only one person or organization can own a domain on the internet. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) oversees the domain name system (DNS) and gives registrars the ability to register a domain to an individual or corporation. They're also in charge of deciding when to open up new top level domains — the most common are .com, .org, and .net along with geographic domains like .uk (United Kingdom) and .au (Australia). 

How to configure custom domain email

Bulk email, sometimes called email marketing, is sent and handled differently than one-to-one email. For this reason, you want to be very careful when linking your custom domain to a broadcaster and preparing your nation for sending email using that domain.

The four main components of sending email from a custom domain from your nation are – 

1. Your domain host. This is where you purchased your domain. It is often the same as your email provider.

2. Email provider. Your provider allows you to create email addresses and it sends the one-to-one email on behalf of your domain. It is easily identifiable because it is where you go and check your inbox. Often, your provider is where you purchased your domain. You can use NationBuilder as your email provider or you can use a third party provider. Please note that you can use NationBuilder as your email provider without a custom domain.

3. Records. Think of records as the postage information you use to make sure your email is directed to the right place. Depending how your DNS is set up, you may have to add DKIM, SPF, and/or MX records to your email provider or your nation.

4. Your nation’s broadcaster. Your broadcaster is where you connect an email address to send or receive email from your nation.

You will need to attach the domain to your nation. If you are already receiving email, we recommend keeping your DNS hosted elsewhere. To protect your email reputation and authenticate email sent from NationBuilder, your domain must be attached to your nation regardless of whether you connect the domain to a site in your nation. 

Once this process is complete, you attach an email address to a broadcaster to send email. 

Instructions for connecting a domain

Instructions for connecting a domain are available. Domains are connected to a nation in Settings > Domain

To protect your email reputation when sending blast emails, the domain must be attached to your nation. This is true even if you do not plan to connect the domain to a website in your nation. If you are managing your domain elsewhere, attaching it to your nation creates the records needed to authenticate your email. 

To use a custom domain in your nation:

Connecting a subdomain

A subdomain is a domain that is part of a larger domain. For example, or are both subdomains of the domain. Your nation's primary site can be connected to a subdomain. You can also use subdomains for microsites or any other site in your nation.

Please follow the instructions if you have not attached the domain to your nation yet.

If the domain is already attached to your nation, go to Settings > Domains. Click the edit button next to the domain and click + New Site. This will allow you to attach a subdomain to a site. 

If NationBuilder is managing your DNS records and you want to create a subdomain and point it to a website not hosted by NationBuilder, please contact our support team via the chat on this page or by emailing [email protected].

How to use redirects

Redirects can be very useful for ensuring people see your content. There's one exception: the infinite redirect loop, which makes it impossible to visit your site. 

When you own multiple domains referring to one site

If you own the three domains,, and, you need to choose the primary domain and attach that domain to your site. So, if my site is at, I'll redirect traffic from and This way, people will always wind up at and see my content. 

Root domain to www site

Your root domain, also called a naked domain, is when people type in rather than When you point your name servers to NationBuilder, we handle this process for you. If DNS is hosted elsewhere, you'll need to sort out redirecting the traffic since we don't support attaching naked domains to sites on NationBuilder. While root domain forwarding is not a DNS record, most DNS providers include this service. Ultimately, you’re looking to create a 301 permanent redirect (no masking).

Many web hosting companies use a single, dedicated IP address to connect a domain to a site. Our domain infrastructure pools IP addresses, providing additional protection against denial of service attacks. This is why we cannot provide an A record for domains hosted elsewhere.

If you are connecting a subdomain to your nation, e.g. and maintaining your primary website elsewhere, then you do not have to worry about this issue.

Do not redirect your primary website to

It's important to connect your primary website to your nation. If you have a redirect on your domain sending people from to, the first thing you need to do is remove that redirect. If you attempt to connect a domain to your site when it has a redirect on it no one will be able to visit your site, as you will have created an infinite redirect loop.

We recommend waiting 48 hours after disconnecting a redirect before beginning to connect your domain. It can take that long for the first change to propagate across the internet. Because of this delay, we strongly recommend never creating a redirect for your site's primary domain.

Length of time before domain changes take effect

When any changes are made to a domain (CNAME, TXT records, name servers), it will take some time before that change is reflected across the internet. The change has to travel between root servers, web servers, and name servers, located across the world. This is known as ‘propagation’, and in some cases, it can take up to 48 hours for your website content to appear at your custom domain. Using a tool such as What's my DNS can help you follow the change you made as it propagates across servers worldwide. 

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