So you've chosen a host. Their prices are within your budget, they offer what you're looking for, offer a money back guarantee, and you've read a dozen pretty good reviews. Time to sign up. When doing so, make sure you're submitting sensitive information (such as credit card details) through a secure server. On secure servers the website address always begins with https://, and there is a locked padlock down the bottom of your browser window. This ensures that your information is safe.
Once you've completed your order, it can take anywhere between 5 minutes to 3 days for your account to be set up; it depends on the company. Once it's ready, you'll probably receive an email telling you most of what you need to know, including your log-in information and the nameservers to use for your domain.
If you're changing hosting providers, you will want to move your domain to your new host with no downtime, so that your visitors have no idea what is happening. To do this, first ensure that you have a full working copy of your website files, databases and scripts stored on your computer. Download or record any email address settings, passwords, log file/statistic reports, and anything else you might need from your current host.
Next, upload your website files to your new account. This is usually done by using the server name or IP as the FTP address, rather than the domain name, which will still be pointing to your old host. Usually you can also log into your website control panel using the IP as well, so you can set up your email addresses to make sure that you don't lose any email during the transfer. If you're lucky, your new host will also have a preview URL (yep, using the server IP! It often looks like this: http://22.214.171.124/~yourusername) with which you can view your website prior to updating your domain name, so you can make sure it's all working correctly. If this information isn't included in your welcome email, ask your host about it, or check out the support section of their website.
Once your website data and email accounts has been transferred to your new account, you can safely point your domain to it. Log in to your domain registrar and look for a section called "Update DNS info" or "Nameservers," or something of the sort. This is where you need to enter the nameservers of your new host. Make sure you delete the old nameservers as well, or your domain won't know where to point!
After you've put in the new nameservers and saved the information, you'll have to wait a while for it to take effect. It will take somewhere between 24-72 hours for the new DNS info to be updated all over the world. This is called "propagation." Once your domain has propogated, your website and email at the new host will be accessible through the domain name. Make sure your email accounts, databases, etc. are all working correctly, and fix up any bugs (i.e. Perl might be in a different location on the new server). After you're sure propagation is complete, you can close your old hosting account.
If you have any problems or questions, email your host's technical support department. That's what they're there for!
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