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DNS: What is TTL?

Updated on May 1st, 2020

If your domain registrar allows you to enter a value for TTL either for individual records or for all records at once, here’s a quick guide on what that value means.

TTL stands for “Time to Live” and it’s essentially a number specifying of how long your domain registrar should wait before it refreshes your record(s) and publishes any changes that have been made since it last refreshed.  This value is usually measured in seconds unless otherwise specified.

Note

Here’s a quick conversion guide if your registrar uses seconds:

TTL value in seconds Converted
300 5 minutes
900 15 minutes
1800 30 minutes
3600 1 hour
43,200 12 hours
86,400 24 hours
604,800 1 week

Example:

Let’s say you want to take a new site live on Flywheel, so you pop open your DNS editor and the records look something like this:

Domain DNS Record Type Value TTL
example.com A record Your old IP address 86400
www CNAME record example.com 86400

That TTL value tells us a few things:

  • It might be up to 24 hours (86,400 seconds) before your records are checked again, depending on when your registrar last refreshed these records
  • If you were to make changes now, it could be up to 24 hours before you see these changes go live
  • Even if you edit the TTL to a lower number, this rule about how often this record is updated itself might not get updated until the clock runs down on the old 24-hour TTL value. Some registrars will force its records to update immediately when you make changes but to be on the safe side, assume that your records won’t change until the old TTL has expired.

Speeding up DNS edits

1

Research and plan ahead

It’s always a good idea to set aside a specific time to take a site live or to point to a new server. In general, try to aim for a time when you know traffic is historically low for your site. Before you point your domain to your new site, go into the DNS editor and take note of the current TTL values. Make sure your personal countdown to launch time is greater than the TTL value. If it isn’t, your changes might not show up on schedule.

2

Edit TTL ahead of time to prepare for going live

If the current TTL values for your records are too high, edit only the TTL values for the records you wish to edit. Keep all other values inside the record ( name, record type, host) the same. Enter in a shorter window of time like 5 minutes (300 seconds), so that when you are ready to go live, you can make those changes and see them go into place quickly.

3

Wait for the old TTL to expire

Once the span of the old TTL has passed, you’ll know that your faster refresh rate will be in effect.

4

Edit your A Record(s) when you are ready to go live

It’s launch time! Go into your DNS editor and make the necessary edits to point your site to Flywheel. Save your changes.

5

Wait for the new TTL to refresh

Your changes you should be visible within the timeframe of your new TTL value.

Warning

When your registrar updates your records, it effectively publishes those changes to the DNS servers managed by third parties, including your local internet service provider (ISP).  If your changes aren’t showing up, you may need to wait for your local ISP to update their records. You can find out if the changes are just slow to show up using a DNS tool like the awesome one at whatsmydns.net. Alternatively, the more technically inclined can try a Public DNS service like Google or Cloudflare on your device or network.

As always, if you have any issues at all, feel free to contact Flywheel with a screenshot of your current DNS settings.


Wait, why would I ever want a long TTL?

Great question! When your record is being frequently updated, it effectively means that services are deleting information about where your domain lives from their system after the TTL window of time passes.

The next person trying to visit your domain after it has been cleared from the cache will have to wait for servers to reach out to your registrar for updated information.  This request typically happens in a tiny fraction of a second and is generally undetectable. However, that is, in fact, extra time added to the page load-time clock that wouldn’t be there if your DNS service was told to hang onto your records for a longer period of time.

If you want to shave off some page loading time for some visitors, you can bump that TTL value back up when you know that you won’t be switching up servers any time in the near future.

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