Well, it’s been half a year since I added something to the “rants” category. I guess we’re due. I should warn you that while I normally try to keep things civil and family friendly around here, this post is going to be pretty raw. This last week has been an ordeal of frustration and dismay and I’m pretty fucking salty about it, is what I’m saying.
I’m sure you noticed that my site was down for almost a week. This is the longest stretch of downtime my domain has experienced since I launched it in 1999. Blame for this is divided thus:
First, some background: There are two parts to webhosting. One, you need someone to hold onto your domain name. Two, we need someone to host your files and databases to make the site go. These two things don’t NEED to be hosted by the same company, but in the past I preferred to keep them together to keep billing simple. My wife runs a lot of sites and a lot of domains. She uses a different service, but we like to keep the total number of hosts and registrars as low as possible so we don’t have a bunch of chaos trying to figure out what bills go with which sites / domains. Putting my domain and web hosting on the same account seemed like a perfectly reasonable thing to do.
When you go to a webpage, there’s a multi-step process that takes place. First you request the domain from your DNS: foobar.com. Then the DNS serverYes, I’m aware that this is a case of RAS syndrome. goes, “Say, who is in charge of the domain for foobar.com? That’s AlyxHosting.” So then it asks AlyxHosting for the IP address where you can find foobar.com. AlyxHosting replies with an IP address where you can find the site. Let’s say: 188.8.131.52.
It turns out that 184.108.40.206 is owned by the webhosting company BarneyHosting. BarneyHosting sees the request come in at 220.127.116.11 for foobar.com. BarneyHosting has a great big datacenter full of machines in racks. It knows that foobar.com is stored on machine #19 in directory /user/foobar/www/. So then it looks in that directory and sends you the files.
This explanation is simplified enough that I’ve probably pissed off a bunch of professional sysadmins, but there’s no way they’re more pissed off than I am. Let’s move on and hope they forget about it.
I was leaving HostingMatters and migrating to 1And1 Hosting. Let’s not worry about whyI actually have many nice things to say about HM overall.. That explanation is even longer than this one. Let’s just assume I was compelled by aliens or something. Whatever. I had to move. There were two problems that led to the disaster last week.
The first was caused by Tucows Domains. See, HostingMatters doesn’t actually hold the domain names themselves. They work with Tucows. Tucows claims to be a nice friendly company that’s easy to work with, but they held onto my domain for days. I even made requests asking them to expedite the process, which they ignored. Actually, I looked at the rules, and apparently transfers automatically go through after five days unless disputed. My guess is that Tucows doesn’t manually “approve” transfers. They just sit around and let them go through automatically. They could have triggered the transfer last Thursday if someone was willing to push the “YES” button rather than just ignoring everything. Jerks.
But as obnoxious as this was, it wasn’t enough to cause problems on its own. In fact, a domain transfer shouldn’t create downtime like this, particularly when you’ve carefully set up the new site and retained the old. Users should at least be able to get one or the other. Domains continue to point to the proper site in question, even during a transfer.
See, I knew ahead of time that when you move your domain, sometimes the old host is hard to work with because they don’t want to help you leave their service. So I moved my web hosting first, and I pointed the domain at the new host ahead of time. I really thought this would keep me safe from downtime. My old host could drag their feet, but they couldn’t hurt my new site, slow my traffic, or take my site down. They would no longer have any power over me. (Well, I suppose they could point my domain back at their own servers, but that would just mean we’d be at the old site, which was still runningAnd still is!. The worst they could do is mildly annoy me.)
How it’s supposed to work: When you try to visit shamusyoung.com, your web browser would look for the domain, which would point to 1And1 hosting. Then you’d send your request to 1And1 hosting, and they would say, “Ah yes, shamusyoung.com is hosted on virtual server #184920 at directory /username/web/” and send you those files. That last part is the part that broke, and 1And1 forced me to break it.
I couldn’t begin the domain transfer until I DELETED this record linking shamusyoung.com to /username/web/. Once the record was gone, your computer would go to 1And1 hosting and ask for shamusyoung.com, and 1And1 would say, “Who? Never heard of them. Here’s a 404 page.” There is no reason they couldn’t continue to serve my site while the transfer was in progress. The nameservers were already pointed at the correct machine. My files were RIGHT FUCKING THERE YOU BUNGLING SIMPLETONS.
I have pushed many buttons in my life, but this “Begin Transfer” button is the one I most regret pushing. I thought maybe I’d have a couple of hours of downtime. I mean, the DNS is already there. We’re not waiting for stuff to propagate. And hey,I’m already doing a site, move, right? Let’s just get all this over with at once.
But then the days ticked by, with all of my visitors arriving at my front door and 1And1 chasing them off instead of letting them in. Most “bad hosting stories” are about an old, uncooperative host. But in this case my old host did what they could (very little) and responded to support tickets within a few minutes, while the new host blew up my site for five days(!!!!) and couldn’t even explain why it needed to be down. Just appalling.
This entire policy is senseless. The system is designed so that if you have a site hosted at 1And1, it’s impossible to bring that domain registration to 1And1 without generating almost a week of downtime. There’s no technological reason for this. I’ve never encountered a host that worked this way. I called multiple times and asked why the system did this. I never did get a straight answer. Speaking of calling them…
Phone Support is Uncalled For
This is where things get really crazy: 1And1 hosting uses phone support. Only phone support. You can’t use a form to submit a ticket. You can’t exchange emails. You can’t text chat. You have to call. If I had realized this going in, I would have chosen another host. I am very sorry for recommending them last Tuesday.
I called support and asked why the domain transfer was taking so long and why I couldn’t serve the site in the meantime, and all I got were circular answers.
SHAMUS: So why is the site down now?
OPERATOR: Well, the site has to be down until the transfer goes through.
SHAMUS: But why can’t we serve the files in the meantime? I already have the domain set to the 1And1 nameservers. Your machines are already getting the requests. You just need to serve the files.
OPERATOR: Yes. We’ll be able to serve the files once the transfer is complete.
I don’t have an exact transcript of the exchange, because, you know, it was a phone call.
It’s clear this downtime was the result of policy, not technology, but the woman working support couldn’t justify any of it except to say, “Yes, sir. That’s how it works.” (Don’t worry. I was nice to her. I know she was just the messenger. The people responsible for this mess make sure to keep themselves far away from anyone that might try to hold them accountable.)
I can’t believe they don’t offer any form of text-based support. Voice is objectively the worst possible medium for handling technical problems. On the phone I have to type in a bunch of numbers to prove who I am and then wait on hold for a couple of minutes. Two minutes is pretty short by the standards of phone support, but it’s still two minutes of my time. If we use email, I can have a complete written record of what I said, what they said, and I can see the full timeline of the problem. On the phone, if one of us needs to look something up, the other person has to sit there and wait. With email, I can read and reply at my leisure. I can copy and paste long URLs and other strings of text from email, while the phone requires me to type the lo-fi and easily misunderstood information while using my shoulder to hold my slim and slippery smart phone in place.
This is ludicrous. Email support is cheaper, faster, more convenient, more efficient, and provides an automatic archive of everything. I can’t come up with a plausible reason why a company would spend extra money on such an inferior system. I can understand why they might offer it as an option, but making it the only form of communication? It’s like they’re going the extra mile to piss me off.
I think what I’m going to do (and I’m making this decision right in the middle of writing this article) is ride this out. I don’t have the patience to jump hosts again right now. But I’m paid up for a yearYes, I’m still within the refund period. But I am sick to death of migrating databases and fussing with control panels and I just want to get back to writing.. So I think next November or December I’ll start looking for a replacement host. The combination of “insane policy that nobody can justify” + “phone-only support” is a fundamental deal-breaker.
This was a team effort. Tucows dragged their feet on the change, but that wouldn’t have been a problem if 1And1 wasn’t set up so that you had to blow up your own site before you could transfer in your domain.
But Shamus, why did you want to transfer your domain anyway?
Honestly, I just wanted to keep the billing simple. If I had any idea it was going to result in this Kafkaesque nightmare I would have left it alone.
The whole thing has been a misadventure of sunken costs. At first I saw the warning that “Your website can be down for up to 5 days during the transfer” and I assumed this was for people who didn’t redirect the nameservers ahead of time. That wouldn’t apply to me, would it? Why would my site need to go down? And hey, it says “Up to 5 days.” That’s a worst-case. It won’t need to take that long in my case. Right? I even called both the new and old host and made sure neither one was waiting for the other. The DNS was already configured, so I wouldn’t need to wait for DNS to propagate. I figured there was no way this would take 5 days.
But then after a few days I realized that, no it did apply to me. It doesn’t make any sense, but it applied to me anyway. So I made many calls to 1And1 and sent many support tickets to the old host, making sure nobody was asleep at the switch and making sure I knew who we were waiting for at any given moment.
At some point I noticed the control panel now read that “it can take up to 6 days for this process to complete”. Was that the original five days plus an extra day of “just in case” time, or was the date getting pushed back?
On day five (Monday) I call support again, and suddenly they’re telling me it could potentially take 2 more days. So wait, We’re at A WEEK now? Are you just adding time to be assholes? I thought transfers were automatic after 5 days. Why is it taking longer? (Spoiler: Nobody fucking knows.) I ask about canceling the transfer, but support says that it takes 24 hours before you can set up your site as an external domain again.
Throughout the conversation, he keeps telling me that I’ll need to set up my domain to use the 1And1 nameservers. It’s like nobody at 1And1 has ever heard of this idea before. They literally can’t wrap their heads around the idea that I already set up the nameservers ahead of time. I’ll tell them twice during a phone exchange and the’ll still say things like, “Once the domain transfer is complete, you’ll have to change your DNS to point to 1And1 so you can server your files from our servers.” I tell them I’ve already done this, and it throws them totally off-script.
I gotta say if you’re going to go for phone ONLY support then your staff had better be a highly-trained crew of fucking technology wizards. And the 1And1 team is not. They answer common questions, stick to a simple script, and display very little technical knowledge. (Compare this to Hosting Matters, where their email team talked like sysadmins and frequently demonstrated deep knowledge of all the involved systems. They actually talked over my head on a regular basis, but at least they knew what was going on.)
If I had known that the possible wait time was “AN ENTIRE WEEK” then I would have canceled right away and my site would have been up again already. This whole process keeps moving the goalposts to string me along. It’s like the entire system is designed to maximize downtime. This isn’t incompetence. It’s sadism.
Time for a re-evaluation: I can continue to wait this out. Or I can cancel and wait 24 hours. Maybe the transfer will complete in another hour. Maybe it will take another two days. Maybe in two days I’ll be on the phone with them and they’ll be telling me it’ll be two more.
Maybe I can cancel and get my site back in 24 hours. Maybe after I hit cancel the wait timer will begin moving just like it did for the transfer. It could go either way and there’s no way to know which one gets me my website back the soonest, which is really all I care about.
Thinking about this more: If this is how these lackwits behave when I’m a new customer, then just imagine how much more belligerent they could be in the future. I’ve heard horror stories about hosts basically holding domain names hostage to keep you from leaving, and after our time together I strongly suspect 1And1 is exactly the sort of creepy, stalking, possessive, overbearing boyfriend that eventually requires a restraining order. I’m going to want to move again someday, and I’ll bet getting my domain back from them will be like trying to take The Ring from Gollum.
Yeah. I can’t risk it. Even if I knew the domain transfer was going to complete in an hour, I have to cancel at this point. It’s not even up for debate.
As promised, the system mysteriously won’t let me set up shamusyoung.com as an externally hosted domain. Again, the DNS is pointed in the right place. The files are ready to go. But I can’t connect the two and the only reason I can’t connect them is that the control panel won’t let me. (And of course the support guy has no explanation that isn’t tautological.) Why? What’s going on for those 24 hours? Nobody knows.
But! It turns out it doesn’t take 24 hours to cancel. It takes 1 hour. An hour after I hit the blessed “Cancel” button I’m able to set up my domain, point it at the directory, and we’re running again. It’s not even a big deal. Because, you know, I already had the nameservers configured and the only missing link in the technology chain was the 1And1 setup.
Nobody has ever caused this much downtime before. Not hackers, spammers, or DDOSers. No other host has ever done this to me. Six whole days. Just imagine if I was running a business. Something like this could be literally ruinous. And it’s all the more atrocious because I specifically took steps to avoid downtime by making sure both the new and old site were able to host, regardless of where the nameservers pointed while the domain was in transfer. And also because there’s no reason they couldn’t have served the files during the transfer. It’s a circus of baffling design choices.
Back To Work
What I discovered during this downtime is that I go really crazy when I can’t do my job. I’ve been editing this post a lot over the last few days. It began as a simple record of frustrations and then grew into this messy tirade. I realize it’s pretty disorganized, but I’m going to post this raw rather than spend more time on it. I’d rather spend my time on REAL content.
The strange thing is that I couldn’t really get any writing done. I couldn’t enjoy games, I didn’t want to think about them, and I didn’t have the urge to write about them. I’d sit down with a game, play for three minutes, and find myself thinking, “I wonder if my website is back up yet. I should check.”
We’ll get back to the real content soon. In the meantime, for the benefit of search engines, I’d like to make it clear that 1And1 Hosting is a frustrating provider with moronic policies. They are the worst thing to happen to my site and I’d replace them today if I wasn’t terrified of leaving. If this is how they treat new customers, I can only imagine what sorts of war crimes they have in store for departing customers.
 Yes, I’m aware that this is a case of RAS syndrome.
 I actually have many nice things to say about HM overall.
 And still is!
 Yes, I’m still within the refund period. But I am sick to death of migrating databases and fussing with control panels and I just want to get back to writing.
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