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Hosts file modification to review site before changing NameServers

What is a hosts file modification?

A hosts file modification is a simple Windows tweak that is used to trick your computer into resolving to a specific IP. This is especially useful when developing your site on our server when your nameservers are not pointed to us yet, and you are working with domain-name-dependent software (like FrontPage or a php content management system such as Joomla or Wordpress).

Run Notepad as administrator

To perform a hosts file mod, you will need to first run Notepad as administrator. This is because the hosts file is a system file and cannot be modified otherwise. Note: If you ware running Windows XP or lower, you won't need to run it as administrator as this functionality only exists in Vista and above. Locate Notepad within your Start menu. If it is not already there, you can type "notepad" into the search box to show it. Then, right-click on it and click on "Run as administrator".

Opening your hosts file

After you have Notepad up and running as administrator, you can then locate your hosts files and open it. While not all Windows versions store it in the same place, it is typically located withinc:\windows\system32\drivers\etc\hosts. If you don't see it there, other possibilities are as follows:

  • Windows 95/98/Me c:\windows\hosts
  • Windows NT/2000/XP Pro c:\winnt\system32\drivers\etc\hosts
  • Windows XP Home/Vista/Windows 7 c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc\hosts
  • Windows 8 c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc\hosts

Now, we need to open our hosts file. With Notepad already open, click on "File", then "Open...". As the hosts file is not a standard .txt file as Notepad will look for by default, you will change the dropdown in the bottom right that says "Text Documents" to instead display "All Files(*.*)" Navigate to the location of your hosts file and double-click on it to open the file in Notepad.

Windows 8: Note on Windows Defender

If you are using Windows 8, Windows Defender is running by default and it prevents the change of the HOSTS file. You will need to allow this file to be edited by going into Windows Defender and doing the following steps:

  1. Navigate to Windows Defender hover over the right corner to bring up the navigation bar. Click on the icon that appears to be a magnifying glass to start a search. Type in "Windows Defender", click on the icon that appears. It will be labelled "Windows Defender." Click on this icon and the application will launch.
  2. When Windows Defender opens, click on the tab labelled Settings.
  3. Next, type in the location of the hosts file based on location of the Windows installation. Here's the default path: c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc\hosts
  4. Click on the Add button and you'll see it added to the list beneath the file locations.
  5. Click on Save Changes in the bottom right and then close Windows Defender.
  6. The next step will be actually edit the file. As per the instructions above, you will need to edit the file as an Administrator. Hover over the right side again, and then search for "Notepad". Open it as an administrator.
  7. Open the file as per your HOSTS file path.
  8. Make your edits, and click on SAVE by clicking on "File" to bring up the menu. This completes the HOSTS file edit in Windows 8.

Modifying your hosts file

Now that you have your hosts file open, its time to edit it. Within your hosts file, you should see something like the following:

# Copyright (c) 1993-1999 Microsoft Corp.
#
# This is a sample HOSTS file used by Microsoft TCP/IP for Windows.
#
# This file contains the mappings of IP addresses to host names. Each
# entry should be kept on an individual line. The IP address should
# be placed in the first column followed by the corresponding host name.
# The IP address and the host name should be separated by at least one
# space.
#
# Additionally, comments (such as these) may be inserted on individual
# lines or following the machine name denoted by a '#' symbol.
#
# For example:
#
# 102.54.94.97 rhino.acme.com # source server
# 38.25.63.10 x.acme.com # x client host

127.0.0.1 localhost

Be sure to make a backup of your hosts file first

Just like any other changes such as ones that you would make on your website, be sure to back everything up before you make any changes. The do so, you may follow these steps:

  1. In Notepad, click on "File" and select "Save As..."
  2. In the file name, enter something you will remember such as hosts_file_09.16.2013
  3. Click "Save"

Locate the IP address that is associated with your account

You may locate your IP easily from right within cPanel.

  1. Log into cPanel
  2. To the left, you will see an option that says "Expand Stats". Click it to open more information about your account
  3. Scroll down to where you see "Shared IP address". If you have a dedicated IP, it will say "Dedicated IP" instead. This is the information that you will need for your hosts file mod.

Making the change

Using the information you have just gathered from cPanel, you will add some lines to your host file. They will look something like this:

65.39.184.137 my-wordpress-site.com
65.39.184.137 www.my-wordpress-site.com

After making the change, click on "File", then "Save". You have now made your hosts file modification.

Flushing your DNS cache

If your computer has cached your DNS, you will need to clear it. Luckily, we have an article that can teach you how to do just that:

How do I clear my local DNS cache?

How do I know that it worked?

The easiest way to see that it worked is to just go to your domain. Does it show your new site as it should on our servers? If there were no changes to your site from when you moved it, you might need to run a ping test to ensure that it shows the correct IP.

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