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How I Learned About Domain Forward with Masking

Yesterday I had a very interesting discussion with one of the volunteers at the WordPress.com support forum and an Automattic’s staff about a topic posted on the forum. And thanks to this topic, I learned about domain forward with masking.

The Prelude

I have a checklist to work on the topics at the support forum that includes the following:

  • Have a look at the profile of the OP (original poster) to see if there’s any duplicate post on the same or similar topic.
  • If the site address posted is not a free WordPress.com URL, run a WHOIS to check the nameservers of the domain to see if the site is hosted on WordPress.com.
  • Accessed the site and try to experience or simulate the issue that are facing by the OP.

This is not a complete list but that’s basically what I did for the mentioned topic.

The Inspection

The reason why this topic was brought up as a discussion was that usually if a custom domain’s nameservers are not pointing to the WordPress.com nameservers, it’ll most probably be a self-hosted WordPress site. For this case, the WHOIS result shows that the custom domain is pointing to GoDaddy’s nameservers.

Name Server: NS71.DOMAINCONTROL.COM
Name Server: NS72.DOMAINCONTROL.COM

However, the site that was showing to the public is indeed a WordPress.com site with the footer text showing as

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Apart from that, here are the characteristics of the site that I found out when accessing the site:

  • The URL of the address bar always showed as the custom domain, without the URI no matter which page you accessed on the site.
  • Hovering over the links will show you a free WordPress.com URL at the status bar of the browser.

At first thought, I had a feeling that this is some kind of domain masking or cloaking technique but I wasn’t able to make sure. The documentation on GoDaddy did mention that they support domain forward with masking.

After a discussion with my friend who is also an Automattician, he found out more about the site:

  • The page source of the custom domain site showed that the entire WordPress.com site was embedded using the iframe tag.
  • Opening the links at a new tab by using right-click brought us to the free WordPress.com site.
  • There was only one page at the Google Index, which was the custom domain.

So based on the iframe tag, we thought the OP embedded the free WordPress.com site in order to use the custom domain. However, from the replies of the OP, seems like she doesn’t even know what is the iframe tag.

The Answer: Domain Forward with Masking

After doing more Google search, I finally got the answer. It was indeed a domain forward with masking feature offered by GoDaddy which uses the iframe tag to hide the destination address.

For sites on WordPress.com, if we want to use a custom domain for the site, we need to purchase an upgraded plan in order to map the custom domain to the WordPress.com site. It seems that using the forward+masking technique is a kind of hotlinking and it’s against the user guidelines of WordPress.com.

Luckily the OP accepted my suggestion to remove the domain masking. Next, we’ll see if she would like to map her domain to the WordPress.com site or transfer the domain to WordPress.com so that she won’t need to pay two parties (domain + hosting) for the site.

This is one of the most exciting topics I’ve ever come across on the support forum. Most importantly, it’s great to have like-minded people to discuss and work on it. I had a great sense of achievement yesterday, not only that I solved a mystery, but I’m able to help others to learn too.

Featured Image by Martin Shreder on Unsplash

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