Whether you are taking the reigns from a previous developer or starting from scratch on an existing server, it is a good idea to do a little recon first. Researching the site, host and registrar will help you come up with a more accurate estimate and anticipate any hurdles.

The first and easiest step would be to just reach out the client and request any information they can provide regarding hosting and domain registration. If they don’t know this information or you want to conduct your own research, it’s time to do some sleuthing. Below are a few handy tools that help you research a site without diving into the command line.

Site Profile

With BuiltWith you can quickly get tons of useful information about a website and it’s server. Simply enter the site’s URL and get a profile with information such as:

  • Server Information – Apache, Nginx, IIS, etc
  • Frameworks – PHP, ASP.NET, etc
  • Analytics and Tracking – Google Analytics, etc
  • JavaScript Libraries – jQuery, HTML5 Shiv, etc
  • Hosting Provider – Sometimes available, if not read the following titled Hosting Provider
  • Nameserver Provider – Sometimes available, if not read the section below titled Registrar
  • CMS – WordPress, Drupal, etc
  • Widgets – Typekit, WordPress plugins, etc

Try going to builtwith.com now and try it out for yourself. It’s super handy and a good first step when analyzing a site.

Hosting Provider

Depending on the technical requirements of your site or application, the capabilities of the host server could play a major role. At the onset of a project it important to find where the site is hosted and what service plan the client has with them.

Ideally the client can provide all this information for you. However, in the event they lost this information, determining the company which is hosting a website is made easy with www.whoishostingthis.com. This site does a good job determining the host for shared accounts and even for companies that use Amazon EC2. Armed with this information your client can hopefully help track down the login credentials for their host.

Registrar

Knowing who registered the domain and where is very important if you plan on migrating to a new server. Without access to the registrar, you will be unable to update DNS or transfer the domain.

To lookup domain information, try going to whois.domaintools.com/. Enter the domain and click the “lookup” button. On the following page there will be a series of tabs. The “Whois Record” tab will give any publically available information about the person who registered the domain. The “Registration” tab will list the Resgistar. Since most domain name registrars include a DNS hosting service with registration, knowing the registrar will most likely point you in the right direction towards managing the domain name.

Trusty Old Inspector

Browser inspectors are great for unearthing more detailed information such as what themes, scripts, plugins or modules a site is using. In Chrome for example, after firing up the inspector, go to the “Resources” to see what JS and stylesheets are loaded. It’s possible the site is already implementing certain libraries, plugins or reset stylesheets.

Also, be sure to view the source and look at the head and before the closing body tag. It is an easy way to see the paths of any themes or add-ons a site is using. Looking at the stylesheet’s path should reveal a parent directory containing the name of the theme. For example, take a look at the path of this style.css:

/wp-content/themes/pub/twentytwelve/style.css

This file lives directly in the twentytwelve directory highlighted in bold. A quick google search for “Twenty Twelve” will reveal tons of more information about that theme and even let you download the code for free.

Conclusion

There is a plethora of information that is available about every website online. This information not a secret, it is available because your browser requires it in order to serve up a site. If you have the right tools, you can figure out how a site is built, who registered it and where it lives. The above links provide a quick and easy way for developers and non-developers to analyze a site. So go out there and start doing some website recon!