WWW FAQs: Why do I have to type www. first to access my company site from my office at work?

2009-01-16: "When I'm at home, I can access my company website just by typing mycompanyname.com. But when I'm at work, that is not enough. I have to type www.companyname.com. Why is the www. part required at work?"

This problem typically occurs in offices that use Microsoft's Active Directory technology to manage users. Active Directory is a powerful system for managing user logins, directory information, and much more. But one of its mildly annoying side effects is that when your computer is a member of the Active Directory domain (which is to say, when you are in your office at work), the hostname mycompanyname.com must "point" to an Active Directory domain controller... which usually is not your company's web server. And there are very good security reasons why they should not be the same computer.

Can anything be done about this? Well, any solution that convinces your computer that mycompanyname.com should point directly to the web server will break your Active Directory login. And that is a very bad thing.

However, your system administrator could set up Microsoft Internet Information Server or Apache on the domain controller (or controllers) in a very minimal configuration in which all traffic is redirected to www.mycompanyname.com. The tips in this article will do the trick as long as the redirect is applied to the entire web folder rather than a particular page.

Of course this requires enabling IIS on each of the domain controllers, and that is something your system administrator may be quite reluctant to do. While they can minimize the risk by running IIS in a "just redirect all traffic" configuration, there is always a slight possibility that a fundamental security hole in IIS will be found which is a threat even in this situation. On the other hand, since your Active Directory domain controllers are usually only accessible from inside your network, it is unlikely that they will be attacked by the public.

Note that the redirecting web server software should be set up on each and every domain controller, since DNS can potentially "fail over" and send traffic for mycompanyname.com to any of them under certain circumstances.

Practically speaking, unless you are the Active Directory administrator for your company, it is not particularly likely that this situation will change. You may have to get used to typing www.companyname.com while at work, or just bookmark your company's site in your web browser.

"But we don't have this problem in my office!"

Possibly your company does not use Active Directory. Possibly your Active Directory domain name is not the same as your company's public-facing Internet domain name.

Thanks to world-renowned Group Policy expert Jeremy Moskowitz for his insights into this problem.

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