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What is DNS?

The DNS, short for Domain Name Server, is similar to a directory system that maps Internet Protocol (IP) addresses to domain names, and vice versa. This process helps browsers and users find corresponding websites online. 

Every website is connected to an IP address that is denoted by a combination of numbers, such as “123.45.678.9”. These sequences are difficult for people to remember, so IP addresses are given a corresponding domain name, which is stored in the DNS.

The DNS is how users are able to find sources online. However, it is important to properly configure the DNS as it can be sensitive to fraudulent attacks.

What is a DNS server?

The DNS server is the contact list of the Internet. It is responsible for finding the correct IP address when a site/domain name is typed into the URL. 

The browser then uses the IP address to communicate with the origin server or CDN edge server to access the information on the website. 

This is only possible with the machines that are dedicated to answering the DNS queries, the DNS server. It consists of four servers: recursive resolvers, root nameservers, TLD nameservers, and authoritative nameservers.

Note that the DNS cache stores every IP address a user visits to make the DNS process faster.

How does the domain name system work?

Here’s what the DNS servers looks like in action:

  1. DNS query – a user wants to go to “example.com” via their web browser. The web browser then generates a DNS query
  2. DNS resolver – the resolver takes this query and searches a local cache first. If the hostname is found, the query is resolved. If not, it takes it to a root nameserver
  3. DNS root nameserver – the root domain then directs the resolver to a TLD server.
  4. DNS TLD nameserver – the TLD nameserver then takes the queried domain and provides the IP of the Authoritative Name Server responsible for that domain
  5. DNS Authoritative nameserver – the authoritative nameserver then provides the full IP address of the domain in question, back to the resolver
  6. DNS query resolved –  the resolver brings this information to the web browser, which brings the user to the IP address, and the query is resolved

What is DNS hosting?

DNS hosting is a service that hosts your IP address on its name server. The DNS host is responsible for connecting your IP address with your domain name.

In contrast, the domain registrar is where you buy your domain name from.

How to set up nameservers (DNS) to point a domain to a server

A nameserver stores valid DNS records of a domain and is translates domain names into IP addresses. 

Put simply, nameservers store the map to the domain name and the corresponding IP address. 

This means that even if you change your web hosting provider or IP address, you can still keep your original domain name.

To set up a nameserver for a new domain or website, follow these steps:

  1. Go to your domain registrar’s website and register the hostname for your domain. This assigns an IP address to your domain. Two nameservers are assigned to your domain name, in case one goes down, the other serves as a backup.
  2. Once the two custom nameservers are registered, the hostname needs to be added to the DNS zone file. Each domain registrar has different procedures for this so follow yours.
  3. Then, wait up to 24 hours for the DNS changes to update. 

DNS Record types

DNS records store important information about domain names, such as IP addresses.

Below is a list of the most common types.

A Records

A Records are used to point the domain and/or subdomain to the corresponding IP address. However, they only point to IPv4 addresses.

AAAA Records

The same as A Records, except for IPv6 addresses.

CNAME Records

CNAME Records, short for canonical name records, store alias domain names so you can have multiple subdomains pointing to one IP address and one A Record. Useful if you have various subdomains.

TXT Records

TXT Records store text information for outside sources such as the Sender Policy Framework (SPF), used to protect email exchanges.

MX Records

MX Records, short for mail exchanger, is the server in charge of receiving emails sent to your domain.

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Duncan is obsessed with making website building and eCommerce accessible to everyone. He explains the best tools and the latest digital marketing trends in ways that are clear and engaging. His focus is on supporting the sustainable growth of small to medium-sized enterprises. When not writing, he enjoys deep sea fishing and endurance cycling.

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