Beginner’s Guide to Understanding DNS

Overview

DNS can be a complicated concept – especially if you are not from an IT or technical background.

However if you own a website, or have responsibility for one – you do need to make sure that you know this stuff!

This guide should help you with some of those frequently asked questions and allow you to understand the basics of DNS.

DNS: The Basics

Key, need-to-know details about DNS

What does DNS stand for?

DNS stands for Domain Name Servers

What is DNS?

The DNS is a distributed directory which converts domain names (which humans can easily read), such as www.atelierstudios.com into a different format which can be read by machines.

The format it converts to is IP addresses (internet protocol addresses) which look like this:
89.21.226.202

The reason it exists is because machines (computers) are only able to communicate using a numerical format.

DNS is often described as the ‘phone book’ for handling the translation of one format to the other. Put simply, when you enter a domain into your browser, the DNS then converts this into an IP so that the computer knows which website you want to visit.

person looking up DNS

HISTORY OF DNS

Back where it all began

calendar of time

Can you imagine having to remember the IP address of every website you want to visit?

No, neither can we. And thank you to DNS – this is a thing of the past!

Thirty years ago, this was how people had to get to websites as there was no other way of communicating your intention to a computer.

Thankfully, a man called Paul Mockapetris changed all of this. In 1983, he came up with DNS which could automatically map IP addresses to the respective domain names.

This was quickly adopted as part of the Internet Standards in 1986.

DNS is still as relevant now as it was back then – with some even referring to it as the backbone of the internet.

How does DNS work?

Getting to grips with the fundamentals of DNS

When you try and access a domain name (e.g. www.atelierstudios.com), the device you are using will be following a process to get the IP address so that it can understand where you want to go and take you there.

This happens when you try and access a website, but also in other internet based scenarios such as sending emails.

To get a good grasp of how DNS works, it is useful to first of all understand the key components which surround DNS which can provide some useful context.

Domain Name – this is your website name (e.g. www.atelierstudios.com). It is the address that people use to access your website. It is also used for finding and identifying computers on the internet.

Hosting – this is a place to store your website files and other data. This will be on a server (special computer) or other computer so that it can be accessed over the internet.

Nameservers – these are simply a set of servers (special computers) which contain the DNS information

DNS Record – a file, stored in the nameserver, which tells you the domain name and which IP address it maps to.

So going back to our earlier point about how DNS converts your domain name to IP addresses. The nameserver is where this exact information is stored and the DNS record is the file which contains the detail.

businessman

Why do I need DNS?

Why DNS deserves the time of day

understanding

If you are involved in websites, emails, website hosting or simply run a business – you should take the time to learn and understand DNS.

You will quite often need to access or update your DNS records to ensure things like your website and emails continue to run smoothly.

Don’t panic – many website agencies and IT companies will be happy to look after and update your DNS on your behalf.

However, just make sure you have control of everything centrally if you need to change suppliers. And do try and keep track of where everything is located.

Also bear in mind – your domain and nameservers may not necessarily be in the sameplace!

Common DNS Records

A breakdown of the records making up DNS

Within the nameserver, there is not just one record. There are other types of records which can be found in the nameserver which each have their own purpose.

A Records

These records are what we refer to in our earlier examples. This is a file which shows the domain name mapped to an IP address.

You will also use A records in other similar situations, for example if your website has subdomains.

MX Records

These records are specifically for your emails.

They are used to specify which mail server accepts incoming mail for your domain name, as well as where emails which are sent to your domain name should be routed.

These are fundamental to your business as they help email messages arrive at your mail server correctly. Without them, you won’t receive your emails through.

TXT Records

As the name suggests, these records hold text content. Generally – they contain information that a human can read.

They are used for lots of different purposes. For example, information about the server or the TTL ‘time to live’ value (the amount of time your records are cached for).

records

Useful DNS Resources

Further reading and handy tools

resources

Take a look at these resources and tools which may help you to continue with your journey in learning about the wonderful world of DNS.

What’s my DNS Server? – http://www.whatsmydnsserver.com/

MX Toolbox – https://mxtoolbox.com/DNSLookup.aspx

DNS Lookup – https://www.whatismyip.com/dns-lookup/

Reverse DNS Lookup – https://www.whatismyip.com/reverse-dns-lookup/?iref=dns-lookup

Whois Lookup – http://whois.domaintools.com/

Acknowledgements

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