Demystifying DNS

By Michael Baxter on 29 June 2011 with tags Hosting and domain names

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One of the more confusing aspects of managing a web design and hosting business is how to set up the domain name so it functions correctly for all web and email. The key technology that is used is Domain Name Servers (DNS).

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a hierarchical naming system for computers, services, or any resource participating in the Internet. It associates various information with domain names assigned to such participants. Most importantly, it translates domain names meaningful to humans into the numerical (binary) identifiers associated with networking equipment for the purpose of locating and addressing these devices world-wide. An often used analogy to explain the Domain Name System is that it serves as the "phone book" for the Internet by translating human-friendly computer hostnames into IP addresses. For example, www.example.com translates to 208.77.188.166.

The Domain Name System makes it possible to assign domain names to groups of Internet users in a meaningful way, independent of each user's physical location. Because of this, World-Wide Web (WWW) hyperlinks and Internet contact information can remain consistent and constant even if the current Internet routing arrangements change or the participant uses a mobile device. Internet domain names are easier to remember than IP addresses such as 208.77.188.166 (IPv4) or 2001:db8:1f70::999:de8:7648:6e8 (IPv6). People take advantage of this when they recite meaningful URLs and e-mail addresses without having to know how the machine will actually locate them.

The Domain Name System distributes the responsibility of assigning domain names and mapping those names to IP addresses by designating authoritative name servers for each domain. Authoritative name servers are assigned to be responsible for their particular domains, and in turn can assign other authoritative name servers for their sub-domains. This mechanism avoids the need for a single central register to be continually consulted and updated.

In general, the Domain Name System also stores other types of information, such as the list of mail servers that accept email for a given Internet domain. By providing a world-wide, distributed keyword-based redirection service, the Domain Name System is an essential component of the functionality of the Internet.

Understanding how DNS works will allow you to manage your clients Internet services and provide smooth email and web services.