Do Not Stress: A Straightforward Guide to DNS
Last updated: July 2019
You have probably heard the term DNS being thrown around a lot in hosting conversations. Whether you are a full-blown expert, like pretending that you know what is going on, or genuinely have no idea what the abbreviation even stands for, this article aims to help clarify some key points worth remembering.
- DNS stands for Domain Name System.
- It is what helps to connect alphanumeric domain names (www.example.com.au) to the correct IP address (188.8.131.52), helping locate the website’s files.
- Once the destination IP address is found, your device will connect with a web host so that the website can be reached.
The holy grail for the functionality of everything related to your domain name, these records are what allow browsers to find any associated websites or emails. Through a DNS hosting environment, all of the necessary records can be added manually. Alternatively, you can have your domain name simply point to your web host where all of the DNS settings can be found automatically in the form of zone files (Within cPanel).
Your website itself is directed to by what is known as an A record, which finds the IP address of the hosting server responsible for a particular domain name. What the A record is actually pointing to, is all of the files and data that represent the physical website.
In simple terms, the domain name contacts the DNS records to see if an A record exists, if yes then that A record is used to identify where the website is being hosted. This allows the websites files to be accessed and ultimately viewed by those searching.
Operating in a similar fashion to websites, emails just have an alternative form of classification that is known as an MX record. As you have probably guessed, this just specifies the location of any email accounts operating under a domain name.
Yet again, the domain name being searched would access the DNS records available and look for any existing MX records. If found, then an email account is set up under that domain, meaning that mail can be sent and received from that address. It is important to note that each domain name can only have one designated email server.
Now that all of your DNS records are set up properly within your zone files, your site should be working fine right? Having accurate records is certainly the perfect way to start, but there could be a key link in the chain that still needs to be resolved… Can you guess what it is?
The answer is nameservers and essentially they are what connect a domain name to the location of its DNS records. If the nameservers are not set up correctly then the server IP address cannot be located, which will result in the website or email accounts being inaccessible.
When updating nameservers so that they point to the correct server, it can often take some time for the process to complete (up to 8 hours). This is known as DNS propagation and the reason it can be so time-consuming is due to the update having to be recognised and implemented by DNS servers across the globe. If you are wondering what nameservers actually look like, here are one of the versions that we use across our services: ns1.syd1.hostingplatform.net.au and ns2.syd1.hostingplatform.net.au
Some key points to remember
- DNS is all about connecting your domain name to the correct hosting services
- Your DNS records allow access to all website files and email accounts
- Nameservers are used to facilitate this connection when your records are added within your hosting service (Zone files)
- You can also use DNS hosting as an alternative to set up your records
As you can see, setting up your DNS records correctly is not as difficult as it seems once you know how everything links together. Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of how the system works and maybe even the confidence to initiate your own DNS updates.