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The DNS (Domain Name System) is foundational to the internet, and the way we’re able to access it every day. It functions as a network of DNS servers, which convert the complex, numerical, and difficult to remember IP addresses into the legible web addresses that you can easily identify, and remember.
Essentially, DNS servers are translators between IP addresses and web addresses. Without them, you would have to remember incomprehensible strings of digits and dots in order to reach any website.
For example, one such IP address that represents Facebook.com is: 188.8.131.52. Easy to remember, right? Wrong. Thanks, DNS servers!
DNS servers are essentially the reason why domains have value. As is stated on the main page, first impressions, memorability and brandability are all critical to the perception that customers and clients have when evaluating the credibility of a website. Without DNS servers, all domains would be virtually indistinguishable.
In essence, a DNS server is a computer server that stores a database of public IP addresses and their associated hostnames. By storing both the public IP address, and hostname, they’re able to readily convert between the two instantaneously and interchangeably. Much like how we don’t comfortably understand IP addresses, computers and other network devices would rather deal with IP addresses.
This allows you to enter the comprehensible text that represents a domain, and have it be converted to its associated numerical IP address. IP addresses can change, but the DNS is updated along with the changing IP address to ensure that the domain is always properly resolved.
DNS servers run a set of specific software, allowing them to communicate amongst themselves through the use of unique protocols.
A simple analogy for a DNS server is that of a phone book. The DNS server allows you to look up someone’s name (domain), wherein you will be provided with the associated phone number (IP address).
1. You type a domain name into your browser.
2. Your computer contacts the DNS server (typically provided by your internet service provider) to ask for the associated IP address.
3. The DNS server offers the associated IP address for the domain name.
4. Your computer connects to the IP address given by the DNS server, which allows you to retrieve the website that corresponds with the domain.
As you can see, the DNS server is the middleman between you and the website you’re attempting to contact. In the event that the DNS server can’t find the associated IP address for a hostname, the website won’t load.
While hosting companies and ISPs operate a number of DNS servers, most important to the function of the internet are a network of hundreds of root servers throughout many countries of the world, which are responsible for storing a complete database of all domains and their associated IP addresses.
The DNS root zone has 13 named authorities, named A through M, which can be found here: https://www.iana.org/domains/root/servers
If you’ve made it this far, you now understand more about the fundamentals of what makes the internet tick. Moreover, you have a deeper appreciation of why domain names have value, as they mask the underlying, incomprehensible string of digits and dots.