How Does DNS Work, What Are Name Servers, and What DNS Types Do You Need to Know for Your Website?

When you type in Bluehost.com in your browser, after less than a second, you’re taken to the Bluehost homepage. 

But what happens in that fraction of a second? 

If it’s not cached in your computer, your request queries a name server. It then goes between more name servers until the IP address is located and sent to your computer. 

The process is known as the domain name system, or DNS for short.

DNS is one of the most overlooked parts of the internet, yet it is used every time you go to a website you’ve never visited. 

But DNS is not just an interesting internet fact. It’s critical to understand how DNS works when you manage your website. 

You need to point visitors to your website correctly, but that can get complicated if you buy your domain name from one website and use a separate hosting service. There are also multiple DNS types that serve different functions for your business.

Here’s the good news: 

While it may seem complicated at first, DNS is easy to understand and can be helpful to get your users where they need to go on your website. 

Here’s what we’ll answer:

  • What is DNS?
  • What are name servers?
  • How does DNS work?
  • What is DNS caching?
  • What are the different DNS types? 

You’ll also learn about:

  • Why DNS matters for your website 
  • Security concerns with DNS

What Is DNS?

Often referred to as the phone book of the internet, the domain name system, or DNS, breaks the website address (URL) into segments and queries multiple servers that contain those bits of information. Those servers are called name servers, and they are the foundation of DNS. 

DNS was created in the early 1980s as a way to automatically map domain names to IP addresses. 

The string of numbers that makes up an IP address is easily understandable by a computer but not so simple for people. Instead of memorizing copious amounts of numbers, you can recall a website by its domain name. DNS connects that domain name to the correct IP address. 

Thanks to DNS, when you want to search for something, you can type Google.com into your browser instead of 172.217.20.78. 

Frequently visited websites get cached in your system, but when your computer doesn’t know the IP address, it sends your query through DNS to find the correct name server. 

Name Servers

Name servers are the servers that make up DNS. They hold the records of multiple DNS types and translate a URL into an IP address. DNS name servers are the critical component of how DNS works, and they help direct traffic on the internet. 

There are four types of name servers that make up DNS: 

  • Recursive (also known as resolver) server
  • Root name server
  • TLD name server
  • Authoritative server

How Does DNS Work?

While it only takes seconds to load a website, your query could bounce to various servers located all over the world. 

Let’s see how DNS works when you search for a URL. 

First, your computer will see if the website is cached in your system. If it’s not, the query will head to a DNS recursive server. 

DNS Recursive Server

A recursive server is usually operated by your internet service provider (ISP) or wireless carrier. If the website isn’t cached in this server (usually by another user who has visited the website), then the query heads to a root server. 

Root Name Server

The root server holds information about top-level domains (TLDs), including .com, .org, and .net. There are only 13 sets of root servers in the world, and they are operated by organizations like NASA and companies like Verisign

Once the request goes to the root server, it will respond with the TLD name server. 

TLD Name Server

Once your query knows which name server to go to, it will visit a TLD name server for the information in the second-level domain (the “Bluehost” in Bluehost.com). 

The .com server will tell the request where to go to find the IP address for the website you want to reach. It will point to the authoritative server, the final step in the journey. 

Authoritative Server

The authoritative server houses the website’s IP address for the full domain. Once requested, it then sends that information back to the recursive server, which sends it to your device. 

In a nutshell, your query goes back and forth between multiple servers until it has located all the information it needs to get you to that website. 

While elaborate, this process takes only a few seconds. 

What Is DNS Cache?

If there’s a website you frequent, it isn’t necessary to locate the IP address every time. DNS caching will store the data locally on your computer, or it can also be cached on the ISP’s servers. 

Before it locates the IP address, your computer will check if the information is already cached. If your computer already has the data, then it doesn’t have to access a DNS server to resolve the query. 

If you have trouble accessing a website or application, you can clear your DNS cache to remove outdated information. It can also be necessary to clear dns cache data for security and privacy reasons. 

DNS Types 

Learning how DNS works is one part of the puzzle. You also need to understand the multiple DNS types that name servers store. 

DNS record types are more than just home page URLs. Multiple DNS types are useful, like setting canonical URLs or pointing a mail server to your website. 

The most common DNS types are: 

  • A records, or Address Records, link your domain name to an IP address. This is the main DNS type. 
  • MX records, or Mail Exchanger, set a mail server for your domain name. So, when someone sends you an email @yourdomainname.com, it tells DNS where your mail is hosted.  
  • TXT records, or TXT, are commonly used for verification and security. They include Sender Policy Framework (SPF) records and Domain Key Identified Mail (DKIM) records. A TXT record helps identify your website as a trusted source for email systems. 
  • CNAME records, or Canonical Name, point one domain name to another. This is used for variations of your website. If you’ve ever typed amazong.com and ended up at amazon.com, you can thank CNAME records. 
  • NS records, or Name Server records, tell you the specific authoritative name server for your domain. It points to the server which houses your IP address. 

Why DNS Matters for Your Website

Understanding how DNS works is a fundamental skill you should learn when you set up and host your website. You’ll also need to manage your DNS types for other services. 

There are a few instances when you’ll need to change your name server for your domain, including:

  • If you buy your domain name from a different website and need to point to the host website. 
  • If you want to move to a new host provider.
  • If you want your own private name server.

When you find a better hosting deal, you might want to move your website to that platform. To do that, you need to do a name server lookup and point your domain name over to a new name server. The good news is it’s a simple process. 

Overall, setting up your DNS records helps users find and access your website smoothly. 

Security Concerns With DNS

DNS is a vital part of the internet, yet it is frequently overlooked, which makes it prone to security attacks. Some examples include: 

  • DNS reflection and amplification attacks can flood the DNS system and interrupt regular traffic from reaching an organization. 
  • Typosquatting is when hackers register domain names similar to another website and phish for data from users.
  • DNS cache poisoning diverts user traffic to malicious websites and servers, where users might divulge passwords or other personal information. 

Be aware of these threats and protect your website to safeguard it from any breaches. 

DNS eliminates the need for people to remember long strings of numbers to identify their favorite sites. For more than three decades, DNS has kept the internet running by getting people where they need to go. 

Now that you know how DNS works, you need to ensure that your DNS records are properly set up to guide people to your website. If you learn how DNS works, you can also help prevent any suspicious behavior from harming your website. 

You’ll provide a smooth experience for users if you review the various DNS types and ensure everything points to the correct location.

Are you looking for a place to host your new website? Check out Bluehost’s competitive hosting packages today.

Desiree Johnson
Desiree Johnson | Content Specialist
Desiree Johnson is a Content Specialist at Bluehost where she writes helpful guides and articles, teaches webinars and assists with other marketing and WordPress community work.

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