It’s crucial that the Domain Name System (DNS) and web hosting plays nicely together, but it’s a relationship that a lot of website owners don’t understand. Let’s start with what exactly DNS is: It’s basically the technology that lets you type in www.example.com into a browser to get to that example website. By typing in that URL, you’re submitting a request. Your browser (whether it’s Chrome, IE, Firefox, etc.) then sends your request to your local DNS server. Usually, your internet service provider (ISP) manages your DNS.
Next, your ISP queries a bunch of other DNS servers in order to find what you’re requesting. Once the right server is identified—whichever one contains www.example.com– you’re connected. It’s actually a rather complex system that takes less than the blink of an eye for you to enjoy. Think of DNS like a phone book. It’s full of a bunch of records and has information on the “location” of websites. It turns data that you can read (like the information on www.example.com) into data that computers can “read” like IP addresses.
What’s in a Name?
You may think of domain names as important for marketing, branding and search engine optimization, but they’re so much more than that. Managed by companies and/or registrars, they’re hot ticket items that can come up for sale. When a domain is bought or registered, it’s recorded in a database which is dictated by the extension. For instance, .com, .edu, .ca and other extensions are all managed by different organizations. This registration stops accidental “doubles” from occurring so there’s a unique URL for every website.
Interestingly enough, when DNS looks up a domain name, it searches in reverse. For example, it would search the .com part of www.example.com first. This is known as a “recursive lookup” by the Top Level Domain (TLD) Name server. This server then reports which Authoritative Name Server (NS). Has the domain name records. Ultimately, the NS record connected to a particular domain name says which authoritative name server has the host file. In the host file, there’s a list of all the records connected to a domain name—IP addresses, subdomains, etc. are all held here.
What Does This Mean for Me?
Unless you’re planning to start your own web hosting company, you probably won’t need to delve any deeper than this. However, web hosts will probably need to update records within this system like MX, NS, CNAME or A records. Getting these records “right” is incredibly important, but not something website owners need to deal with. For example, a web host might need to change an authoritative name server in order to point it towards a new host file, which has to be done at the registrar.
If you’re a website owner and need to make any such changes, a good web host should be able to take care of everything for you. After all, that’s their job. If they know what they’re doing, it’s quick, easy and you’ll be back in action immediately.