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An Explanation of Domain Name System (DNS)

How does DNS work and why is it such an integral part of all things Internet? Well, when you type a domain name into your browser’s address bar, your Internet service provider’s domain name server translates that domain into an IP address by looking at the website’s domain records. With the resulting IP address, your browser can locate the requested website.

Hello Operator

Let’s take a quick look at how your browser ends up at the requested website. It can help if we imagine that the domain name server is a 411 operator from whom our computer is requesting information. Let’s make like the NSA and listen in on their conversation.

Operator (domain name system): 411. How may I help you?

Caller (your computer): I can’t remember the name of the drunken fool helping Sansa Stark in this week’s Game of Thrones episode, so I’m trying to connect to Game of Thrones Helper at you-know-nothing.com. Can you tell me where that website is located?

Operator: Sure. One moment while I look that up. Ah, here we go. According to the domain record, you-know-nothing.com can be found at

Caller: Thanks!

Now armed with the IP address, our computer can connect to the web server hosting you-know-nothing.com, and we can begin browsing the site.

DNS Records in Brief

There are many different kinds of specific DNS entries that can make up a domain record. Here is a brief list of the some common entries:

Address records (A) – A records translate domain names into IP addresses so your computer knows where to find the web server of the site you’re visiting.

Canonical name records (CNAME) – Canonical name records are aliases for other A records. They state that the domain name translates to the IP address of another canonical domain.

Mail exchanger records (MX) – These records define the mail server that accepts email for the domain. When you send an email, the MX record tells your email service where it needs to deliver the message.

Check out the Wikipedia entry on the Domain Name System for a much more in-depth look at DNS and/or the List of DNS record types entries for an extensive list of available record types.

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