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DNS Servers, Roles and Functions

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The internet is a confusing web of connections, protocols, servers, service providers, and more. There are a lot of interconnecting forces at work that help your browser provide the content you expect. Domain Name Services, or DNS, is a large part of what helps this remain consistent. This guide aims to help you in understanding DNS Roles and Function.

Domain Name Services

The internet is a network of connected computers either publicly available or within a private, internal network. These computers and resources are all assigned an IP Address. For instance, Google’s Home Page is hosted on one of many different IP Addresses. How does your browser know, then, to go to those IP Addresses when all you give it is a domain name? That is where DNS comes into play. DNS associates a domain name to a place to find content for that domain.

The Roles of DNS

When you want to call someone, you typically load up your contact list, tap their name and hit call. You know that behind the scenes, this associates a phone number with the contact, and your cellular connection initiates a phone call. DNS is your internet phonebook. It lets you tell your browser to go fetch a domain name and automatically know the physical IP Address, without you ever having to do more than hit the enter key and wait. Make sense? I hope so. Let’s talk about how it works.

DNS Function

DNS relies on two major parts: a Nameserver and the DNS Records. The purpose of a nameserver is explicitly to store information on how to find the DNS Records. When your browser makes its request for a domain, the Nameserver it uses provides a location to find details about the DNS Records. Without too much detail, a DNS Record is what actually converts a URL into an IP Address.

Let’s take a look at the below example. You enter google.com into your browser. Your browser reaches out to the root nameservers for any .com domain names from Verisign (the root) and finds the nameserver for Google.com. That nameserver is ns1.google.com. Now, that nameserver points you to the DNS Manager for the domain, google.com. Upon checking, the DNS Manager provides 172.217.9.238 as the DNS Record for google.com. Your browser then lands at the above IP Address showing google.com’s site content.

Diagram of DNS Function, and the roles each part takes.
A visual example of the DNS Process

It can be a bit overwhelming, as it is a lot of information. Even this is a fairly simple showcase of how DNS works. The most important take away here is the role of DNS is an extremely important aspect of ensuring the proper functions of a website.

DNS At Hostwinds

Hostwinds offers options to manage DNS Records for domains that are purchased here or need to be managed in your Hostwinds Cloud Portal to point to your server. The Nameservers we provide with your service control where your DNS Records are managed. Let’s provide a couple of example scenarios:

Shared Web Hosting DNS

Within our Shared Web hosting plans, your DNS Records are managed by your cPanel account. To allow the cPanel account the ability to control your DNS, our Shared web hosting plans are provided specific URLs to use as Nameservers. They will look something like this:

These would be the nameservers you provide to your registrar, or, the location in which you last paid for your domain. Once your domain is using these nameservers, your cPanel account takes control of the DNS Records. You would edit them using the DNS Zone Editor within cPanel.

Cloud VPS Hosting DNS

The Cloud VPS hosting options provided at Hostwinds does not offer a default DNS manager. Not all clients need this. As such, Hostwinds provides an external tool within the Cloud Control portal. The Cloud DNS Manager acts as your DNS Records manager. Nameservers that point to the Cloud DNS Manager look like this:

You would use these if you do not have a service or software running on your VPS that manages DNS records. Adding DNS Records to the Cloud DNS Manager is a separate step, and must be done manually in this case.

Private Nameservers

Whenever a nameserver is required, there is an option to create your own URL with a domain you own. For instance, if you own the domain example.com, you could create ns1.example.com and ns2.example.com. For domains purchased at Hostwinds, follow our Private Nameserver Creation guide. Otherwise, take a look at our other guides that feature other common registrars.

DNS Wrap Up

Understanding DNS Roles and Function is a difficult concept to grasp. Here at Hostwinds, our goal is to ensure you get the help you need. Don’t forget that we are available 24/7/365 via Chat, Phone and through our Technical Support tickets, so if you have further questions, reach out!

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