DNS for Dummies

Written by
Jason Rasnake

Have you ever heard the term DNS? Most people have not, even though it is technically the most important piece to keeping your website and email online and active. DNS stands for Domain Name System. Think of your DNS as a traffic cop of the internet. It is pointing traffic in the direction it needs to be going in order to keep things streamlined.

Think of it this way, the DNS (traffic cop) has two hands. One is pointing emails to your email IP address and the other hand is pointing website viewers to your website IP address. Now, there is a lot more to it than this but this is a good start to learn.

Most people only care about the fact that their website and their email are working. If not, they call their web person or their IT person and have them get to fixing it. It is still good to know some basics about what your “ web/IT person” is doing, so I have added some terms as well as some brief explanations below.

Let’s start with an IP address, what is an IP address?

An IP address is the destination where your website or email files are located. IP stands for Internet Protocol and is the method or protocol by which data is sent from one computer to another on the Internet.

Where is my DNS located?

Your DNS can be hosted with any domain name registrar (namecheap, godaddy, etc) but can also be pointed through your nameservers to another host.

I get the traffic cop thing, but what is it really?

Your DNS is a series of records (arms pointing traffic). Each record tells the DNS server which IP address each domaine is associated with as well as how to handle other requests sent to that domain. Below is a list of records housed in your DNS as well as what they are in charge of.

“A” Record – The “A” stands for Address. This points a logical domain name to the IP address of Google’s hosting server. This is typically for websites.

“MX” Record – The “MX” stands for Mail Exchange. This is the record that directs traffic to your email hosting IP address. This is obviously for email.

“CNAME” Record – The C stands for Canonical. This record maps a subdomain (www) or mail to the domain hosting that subdomain’s content.

“TXT” Record – This is short for text Record. I know, it is only saving you 1 letter but it does look fancier. LOL! 🙂 A TXT Record is a type of resource record in the DNS. It is used to provide the ability to associate arbitrary text with a host or other name.

“PTR” Record – The P stands for Pointer. This is the opposite of an A Record and is often called a reverse DNS record. These are used to map a network interface to a host name.

“NS” Record – It is used to delegate a subdomain to a set of name servers

Are you confused yet? I know this blog only touches on each of these records but hopefully it is a start. After all, if I continued these explanations any further, I may put some of you to sleep. DNS can be a very confusing thing that most people will never have to work with but if you do, at least you can now “name drop” some terms to your IT or web person.

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