If you’ve moved your hosting site from one web host to another, you will have had to update your DNS records. Now, the process itself is painless, We keep finding that many people don’t stop to consider what DNS records are, besides accepting that someone in IT support says they need changing.
So, we’ve pulled together a quick guide to help and let you know not only what DNS record are, but also the role they play and why they’re an important part of your website.
If you want to know more about web hosting, you can get in touch with us on 01904 217400, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org where one of our web-experts will be more than happy to help, including answering an DNS questions you might have – ask us nicely and we may well help you through any DNS changes you need.
So what Does DNS actually mean?
DNS stands for Domain Name System and is used to point an incoming domain towards the IP address of the server. This means, when you enter “zigzag.digital,” the DNS records look for and find the IP address of our server and serve you the site hosted there.
This set of rules basically means we can change web hosts without changing domain names. Each website on the internet has a specific IP address, and the DNS records match that IP address to the domain. This so users don’t need to remember the numeric line (something like 126.96.36.199) – which is a bit less catchy than www.YourSnazzyDomain.com.
DNS records keep information about every single website on the internet.
You can’t get around it, unlike some other areas of web hosting and whilst you may never update your own DNS records, they still exist regardless.
Migration is an integral part of DNS records. Updating the DNS records and pointing your domain to a new nameserver is all that a web host needs for transfer, minus a little bit of propagation time.
Clear as mud? Okay let’s try to make sense of some of the jargon.
What is a Nameserver?
A nameserver is a simple thing. It’s basically a server inside a data center with some DNS software installed on it.
It’s designed to manage the records of all domains hosted by the company. Nameservers and DNS servers are often interchangeable terms but mean the same thing, so don’t get too confused if your provider uses different terminology.
A host installs DNS software on each server. This is as a means to transfer the data from the DNS records. Basically, the server is like any other in the data center, but the software installed on it is what makes it a “nameserver.” – It’s really just another box.
Each web host has a set of nameservers which are purpose-built for routing data. Two servers may handle domains with shared plans, and another route WordPress traffic, for example. Another way of putting it would be to say a nameservier is like the post office of a data centre. All the in mail arrives and is rerouted to the correct destination. In this way the DNS records are the address book showing who the data needs to go to.
DNS, Nameservers and you
Tying the name server and the DNS records together is what allows your website to show online. A typical process would start by you purchasing a domain name from a registrar such as 123-reg. Once you own the domain, your host must store its information within the DNS records to serve it up when the domain is entered.
This is a relatively easy process. All you need to do is say which nameserver your domain should point to.
A user enters your domain name which in turn triggers the DNS records to look up the IP address and then sends data from the server back to them. Easy.
You can find DNS settings in the control panel of your domain registrar. Most web hosts will give you their nameserver addresses when you sign up, but a quick call to support can clear up any confusion if you can’t find it.
Nearly all domain registrars require a primary and alternate nameserver in the event one goes offline. So for example, shared plans at 34sp.com have the nameservers “ns1.34sp.com” and “ns2.34sp.com”.
Each web host organizes this a little differently, so make sure you consult your provider.
Types of DNS records
There are different types of DNS records you can modify at your domain registrar. Typically, all you need to do is update the nameserver, but knowing the different types of records can help if you need to change something down the line.
An A record is what points your domain to an IP address. It stands for address record and is the purest form of DNS.
It allows users to type in an easily recognizable domain and still get pointed to the IP address.
CNAME, or canonical name, redirects one domain to another, allowing you to only update one A record each time you make a change. For example, the CNAME record allows “zigzag.digital” to fetch up “www.zigzag.digital” with the “www” in front.
A mail exchanger entry directs email to a different server despite being a subdomain. Essentially, it specifies how email should be routed when sent to an address at your domain.
This is a bit of a catch-all record, not intended to direct any traffic, but instead to provide information to external sources. It serves several different purposes depending on your needs.
This record is the same as an A record, but allows you to point a domain to an IPv6 address instead of an IPv4 one.
Don’t worry if all of this seems totally confusing. Routing data is complex, and these descriptions barely scratch the surface. In most cases, you’ll never need to touch these records and, if you do, most support can handle it for you. So arm yourself with the knowledge, then get a specialist to do the heavy lifting.
Web hosting can go wrong, and is quite complex. Automating computers to route and reroute millions of requests within fractions of a second requires some seriously clever engineering. Even so, we hope that this broad look at DNS records helped clear some confusion.