The Domain Name System (DNS) Server is a server that is specifically used for matching website hostnames (like example.com)to their corresponding Internet Protocol or IP addresses. The DNS server contains a database of public IP addresses and their corresponding domain names.  Every device connected to the internet has a unique IP address that helps to identify it, according to the IPv4 or IPV6 protocols. The same goes for web servers that host websites. For example, the IP address of one CDNetworks server located in Mountain View, California is 157.185.170.144. 

DNS servers help us avoid memorization of such long numbers in IP addresses (and even more complex alphanumeric ones in the IPV6 system) as they automatically translate the website names we enter into the browser address bar into these numbers so that the servers can load the right web pages.

What is a DNS server?

A Domain Name System (DNS) server is a fundamental part of the backbone of the internet. If without it, it would be impossible to use a web browser to find websites.

You can think of the DNS server as a phone book. When you ask your computer to load a website, the DNS server matches the website’s name with the right IP address. This lets your computer find and load it properly.

dns server

What is the purpose?

The purpose of a DNS server is to translate what a user types into their browser into something a computer can understand and use to locate a website. In other words, its purpose is to convert a domain name such as www.example.com into an IP address such as 71.232.101.120.

Thanks to DNS servers, people don’t have to memorize complex IP addresses like 216.58.217.206, which is Google’s IP address. They just have to memorize www.google.com.

This translation process — formally known as DNS resolution — requires multiple hardware components. The most important is known as the primary DNS server.

How does it work?

The process of DNS resolution involves converting a hostname (such as www.example.com) into a computer-friendly IP address (such as 192.168.1.1). An IP address is given to each device on the Internet, and that address is necessary to find the appropriate Internet device – like a street address is used to find a particular home. When a user wants to load a webpage, a translation must occur between what a user types into their web browser (example.com). And the machine-friendly address necessary to locate the example.com webpage.

In order to understand the process behind the DNS resolution, it’s important to learn about the different hardware components a DNS query must pass between. For the web browser, the DNS lookup occurs “behind the scenes” and requires no interaction from the user’s computer apart from the initial request.

The Different Types of DNS Server

Once a DNS query is entered, it passes through a few different servers before resolution, without any end-user interaction.

DNS recursor

This is a server designed specifically to receive queries from client machines. It tracks down the DNS record and makes additional requests to meet the DNS queries from the client. The number of requests can be decreased with DNS caching when the requested resources are returned to the recursor early on in the lookup process.

Root name server

This server does the job of translating the human-friendly hostnames into computer-friendly IP addresses. The root server accepts the recursor’s query and sends it to the TLD nameservers in the next stage, depending on the domain name seen in the query.

dns server

Top-Level Domain (TLD) nameserver

The TLD nameservers are responsible for maintaining the information about the domain names. For example, they could contain information about websites ending in “.com” or “.org” or country-level domains like “www.example.com.uk”, “www.example.com.us”, and others. The TLD nameserver will take the query from the root server and point it to the authoritative DNS nameserver associated with the query’s particular domain.

Authoritative nameserver

In the last step, the authoritative DNS nameserver will return the IP address back to the DNS recursor that can relay it to the client. This authoritative DNS nameserver is the one at the bottom of the lookup process that holds the DNS records. Think of these as the last stop or the final authoritative source of truth in the process.

Getting the Best of Your DNS Server

A DNS server allows you to communicate with your computer so you can visit different places on the web. It’s important to understand how to troubleshoot DNS server errors and what your best service options are so you get the fastest and most reliable web browsing experiences.