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DNS Explained – DNS Record Types and Their Uses

Sample DNS configuration and management

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I assume that you have already heard the jargon associated with a domain and web hosting, viz, DNS, Nameservers, IP address, CNAME, MX Record, etc. It’s not uncommon that you’re not yet familiar with the terms and their meanings, and hence, you face difficulties in rightly configure your domain and DNS records.

In this guide, you will learn the details of DNS records, zone files, record types, and how the records work. We will also discuss domain registrar, nameserver (NS record), and DNS lookup.

Systematically this post contains DNS management basics – records and types as follows.

What is DNS and How it Works

DNS stands for domain name system. DNS is primarily an internet service that translates alphabets (domain name) into numbers (IP address), but not limited to this single function. DNS is also a database that keeps various records associated with a domain name to help in multiple functionalities.

Primarily, the domain name system connects human beings with the browser and the servers. Websites are stored in servers that can be identified with numerical values, which is known as internet protocol (IP) address. However, we humans find it difficult to remember the complex strings of numbers, and hence, we are being served with the domain names. When we enter a domain name in the browser’s address bar, the browser translates it into an IP address associated with the website to find the web content in the specific server and to deliver for our consumption. Browsers can find the corresponding IP address for the specified domain name from the record available in the domain name system (DNS).

Besides the IP address, a domain name system contains various information associated with the domain names. This can be the record associated with the registrar of the domain, or an email account created with the domain name, or any essential information that can verify the ownership of the domain.

DNS record example and types
Sample DNS records

The two essential records a DNS contains are –

  1. The record about the registrar of a domain
  2. The nameservers of the domain

Registrar and Nameservers

A domain registrar is a corporation that is authorized to sell domain names. For example, Namecheap or BlueHost is a domain registrar. You can obtain a domain name from the registrar by paying the registration fees.

How to find domain registrar's information?
Domain Registrar’s Information from Whois Database

A domain registrar may either offer you only the domain registration services or both web hosting and domain registration services. Your domain registrar and web host don’t need to be the same company. You have the option under the ICANN (International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) regulations that you can choose any other hosting service provider to host your website other than your domain registrar. If your domain registrar and web hosting service providers are two different businesses, you require to updates the nameservers of your domain in your account at the registrar’s website so that you can manage the domain at the hosting service provider’s website. You’ll get the nameservers from your hosting service provider.

Nameservers play an important role in both domain registration and web hosting.

You may wonder what is a nameserver?

How to find nameserver information?
Nameservers Information with corresponding IP addresses

A domain nameserver is a network service that keeps the information about the domain name and the corresponding IP address. In other words, a nameserver points a domain name to the server of a website. Hence, it plays the most crucial function in helping the browsers to find the content of the specific website from the particular server.

Most of the hosting service providers will provide you with a set of a minimum of two nameservers, namely, primary and secondary nameservers. However, you can manage more nameservers in the category of secondary nameservers, such as secondary1, secondary2, secondary3, etc.

If your domain registrar and hosting service providers are two different companies, you need to first ask for the required nameservers from the hosting service provider and then to update the nameservers by putting the values in the specified box in your account at the registrar’s site. After updating the same, you can use the domain for the intended website.

There may be some other situations where you want to transfer your domain to another registrar. In such a case, you will also need to update both the nameservers and A records.

I love to recommend to purchase the domain from a registrar where you can also host your website. You also may have some other benefits. 

DNS Records, Types and Uses

Depending upon the usability of a domain (as the owner of the domain determines), there can be numerous records in a DNS. The prominent are –

A Record

In DNS record files, ‘A’ stands for an address that corresponds to a domain name to IP address (in IPv4). In other words, an A record helps in finding the server where the website at a specific domain name is hosted. It is the simplest and first primary record in a DNS file.

You can use multiple A records for a single domain to provide redundancy. Multiple names can point to a single IP address in the cases where an IP address has many ‘A records’. Such a case inform about many subdomains.

EXample of 'A' record in a DNS
Sample A record

CNAME Record

CNAME stands for Canonical Name that can be used in a DNS file to alias one name to another. For example, when you have both example.com and www.examle.com pointing to the same website hosted in the server, you need to create A record for example.com pointing to the server IP address, and CNAME record for www.example.com pointing to example.com. This will be resulted in pointing example.com to the server IP address, and www.example.com to the same IP address via example.com. When the IP address is needed to be changed, you only require to update it by editing the A record for examle.com. The www.example.com will automatically inherit the changes..

Examples of CNAME records in a DNS
Sample CNAME records

NS Record

An NS record stands for the nameserver record in a DNS. It specifies the actual server that contains all DNS records for the specific domain. NS records play important role in establishing a relation between a domain and the server where the website pointing to the domain is hosted.

A domain can have multiple NS records that can specify primary and backup (secondary) nameservers. The primary nameserver can be only one while there can be several backups.

Since the NS records are directly controlled by the server, you can not edit the NS records for your domain in the DNS panel. It only can be updated while you are migrating from one web server to another. The following are examples of NS records in a DNS zone. While the first indicates the primary nameserver, the second is for the secondary nameserver.

Examples of NS records in a DNS
Sample NS Recoird

SOA Record

An SOA record stands for the start of the authority record. It stores information in a DNS zone about the zone itself and about other DNS records. It contains data to control a zone transfer. The information stored in an SOA record includes –

  • The name of the servers that supply data for the zone
  • The information about the administrator of the zone
  • The current version of the data file
  • The time-to-live (TTL) records including
    • The default number of seconds for the TTL files on resource records
    • The number of seconds a secondary name server should wait before checking for updates
    • The number of seconds a secondary name server should wait before retrying a failed zone transfer
    • The maximum number of seconds that a secondary name server can use data before it must either be expired or refreshed
Example of SOA record in a zone file of DNS
A sample of SOA record

You may wonder what is a zone? A DNS zone is a distinguished part of a domain for which each individual DNS record is responsible. A DNS can be partitioned into many zones with delegated administrative right.

MX Record

An MX record in the DNS zone file stands for mail exchange record that is required to configure email account with a domain. This record specifies the mail servers that are responsible for sending and accepting emails on behalf of a domain.

Example of MX records in DNS admin panel
Sample MX Records

In order to point ranges of mail servers for load balancing, there can be multiple MX records in a DNS.

TXT Record

In a DNS zone, a TXT record stands for text record that is arbitrary text associated with a host or other names. TXT records generally comprise human-readable information about a server, data center, or network. It is normally used to verify the ownership of a domain for different purposes. It is also used to record a few machine-readable information into the DNS.

The TXT records can help you in third party services integration to your domain. All these records fall under secondary records in a DNS zone. In no case, a TXT record can affect basic domain configuration. Those are just additional records that you need tp put in your DNS zone for various purposes. The following are examples of TXT records.

Examples of TXT records in a DNS
Sample TXT records

Next Steps

I believe that you are now fully familiar with the terms associated with a domain name system. You can understand the meaning of the most essential DNS records as well as you can specify their functions in relation to a domain, server, website, and third party services. However, you need to know where to and how to configure these records so that you can seamlessly manage your domain, hosting, and associated requirements. Just visit the second part of this guide.

19 Responses

  1. Md Kabir Khan says:

    I frequently visit your blog to find all required stuff. Starting from digital marketing to web technology, you make it easy to learn things.
    The present post is equally excellent. After reading this, I found that learning many things about domains and web hosting isn’t difficult.

  2. Ritiya Singh says:

    Hi,
    At first, I would like to thank you for this crystal clear post on DNS records.
    I just want to know whether it is possible to examine the DNS records for a domain without log in to the authorized domain management account.

    • Prabash Sahoo says:

      Hi Ritiya,
      It’s my pleasure to know that you found the guide comprehensive.
      As your query is concerned, you can view the DNS records for your domain on public databases like Who.is or Dig Web Interface. However, you can manage your DNS through your account at your hosting service provider or domain registrar.

  3. Meera Agarwal says:

    This one is not only helpful to the learners of wen technology, but also simultaneously helpful for digital markets. Without adequate knowledge of website and web hosting, it will difficult to perform digital marketing. It is specially applicable for SEO. Being an SEO professional, your series of writings are useful for me in learning and discovering.

    • Prabash Sahoo says:

      Hi Meera,
      Thanks to letting me know that my post is helpful to you. In fact, this post is for both types of learners – those who are learning web hosting and those who are learning digital marketing. You are right that SEO professionals have to learn many things that comes under basic web technology.

  4. Peter Francis says:

    I think, you should talk on more DNS record types. My domain contains more records that I can’t understand. Can you help me?

    • Prabash Sahoo says:

      Hi Peter,
      Thank you for the suggestion.
      This post is all about basic records. In my next post, I’ll focus of secondary, complex and alternate records in DNS zone files.

  5. Neera Yadav says:

    Well informative and well readable post in simple language. One of the best resource for beginners of web hosting.

    • Prabash Sahoo says:

      Hi Neera,
      thanks for acknowledging me that my language and presentation is well acceptable. I’m glad to know that my post is helpful to you. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Ratikant Shivaji says:

    All required information altogether. But, I am still wondering to know DS record and AAAA record. You haven’t mentioned these two in the post.

    • Prabash Sahoo says:

      Thanks for your comment.
      Yes, I’ve not mentioned about all DNS record in this part of a series of post on DNS management. Since this part is basic one, I just explained the basic DNS structure and records. However, you can find other records in the parts of the series where required. I request you to go through the complete series. I’m just responding your specific query briefly, as follow –
      AAAA record is the alternative of A record in IPv6. A record is used in IPv4.
      DS stands for Delegation signer. This record is used to identify the DNSSEC signing key of a delegated zone.

  7. Rajaneesh Prasad Sinha says:

    Thanks for posting on DNS management in simple English. It’s helpful in understanding the jargon associated with a domain. I am also going to subscribe your RSS feeds.

    • Prabash Sahoo says:

      Hi Rajneesh,
      I’m glad to know that I could help you in learning the terms in DNS management. I assure you to help in getting more through RSS feeds. You may also subscribe the newsletter offered by this site.

  8. Niharika Roy says:

    Nice post. Highly informative and useful. However, I think, you left some information. You might include other DNS records like SPT record also. Overall, it’s a very good learning series for the beginners of web technology and relevant fields.

    • Prabash Sahoo says:

      Hi Niharika,
      Perhaps there is a typographical error where you mentioned SPT record. To my knowledge, there is no such record in a DNS. Chances are there that it can be SPF that stands for Sender Policy Framework. In a DNS zone, SPF can be configured through a TXT record. Please review your comment and let me know.

  9. Yatish A says:

    I was just wondering what do the DNS records means. Googled and found a couple of pages describing the terms. Visited few, but I couldn’t understand anything. This was my final attempt to grab the meaning from your blog and I found what I was Gooogling for. Thanks a lot.

  10. Niranjan Patra says:

    Hi,
    Thanks for writing a simple post for beginners on DNS records and type. It’s very clear and comprehensive. The screenshots are helpful to understand. Being a learner of web technology at basic level, I’m personally benefited from the post and included illustration. However, may I request you to write on ‘how to manage and configure DNS’ with step by step guide?
    Best Regards,
    Niranjan Patra

    • Prabash Sahoo says:

      Hi Niranjan,
      Thank you for letting me know how the post is helpful for you. I also appreciate you for asking me to write for the advanced learners. I assure within a week, you will find the next post as you desire. However, never forget to subscribe so that you can be notified in your inbox when a new post appears.

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