If you are curious to learn more about DNS (Domain Name System) and why it’s vital to your brand security, you'll want to keep reading. If not, you can view the DNS Explained video below created by our sister company, DNS Made Easy.
Did you know that computers can only communicate using a series of numbers called IP addresses? The main job of DNS is to translate domain names into numerical labels computers can understand. DNS is what facilitates the internet usage we’ve grown to rely upon today. Any device that connects to the web uses DNS—without it, no one could find your website. The main function of DNS is to translate domain names into machine-readable numerical addresses and to answer internet users’ queries. This is all done via DNS servers (recursive, root, top level domain (TLD), and authoritative) that are positioned around the globe. The lookup process always starts with a recursive resolver, and then depending on what’s in a user’s browser or resolver’s cache, follows a specific sequence to receive an answer for the query. The final answer is given by the authoritative nameserver.
Before there was Google or Bing, if you didn’t have a phonebook handy (or had decided to use it for kindling), you would dial “411” and a real, live person would answer the phone: “Directory assistance, how may I help you?” You would then tell the operator the name and location of the person or business you needed a phone number for and the operator would attempt to find it. It was an imperfect system, but it worked—more or less.
Can you imagine having to do that for websites? It would be virtually impossible! This is why DNS is so important— it's essentially the operator of the 21st century.
Fast forward to present day. While telephone operators and phonebooks do still exist in some form or another, the overwhelming majority of people use the internet to search for people and businesses. Of course, with the ever-growing amount of websites (more than 6 billion of them), it’d be nearly impossible for human operators to handle this volume of traffic.
In comes DNS. At its core, DNS is the modern-day 411 operator or phonebook, but for websites. While invented in 1983 by Paul Mockapetris, it wasn’t until the 2000s that the internet, in general, started really becoming a part of our daily lives. As internet popularity grew, so did the importance of DNS. Without it, our internet experience would be nowhere near what it is today.
You probably know that DNS maps IP addresses to domain names, but do you know where the information is stored? The simple answer is nameservers. They store all DNS records that include the native file that maps a domain to an IP address. You might be asking yourself where is this magical place all these records are stored? There isn't one main location where nameservers are located. They are strategically distributed all over the globe.
TLDs are domains that include extensions like .com, .net, or .org at the end of the domain name. Every top level domain has its own set of nameservers that store information about which DNS resolver is authoritative for the DNS records of a specific domain. The authoritative nameserver is typically the DNS provider or the DNS registrar (like GoDaddy that offers both DNS registration and hosting). This is where you’ll find the DNS record that maps example.com to the IP address 127.66.122.88.
As soon as a person searches for a website from their device, a DNS query journey begins. This process starts with the recursive nameserver or service and one of 13 root servers dispersed across the world. The root servers receive the original query, but instead of answering the query directly, they will reply with what they know or refer the resolver to the appropriate top-level domain (TDL) server. The process repeats itself until eventually, the recursive nameserver receives an answer from an authoritative nameserver for the original request.