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What Are DNS Records? (What You Need To Know)

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WRITTEN BY
Timothy Shim
UPDATED
February 06, 2023

When it comes to making a website, there are some things you need to know about that you can’t even see. Here – we’re talking about DNS records.

 

 

They may not be obvious, but DNS records are vital to making a website accessible on the world wide web. Below is a quick rundown on DNS records and how they work.

 

What is DNS and How Does it Work?

 

DNS lookup sequence

Example of how the DNS lookup sequence works with Cloudflare servers. (Source: Cloudflare)

 

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a means of translating domain names to numerical IP addresses. IP addresses are the only way that we can accurately identify unique devices on a network. However, addresses contain a string of numbers and aren’t human-friendly.

 

It plays a vital role in balancing usability and functionality, allowing machines to get the necessary IP addresses we input as domain names. Several types of servers work together to operate the DNS.

 

Here’s a simplified version of the process;

 

  1. A user enters a domain name in their web browser.
  2.  

  3. The web browser sends a request to a Recursive DNS server (also known as DNS Recursive Resolver).
  4.  

  5. The Recursive DNS server queries a DNS root nameserver.
  6.  

  7. The DNS root nameserver replies with the correct Top Level Domain (TLD) DNS server.
  8.  

  9. The resolver sends the query to the TLD server.
  10.  

  11. TLD server replies with the correct IP address that matches the domain name.
  12.  

  13. The Recursive DNS server sends the query to the domain’s nameserver.
  14.  

  15. The DNS resolver provides the web browser with the IP address.
  16.  

  17. With the IP address, the web browser can then communicate directly with the web pages on that domain.

 

While the DNS system is vital in web hosting, it’s not an entirely good thing on an individual level. They allow our devices to get tracked online, thereby decreasing Internet privacy. The only way around this is to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) or proxy server.

 

 

What are DNS Records?

 

Records kept on DNS servers are called DNS records. The stored information includes the association between IP addresses and domain names and how the server should handle any requests for information.

 

Think of the information as the contents of a massive phone directory. Every entry matches a name to a contact number. That’s the exact association we can make for DNS records.

 

 

What are the Most Common Types of DNS Records?

 

types of DNS records

Quick lookup chart for DNS record types. (Source: Constellix)

 

There are many types of DNS records, each serving a specific purpose. Most website owners won’t need to use all of them. It’s possible to operate a website with just an A Record, CNAME Record, and NS Record.

 

While the best domain registrars will give more specific information, here are some of the most commonly used types of DNS records;

 

1. A Records

 

The “A Record” is an essential DNS record. It matches IP addresses to the corresponding domain name. Without this record, it is impossible to reach a website using its domain name. An A Record will hold a few values, but the ones you need to define are the domain name and value.

 

Here’s an example of what an A Record should look like;

 

Name Record Type Value/Content TTL
@ (indicates root domain) A (This should be
an IP address)
Leave this on Auto

 

We only use A Records for IPv4 addresses. If you host a website on an IPv6 address, you need to use an AAAA Record instead.

 

2. CNAME Records

 

The “CNAME Record” helps forward requests made to domain aliases to the primary domain name. They do not contain IP address information but help resolve things like subdomains. For example, you can use CNAME to forward requests for blog.yourwebsite.com to yourwebsite.com.

 

Because of this, you must create one CNAME Record for each subdomain you wish to manage under your primary domain name.

 

Here’s an example of what a CNAME Record should look like;

 

Name Record Type Value/Content TTL
blog CNAME yourwebsite.com Leave this on Auto

 

3. TXT Records

 

“TXT Records” are simple to understand. They allow administrators to leave notes in the DNS system. Nowadays, they can include machine instructions, but the primary use remains a means of annotation.

 

Here’s an example of what a TXT Record should look like;

 

Name Record Type Value/Content TTL
@ (indicates root domain) TXT Leave your
message here
Leave this on Auto

 

4. NS Records

 

The “NS Record” associates a domain name with its nameservers. These records are another vital element in making your website accessible to the public. Most domains use multiple nameservers in case of a service outage. You must define each nameserver in an individual NS Record.

 

In some cases, service providers may give you specific nameservers to use. For example, all Cloudflare customers on their free plan must define their nameservers with “elle.ns.cloudflare.com” and “zeus.ns.cloudflare.com.”

 

Here’s an example of what an NS Record should look like;

 

Name Record Type Value/Content TTL
@ (indicates root domain) TXT ns1.samplenameserver.com Leave this on Auto

 

5. MX Records

 

An “MX Record” directs queries toward the correct email server. These are necessary to use your domain name for email hosting. MX Records typically work in pairs, with one MX Record acting as the backup in case the primary fails.

 

MX Records notably come with an additional field labeled “Priority“. This field lets you control which mail server will get the first query attempt. The lower number indicates the mail server with a higher priority.

 

Here’s an example of what an MX Record pair should look like;

 

Name Record Type Value/Content Priority
@ (indicates root domain) MX mail1.yourwebsite.com 10
@ (indicates root domain) MX mail2.yourwebsite.com 20

 

 

What is a Name Server?

 

A name server is a computer that stores domain names and their corresponding IP addresses. When you type in a domain name, the computer will look up the associated IP address and send your request to that address.

 

There are two types of name servers: authoritative and recursive.

 

  1. Authoritative
    Authoritative name servers respond to queries about files in their zone. These form “Yes” or “No” to queries about whether a domain exists and what its addresses are.
  2. Recursive
    Recursive name servers answer queries from any other part of the Internet (including those outside its zone) by forwarding them to various authoritative name servers.

 

 

Understanding DNS and Name Servers For Your Website

 

DNS setting

DNS settings are done via that location’s control panel if you’ve bought your domain name elsewhere.

 

To learn how to make a website, you must learn to use DNS. Without the correct DNS settings, your website won’t be accessible via its domain name. That’s why it’s crucial to get your DNS configuration right. Don’t panic, though. Despite the seemingly technical nature of these terms, the process is relatively simple.

 

First, you need to define your domain name’s A and CNAME records. Next, point the nameservers to your domain name. Once you’ve defined these two areas, the DNS system takes care of the rest.

 

You can find these settings on the dashboard where you got your domain name. For example, if you obtained the domain name from your web hosting provider, the settings will be available in your web hosting control panels.

 

Some web hosts may require you to have specific DNS settings for their web hosting plans. The best web hosts will guide you with their documentation, or you can get help from their support teams.

 

 

So – Now You Know About DNS Records

 

In establishing a successful website, the number of necessary components can be staggering. The record types above are just the tip of the iceberg, and they are essential to host a website that is easy to find and utilize.

 

While you don’t have to understand DNS completely, knowing how it works can go a long way when troubleshooting an inaccessible website. DNS is vital to how websites work – as essential as hosting uptime and server performance.

 

 

 

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About The Author

Timothy Shim is a former tech journalist who has turned his experience towards his business as a writer, editor and content strategist. Today, he helps businesses craft compelling messages and advises on SEO, content marketing, and social media strategy.