Guest Post: DNS Explained


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The following post is a guest post that I think many people will learn something new from. Its by my friends at Hosting Observer which is a site that compare and rates different web host and their plans.

What’s in a domain name? That which we call a site by any other name wouldn’t smell as sweet. Just imagine the state of the World Wide Web if there is no process being followed to organize and monitor computers and websites around the world. It’s a good thing that there exists a process called Domain Name System or DNS. In its simplest form, DNS refers to the structured way of naming and locating computers and any other system or network on the web. It also enables mail hosting to send and receive electronic mails. Every computer has its own Internet Protocol or IP address that is used to easily locate the computer from any point of the world. It consists of a series of numbers separated by dots.

No matter how much information a brain can hold, it just isn’t easy to remember something like 174.120.170.130. Since IP addresses are composed of numbers, you will find it difficult to know which IP address is associated with a particular website. It will be a dilemma to keep a list of IP addresses for all your favorite sites. With the Domain Name System, people use domain names instead of IP addresses. A domain name is a part of the URL consisting of a group of letters, numbers and/or a combination of both. Instead of typing in a string of numbers every time you want to visit a site, you just need to use its domain name i.e. www.teendomainer.com. Words that tell something about the website are definitely way easier to remember than a series of numbers.

Universal Resolvability

IP addresses are like contact numbers. No two IP addresses are the same, and each can be accessed by anyone located anywhere as long as there is an Internet connection. Similarly, no two websites have exactly the same domain name. The uniqueness of an IP address ensures that it will point only to its corresponding site regardless of the location of the one who sent the request. This is called universal resolvability, making sure that each IP address is both exclusive and unique. Anyone can access it, and it does not matter where the computer, system or server is.

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers or ICANN

ICANN is the global coordinating body that is responsible for managing the DNS. It keeps track of all IP addresses and makes sure that they point to their corresponding domain names. ICANN ensures that universal resolvability is practiced to maintain order in the system. Aside from monitoring IP addresses and the associated domain names, ICANN is also responsible for allocating space for IP addresses, and managing top level domains (both generic and country-specific), as well as functions of root server system. As with all other organizations, ICANN will not realize its goals without the support and cooperation of countries around the world. The participation of every continent is essential for the achievement of ICANN’s mission to protect and preserve the integrity and stability of the Domain Name System and the worldwide Internet community as a whole.

In the URL example: http://www.teendomainer.com, teendomainer is the domain name, and .com is the top level domain or TLD. Information about domain names with .com or any other TLD such as .net as well as the location of a particular IP address can be found in an online database called TLD registry. If you want to reach teendomainer.com, the computer will first look for it in the .com registry.

The Domain Name System uses 13 root servers located at different parts of the world. These servers hold information such as IP addresses in TLD registries, both global or generic and country-specific. Workload is divided among these servers, while acting as backup for each other. The information must be unique and accurate. Otherwise, locating the domain names will not be possible.

Domain Name Resolvers or DNRs

Resolvers or DNRs store information from the users’ requests to the DNS root servers and are responsible for directing a user’s query to the appropriate website. DNRs are necessary because unlike root servers, these can handle a large number of requests on a daily basis. Located with Internet Service Providers or ISPs and organizational networks, these are responsible for finding the IP address and directing the query to the corresponding website. When a user needs to visit a site, his request in the form of a domain name will be received by the DNR which will look for the IP address at the right TLD registry. The user will then be directed to the website that he requested.

From a User’s Query to the right Website

Let’s take a look at what happens after a user types in the domain name (request) in the browser. It will be received by a DNS resolver. The first step is to look at the TLD registry. The right TLD registry will be identified as well as the IP address and the corresponding website. This shows the importance of universal resolvability. One IP address is associated with only one domain name or website.

When it comes to domain registration, what matters is that you are able to register a catchy and memorable domain name with your desired TLD. You need to register it immediately so no one will be able to use your chosen domain name. If you are on a budget, opt for cheap web hosting plans that offer a free domain package. It does not really matter if you choose the cheapest domain host or the most expensive service available. What counts is that you brand your web space well.

Most people may not even bother knowing what ICANN is or the process involved after the Internet user types in the domain name of the site that he wants to see. Knowing how DNS works and the roles of ICANN and resolvers will help us understand and appreciate the importance of domain names and the role they play in bringing quick and predictable results to every user request.

I hope you enjoyed and learned something new from reading, if anyone reading this has something they would like to write about please contact me using the contact button up top.

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Comments

One Response to “Guest Post: DNS Explained”

  1. Mike Sullivan
    November 8th, 2010 @ 8:06 pm

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    Brian, informative guest post. Thanks.

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