What Is DNS: 
A Comprehensive Guide for Complete Beginners

3 min. read
Not sure what is DNS? You're not alone. Though essential to the way the internet works, DNS is one of the most misunderstood systems on the web.

In today's internet-driven society, DNS is a crucial element that keeps everything running smoothly and seamlessly. As an online business owner, you should know how DNS works and why it's an integral part of the internet.


In this article, we'll explore the basics of DNS so you can understand how to use this complicated but essential system. Stay tuned until the end, where we discuss the top five DNS hosting providers for your business.


Let's dive in!


Brief History of DNS

When the internet first appeared, people connected to other computers using long numbers, known as IP addresses. 


However, that was a good approach when there were only a handful of IP addresses to remember. As the internet grew and more websites appeared each day, this practice became troublesome because no one could remember all those long numbers. 


So, some very clever people developed a system to attribute a domain name to each of these IP addresses, known as the Domain Name System, or DNS.


What Is DNS?

The Domain Name System Server, or DNS server, is the internet’s most fundamental system. It’s what turns web addresses like “google.com” into numbers that computers can understand, and it's what makes the entire internet work. Think of it as a translation guide for the web.


Most of us get to our favorite pages on the web by simply typing addresses like amazon.com or youtube.com. But your browser needs to know the IP address of the site you're trying to access. It sends a request to the DNS server, which acts as the internet's version of Yellow Pages, that matches a site's URL to an IP address.


How Does It Work?

We've already established that DNS is a system that converts easy-to-remember domain names like "example.com" into numbers called IP addresses, such as 192.168.1.1. This is necessary because computers can't read words – they use numbers to process data. If you want to visit a website but don't know its IP address, your computer will instead look up the IP address using a DNS server.


But how exactly does it work?


Your computer sends out a request by going through servers until it gets the answer from one of them in reply. The DNS request initially goes to a Recursive Name Server that is operated by your internet service provider. As an alternative, you can also use public servers managed by Google or other companies. 


  1. Let's say you're trying to access Slack.com. Your Recursive Name Server may have the IP address of the website you want to access. If it doesn't, it will go to one of 13 root servers that manage requests for domains like .com or .org. 

  2. Your request is then sent to the appropriate top-level domain server, which will then contact authoritative name servers that contain an authoritative list of IP addresses and matching URLs. 

  3. Once the IP address you want to access is retrieved, it's sent back to the Recursive Name Server and onto your computer. 

  4. When your computer receives the IP address, it can then start connecting to the site that you requested, in this case, Slack.com.

  5. The Recursive Name Server and your own computer will cache DNS entries for some period of time to make the process of accessing a site more efficient and faster. The next time you'd want to visit Slack.com, your computer will know the IP address of Slack right away, or it'll be able to get it directly from the Recursive Name Server.

What Are the Main Types of DNS?

There are many types of DNS servers, but the two main types are authoritative and recursive DNS. 


Authoritative DNS server: Authoritative DNS server is a critical piece of the way we use the internet. It's responsible for coordinating and directing any domain names you use. Without authoritative DNS, you would not be able to make a connection with your favorite website. Authoritative DNS servers offer stability, reliability, and security for ISPs and web hosts around the world. Suppose your organization handles email traffic (through POP3 or IMAP), web hosting, ftp traffic, or any other type of network activity. In that case, you need to configure an authoritative DNS for your domain. The authoritative DNS will help you route data to the appropriate local server.


Recursive DNS server: In many cases, clients don't make queries directly to authoritative DNS service. Instead, they connect to another type of DNS service called recursive DNS service. In short, recursive DNS servers act as an intermediary who can get the DNS information for you. It's also possible for a recursive DNS to have the DNS reference cached or stored for a certain period of time. In this case, it'll answer the DNS query by providing the source or IP information.

Why Is DNS Important?

DNS servers have made the internet incredibly easy to use for many people who lack advanced tech capabilities. Instead of typing in numerical IP addresses every time we want to surf the web, we can only type in the name of the site we want to visit, and the DNS will do the rest for us. 


Words are easier to remember than numbers and DNS servers save us a great deal of pain and time. DNS servers will become even more important when IPv6, the most recent version of the Internet Protocol (IP), becomes prevalent. The IPv6 version replaces 4 octets like 192.168.0.1 with something like fdf8:f53b:82e4::53.


What Is the Difference Between a Domain Registrar and DNS Host?

When you have a website, it's important to know the difference between a domain registrar and a DNS host. 


A domain registrar (also called a domain name registrar) is the place where you purchase your domain name and register it to an IP address. If you want to buy a domain name like "www.mywebsite.com," you will need to register it with a domain registrar. A domain registrar will also provide any necessary DNS records for the corresponding zone file to ensure that visitors can find your site. 


Generally, you don't deal with a domain registrar directly. Instead, you buy a domain name through a Web Hosting Provider. These companies do all the work for you and register your domain through the registries, all on your behalf. 


Once you've purchased your domain name, the next step is to tell it which domain name servers will be authoritative for that domain. A DNS hosting provider hosts these servers, which authoritatively respond for your domain. It's also possible for domain registrars to provide DNS hosting.

What to Look For in a DNS Hosting Provider?

A DNS hosting provider is the company that manages the domain name system for your site and makes it available to the internet. This service is essential to any website, and choosing the right one can be challenging. You may want to look at several providers before choosing one, but there are some considerations you'll need to keep in mind when looking for a provider.


Uptime and Reliability

Before deciding on a DNS hosting provider, the first thing you want to check is the provider's track record for uptime. It would be a bad move to opt for a provider that has a history of outages. Remember, every second that your site is unavailable is losing your business thousands of dollars. In addition to uptime, make sure you go with a reliable provider. This means working with a company that you know won’t let you down if or when something happens to your site

Features

Another thing to consider when choosing a DNS hosting provider is the features offered. For instance, you may need features like a secondary DNS server and intelligence traffic routine. Or, your business might benefit from features like DNS analytics and disaster recovery. Prepare a list of the features that are essential for your business and check to see whether your vendor of choice offers what you need.

Security

According to the Cisco Annual Cybersecurity Report, the number of cyber-attacks has increased by almost four times between January 2016 and October 2017. What's more, hackers are taking malware to unmatched levels of sophistication and impact.


One of the most notorious attacks today is the DDoS attack. Not only can a DDoS attack crash your website, but it can also lead to losing data and revenue. 


With that said, opt for a provider that offers security features like firewall policies, rate limiting, filtering, and blocking, all of which can help prevent DDoS and other types of cyberattacks.


Price

It's never good to overpay for something, so be sure to shop around and find the best offer available. Most DNS hosting providers offer monthly or yearly plans that range from basic to advanced. Lower-tier plans support a relatively limited number of domains or queries per second (QPS) vs. corporate plans. Enterprise plans offer wider feature sets like traffic steering, failover, more comprehensive analytics, and dedicated account support.

Support

Customer support is one of the most important aspects of any business relationship. Even if your plan offers support 24/7, it's still important to know what kind of response times you'll get.


The Best DNS Hosting Providers (Free and Paid)

Now that we explained the basics of DNS and looked at the difference between a domain registrar and a DNS host, it's time to review the top 5 free and paid DNS hosting providers.
Company Free Plan Price Website
Cloudflare Yes $20/month Visit
Wordpress.com No $1/month Visit
Dyn No $5/month Visit
Edgecast No $0.40 per million queries Visit
DNSMadeEasy Free trial $5/month Visit

Cloudflare

One of the best ways to find a reliable DNS hosting provider is to look at online reviews. And by looking at reviews, Cloudflare is the ultimate winner. With a 4.6/5 rating on G2 and 8.7/10 on TrustRadius, this vendor undoubtedly offers a top-rated service. 


There are several reasons why it's one of the most popular and best-voted vendors out there. For one, it has the highest query speed worldwide. It outperforms its competitors in terms of speed, even the premium DNS hosting providers. 


What's more, it comes with great security features, such as blocking, filtering, and rate-limiting. The free plan is ideal for people with personal or hobby projects that aren't business-critical. The Pro plan starts at $20/month and is suitable for professional websites. Their business plan starts at $200 a month.


Keep in mind that CloudFlare is a managed DNS host. This means that you, as the user, don't have much control over your site. If this is of importance to you, then another provider may be better suited for your needs.


Wordpress.com

Although WordPress is a better-known name in the CMS realm, it does provide DNS hosting services for users who purchase a domain name. Similar to CloudFlare, WordPress also boasts fast and reliable query speeds, one of the best worldwide. 


There are two options for domain name registration: public or private. Public registration means your contact information will be available for anyone to see. Private registration means that your private information stays hidden from the public. 


The good news is that its paid plan is quite reasonable, costing you only $1/month or $13/year.


Dyn

Dyn is a suitable and powerful solution for large companies. The product serves more than 3,500 enterprises worldwide. Customers can leverage industry-leading DNS query response times (less than 30 milliseconds) to optimize their application and digital asset performance. In addition to hosting, this vendor also offers great features such as data analytics to improve your site's performance


The cheapest plan starts at $5/month. If you prefer a managed solution, this will cost you $7/month. If you want more domains and query capacity, you'll have to pay $35/month or more.

Edgecast

Edgecast is built on IP Anycast technology, so it resolves DNS queries anywhere in the world with the highest reliability.


Its pricing plans are different from other vendors. Instead of a fixed monthly price, Edgecast bases its pricing on the number of zones, queries, and DNS health checks the service receives per month. Another thing that can influence the price is whether you want standard DNS routing or advanced routing benefits such as geo-blocking. 


On average, you'll be paying $0.40 per million queries.


DNSMadeEasy

DNSMadeEasy ranks fourth among all DNS hosting providers in terms of speed. 


Its Business plan starts at $5/month, or $59,95 billed annually. The more advanced Corporate plan costs $125 a month or $1499.95 annually. There's also a free trial that lets you use the tool for 30 days and test out all its features.


Final Word

To sum up:


  • The Domain Name System Server, or DNS, is the internet’s most fundamental system. It’s what turns web addresses like “google.com” into numbers that computers can understand.

  • There are many types of DNS, but the two main types are the authoritative and recursive DNS. 

  • Words are easier to remember than numbers and DNS saves us a great deal of pain and time. DNS will become even more important when IPv6, the most recent version of the Internet Protocol (IP), becomes prevalent.

  • A DNS hosting provider is the company that manages the domain name system for your site and makes it available to the internet.

  • You may want to look at several providers before choosing one. There are some considerations you'll need to keep in mind when looking for a provider, including uptime, reliability, security, and support. 

  • The top 5 DNS hosting providers are CloudFlare, Wordpress.com, Dyn, EdgeCast, and DNsMadeEasy.

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