Domain Name System

What is DNS?

The Domain Name System (DNS) is the phonebook of the Internet. Humans access information online through domain names, like prospect.io or cloudflare.com. Web browsers interact through Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. DNS translates domain names to IP addresses so browsers can load Internet resources.

Each device connected to the Internet has a unique IP address which other machines use to find the device. DNS servers eliminate the need for humans to memorize IP addresses such as (in IPv4), or more complex newer alphanumeric IP addresses such as 2400:cb00:2048:1::c629:d7a2 (in IPv6).

How does DNS work?

The process of DNS resolution involves converting a hostname (such as www.example.com) into a computer-friendly IP address (such as An IP address is given to each device on the Internet, and that address is necessary to find the appropriate Internet device. When a user wants to load a webpage, a translation must occur between what a user types into their web browser (example.com) and the machine-friendly address necessary to locate the example.com webpage.

There are 4 DNS servers involved in loading a webpage

  • DNS recursor - The recursor can be thought of as a librarian who is asked to go find a particular book somewhere in a library. The DNS recursor is a server designed to receive queries from client machines through applications such as web browsers. Typically the recursor is then responsible for making additional requests in order to satisfy the client’s DNS query.

  • Root nameserver - The root server is the first step in translating (resolving) human readable host names into IP addresses. It can be thought of like an index in a library that points to different racks of books - typically it serves as a reference to other more specific locations.

  • TLD nameserver - The top level domain server (TLD) can be thought of as a specific rack of books in a library. This nameserver is the next step in the search for a specific IP address, and it hosts the last portion of a hostname (In example.com, the TLD server is “com”).

  • Authoritative nameserver - This final nameserver can be thought of as a dictionary on a rack of books, in which a specific name can be translated into its definition. The authoritative nameserver is the last stop in the nameserver query. If the authoritative name server has access to the requested record, it will return the IP address for the requested hostname back to the DNS Recursor (the librarian) that made the initial request.

Source: Cloudflare.