Article

What exactly is DNS?

Catherine Ketcher, Site Editor

Domain name system
The domain name system (DNS) is the way that Internet domain names are located and translated into Internet Protocol addresses. A domain name is a meaningful and easy-to-remember "handle" for an Internet address.

Because maintaining a central list of domain name/IP address correspondences would be impractical, the lists of domain names and IP addresses are distributed throughout the Internet in a hierarchy of authority. There is probably a DNS server within close geographic proximity to your access provider that maps the domain names in your Internet requests or forwards them to other servers in the Internet.

Dynamic DNS service
A dynamic DNS service is a company that charges a small fee to allow a user connecting to the Internet with a dynamic IP address to be able to use applications that require a static IP address.

Using a dynamic DNS service works as if there was an old-fashioned telephone message service at your computer's disposal. When a user registers with a DNS service and connects to the Internet with a dynamic IP address, the user's computer contacts the DNS service and lets them know what dynamic IP address it has been assigned from the pool; the service works with the DNS server to forward the correct address to the requesting computer. (Think of calling the message service and saying "Hi. I can be reached at 435.44.32.111 right now. Please tell anyone who tries to reach me to call that number.)

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Using a dynamic DNS service to arrange for computers to find you even though you are using a dynamic IP address is the next-best thing to having a static IP.

Forward DNS lookup
Forward DNS lookup is using an Internet domain name to find an IP address. Reverse DNS lookup is using an Internet IP address to find a domain name. When you enter the address for a Web site at your browser (the address is formally called the Uniform Resource Locator, or URL), the address is transmitted to a nearby router which does a forward DNS lookup in a routing table to locate the IP address. Forward DNS lookup is the more common lookup since most users think in terms of domain names rather than IP addresses. However, occasionally you may see a Web page with a URL in which the domain name part is expressed as an IP address (sometimes called a dot address) and want to be able to see its domain name. An Internet facility that lets you do either forward or reverse DNS lookup yourself is called nslookup. It comes with some operating systems or you can download the program and install it in your computer.


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