What is Domain Name System (DNS)?

Domain Name Resolution

Name resolution systems provide the translation between alphanumeric names and numerical addresses, alleviating the need for users and administrators to memorize long strings of numbers.

There are two common methods for implementing name resolution:

  • A static file on each host on the network, containing all the name-toaddress translations (examples include the HOSTS and LMHOSTS files).
  • A centralized server that all hosts on the network connect to for name resolution.

[threecol_two class=”alpha”]domain name system dns[/threecol_two] [threecol_one class=”omega”]

The two most common name resolution systems are Domain Name System (DNS) and Windows Internet Name Service (WINS). WINS was used in Microsoft networks to translate IP addresses to NetBIOS names, and is mostly deprecated.

[/threecol_one]DNS is heavily utilized on the Internet and on systems such as ActiveDirectory.

Domain Name System (DNS)
Domain Name System (DNS) translates between domain names and IP addresses, and is supported by nearly every operating system. All Internet based name resolution utilizes DNS.

DNS is organized as a hierarchy. Consider the following translation:
www.google.com =

The above domain name represents a Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN):
• .com represents a top level domain.
• .google represents a secondary level domain
• www represents a host computer in the .google.com domain.
Other top level domains include .org, .net, and .gov. Top level domains can also include country codes, such as .ca, .nl, and .de

Methods of configuring DNS

Recall that DNS name resolution can be implemented in the form of local HOSTS files, or a centralized name server(s). When employing HOSTS files, each translation must be statically configured on each device. In Windows 2000/XP operating systems, this file is located:


In UNIX/Linux operating systems, this file is generally located: /etc/hosts There are many disadvantages to using HOSTS files. The HOSTS file must be configured on every device. If a change occurs, every device’s HOSTS file must be updated.

Using one or more DNS servers provides several advantages over HOSTS files. All devices point to this centralized DNS server for name resolution, ensuring that changes only need to occur in one place.

If a particular DNS server does not contain the required DNS information, the request will can be forwarded to servers up the DNS hierarchy.

BIND (Berkeley Internet Name Domain) is the standard implementation of DNS. Microsoft, UNIX/Linux, and Novell all employ some version of BIND.

DNS servers assume one of three roles:

  • Primary (or master) DNS Server – maintains the SOA (Start of Authority), and contains the master zone file containing the DNS records for the domain. This server is often referred to as the Authoritative Name Server for a specific domain.
  • Secondary (or slave) DNS Server – maintains a current copy of the master zone file, obtained from the primary server. The secondary server cannot make changes to the zone file, but instead forwards
    changes to the primary server.
  • Caching DNS Server – does not maintain a zone file, and is not authoritative for any domain. This server will merely cache the results of DNS queries.
    Both hosts and DNS servers will cache the result of DNS queries for a period of time.

Both hosts and DNS servers will cache the result of DNS queries for a
period of time.

DNS Zone File Example
There are two types of zones in DNS:

  • Forward Lookup Zones – translates a host name to an IP address.
  • Reverse Lookup Zones – translates an IP address to a hostname (otherwise known as the IN-ADDR.ARPA zone).

The following is an example zone file for the fictional example.com domain:

dns example

Entries within a zone file are referred to as DNS records. There are a variety of DNS record types, including:

  • NS (Name Server) – identifies a DNS server for the domain.
  • SOA (Start of Authority) – identifies the primary (authoritative) DNS server for the domain.
  • A (Address) – identifies an individual host in the domain.
  • CNAME (Canonical Name) – assigns an alias for another host name.
  • MX (Mail Exchanger) – identifies a mail server in the domain.
  • PTR (Pointer) – used for reverse DNS lookups.

The number defined in the MX record is a priority. A lower priority is more

DNS Process

DNS follows a strict process when performing a query. The process is as follows:

  1. The local DNS cache on the host is queried first.
  2. If there is no entry in the local cache, the local HOSTS file is queried next.
  3. If there is no entry in the local HOSTS, the query is forwarded to any configured DNS servers on the host. If no DNS servers are configured, the query will fail.
  4. If the configured DNS server is not authoritative for that domain, and does not have that DNS entry locally cached, the query will be forwarded up the DNS hierarchy. DNS servers can be configured with one or more forwarders. Organizations often point to their ISP’s DNS servers for DNS forwarding purposes.
  5. If no forwarders are available, the query is forwarded to the Root DNS server(s), which will likely have the entry cached.
  6. In the rare circumstance that the Root servers do not have a cached entry, the query will be forwarded back down the hierarchy to the authoritative DNS server for that domain.

Dynamic DNS allows DNS to be integrated with Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP). When DHCP hands out an IP address lease,
it will automatically update the DNS entry for that host on the DNS server.

What is DHCP? How DHCP works?

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