What is DNS?

When you registered your domain name or created your website, you might have come across the acronym , which stands for Domain Name System. However, what precisely is DNS, and why is it considered to be of such critical significance? Because the Domain Name System (DNS) translates alphabetic names into numeric Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, it is only necessary to commit a domain name, such as coolexample.com, to memory rather than a string of numbers representing an IP address. Without DNS, you wouldn’t be able to do things like send an email, browse through Instagram, or play video games with your friends online. DNS is the foundation upon which the internet is built.

So, what is DNS and why is it important?

In the past, if you wanted to call someone, you either had to commit their phone number to memory, write it down in a notebook or rolodex, or look it up in the massive paper phonebook. Today, however, there are a number of other options available. These days, our mobile phones have the capability to store phone numbers in the contacts list, and each number is assigned to a particular individual or company. You don’t have to worry about trying to remember your friend Jane’s phone number whenever you want to get in touch with her because all you have to do is look up her name in your contacts list and then make the call.

You might think of the Domain Name System (DNS) as the contacts list of the internet; however, rather than mapping persons to phone numbers, it maps domain names to Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. And Internet Protocol addresses are the language that is used online. IP addresses are unique sequences of numbers and letters that allow computers to interact with one another using the Internet Protocol. An example of an IPv4 address is the number, while an IPv6 address would look something like this: 2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:6d2e:0371:7234 (an IPv6 address)

However, it can be challenging to keep all of those long strings of numbers and letters in your head. Therefore, DNS converts numerical IP addresses into more comprehensible domain names, such as coolexample.com. It is generally much simpler to remember a domain name than it is to keep track of all of those IP addresses, which makes it more enjoyable to browse the internet.

Okay, but how does DNS really work?

When looking for information regarding DNS, you could have come across the phrases DNS query or DNS lookup. These are popular ways of referring to the functionality of DNS and how it directs you to a specific website. However, there are a few milestones along the way, and in order to better understand the process, we will break those steps down and explain each one individually. Warning: from from point on, things are going to get a little more technical.

  1. The query: It all starts when you type a domain name, like coolexample.com, in the address bar of your web browser. After entering a domain, a query begins looking for the IP address of coolexample.com so your browser can display the correct content. The query starts by checking the root server to see where to go next.
  2. The root servers: There are 13 root servers working across the world, and they know all the DNS information of all domains. The root server looks through that DNS info to determine where to look next: the TLD nameserver.
  3. TLD nameservers: The TLD, or top-level domain, is the last part of a domain name, such as .com in coolexample.com. Some of the most common TLDs are .com, .net, and .org, and some of the most popular country-specific TLDs are .uk, .ca, and .au. All TLDs have a specific TLD nameserver that stores the DNS info for that specific TLD. So, if I want to visit coolexample.com, the original query needs to check the .com TLD nameservers to find the domain nameservers for coolexample.com.
  4. The domain nameserver: This is where you’ll find the DNS zone file for coolexample.com, and the zone file is where you’ll find individual DNS records. These records, such as A records, MX records, and subdomains, can be added, edited, or deleted in the zone file. The original query will look in the domain nameserver to find the A record for coolexample.com, which is mapped to a specific IP address. This IP address is what our query will use to retrieve and display the website content for coolexample.com in your web browser.

Keep in mind that there are a few different stops DNS can take along the way, and sometimes things get stuck or don’t work like we expect. And it can take up to 48 hours for DNS changes to show up on the internet globally. If you’d like more detail about how DNS works, check out this handy guide from Verisign.

A little more about nameservers…

Have you ever encountered the term “changing nameservers” in relation to your domain before? This is due to the fact that the domain nameservers are queried as the very last step in the query in order to obtain the all-important IP address. However, before the query can find the correct IP address, you need to make sure that you have the correct nameservers.

When the nameservers for a domain are changed, the location where DNS management is performed also changes. A domain will always have at least two nameservers. For instance, if the domain is configured to use the default nameservers that come with HostRooster, the DNS zone file will be located in the account that you have with HostRooster. However, if a different company’s nameservers are being used for the domain, the DNS zone file will be hosted by the other company rather than by the original one.

What do I need to do with my DNS?

Now that you know a little about what DNS is and how it works, you’re ready to start using DNS in your HostRooster account. The easiest way to access your DNS is to sign in to your HostRooster domain portfolio, click or tap directly on your domain name, then select Manage DNS. You should see your DNS zone file now, which is where you’ll—you guessed it—manage DNS for that particular domain.

From here, you can take on some of the most common DNS tasks:

Most DNS updates take effect within an hour, but could take up to 48 hours to update globally.

What if I get stuck?

We get it—there are a lot of moving parts to managing DNS for your domains, and it can get confusing. We’ve worked hard to create a seamless experience when managing DNS, and we’re always working to improve. If you get stuck or have questions, we have help articles to walk you through DNS tasks, and our award-winning . customer support teams are just a chat or call away.

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