Understanding DNS

While launching a website is one of the most exciting parts of the FreshySites process, it can also be one of the most stressful parts since it involves a lot of technical knowledge and making sure everything goes right to make your sight live. If you already have some basis for how the internet works and the relationship between browsers and servers, then this will serve as a wonderful refresher. If you don’t have any knowledge or maybe just know loosely about these things, don’t worry — we’ll get you up to speed in no time!

At its root, the internet works on a series of requests and responses — a client (your browser) makes a request for information to a remote server which then looks up the relevant information and sends it back in a response! So, for example, when you type “www.freshysites.com” in your browser and hit enter, you are sending a request to a server saying “Hello, I would like the data for “www.freshysites.com” and you wait for your response!

Domain Name System

As you can imagine, with so many websites in the world, there are thousands upon thousands of requests getting sent across the internet every hour. So, in order to do this process effectively, we need a way to easily look up the requested information so it can get sent back quickly. This is where the Domain Name System (DNS) comes into play and there are three components we need to be familiar with in order to understand DNS: Domain Names, IP Addresses, and Name Servers.

Domain Names

A domain name is a human-readable URL that we type into web browsers in order to send requests. There is a lot to know about domains, but for now you just need to understand that the root of a domain is a bare domain, which is the domain name without anything in front of it (e.g. freshysites.com). From here, you can set a whole bunch of different prefixes, the most common being www (e.g. www.freshysites.com), which means that technically speaking www.freshysites.com and freshysites.com can take you to two different places!

IP Addresses

Domain names are great because they allow humans to easily remember web addresses and customize them to match the website’s purpose. However, actually at the foundation, all websites are based off of an IP address, which is a numerical representation of an address such as “123.45.67.890″. In most cases, if you were to look up your website’s IP address and type it into your address bar, the browser would bring you to your site! Try it out:

Type 216.58.194.78 into your address bar and see what pops up 🙂

The reason we use IP addresses is simple: computers are much more familiar with numbers than they are strings of text! The computer can’t comprehend “mycoolwebsite.com” as well as it can “123.45.67.890” and so for both humans and computers to use the internet, we need a sort of translation or lookup system. That is where DNS comes into play!

Name Servers

We have established that we need something to translate our human readable domain names into computer readable IP addresses and that something is called a name server. Name servers keep what are called zone files and those zone files are essentially just a gigantic phone book that log all of the mappings between a group of websites and their corresponding IP addresses. This means that each domain has a set of name servers that are designated to do the looking up for that domain and these name servers are where the IP addresses are changed for specific DNS records.

Managing DNS

Having an understanding of DNS and the various records is great, but how do we manage it all? Where do domains, DNS records, and name servers live and get updated? Answering these questions is crucial to launching a website.

Domain Registrars

When somebody wants to purchase a domain, they go to a domain registrar which keeps a record of which domains are available, how much they cost, etc. You’re probably familiar with at least a couple of the most common domain registrars:

  1. GoDaddy
  2. Name.com
  3. Network Solutions
  4. BlueHost
  5. 1&1
  6. Google Domains

Most domain registrars offer more than just the name registration, such as web hosting, email set up, and online marketing. At their core, they are used to register a domain name and, in most cases, manage the DNS records.

All we are doing when we launch a website is changing the primary A Record to a new IP address. In other words, the domain name “freshysites.com” used to map to 123.45.67.890 and so when the request was made, the information from 123.45.67.890 (your old website) was sent back to the browser. We change that mapping so that when the request is made, the information from 098.76.54.321 (aka your new website) is sent back instead!

In most cases, we’ll be able to use the domain registrar to update the primary A Record to the new IP address and once we have done that, we just need to sit back and wait for the change to take effect (which can take up to 24 hours). There are some more complex cases that can be covered in a subsequent blog post, but for now it is important to know that at its root, all we do to launch a website is change the IP address that the domain name maps to!

Feel free to contact our team at FreshySites if your are considering creating a new website!

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