12 Oct

What is DNS?

Updated on 12-10-2011 03:45 PM

Domain Name System (DNS) is a database system that translates a computer's fully qualified domain name into an IP address.

Networked computers use IP addresses to locate and connect to each other, but IP addresses can be difficult for people to remember. For example, on the web, it's much easier to remember the domain name than it is to remember its corresponding IP address ( DNS allows you to connect to another networked computer or remote service by using its user-friendly domain name rather than its numerical IP address. Conversely, Reverse DNS (rDNS) translates an IP address into a domain name.

Each organization that maintains a computer network will have at least one server handling DNS queries. That server, called a name server, will hold a list of all the IP addresses within its network, plus a cache of IP addresses for recently accessed computers outside the network. Each computer on each network needs to know the location of only one name server. When your computer requests an IP address, one of three things happens, depending on whether or not the requested IP address is within your local network:

  • If the requested IP address is registered locally (i.e., it's within your organization's network), you'll receive a response directly from one of the local name servers listed in your workstation configuration. In this case, there usually is little or no wait for a response.
  • If the requested IP address is not registered locally (i.e., outside your organization's network), but someone within your organization has recently requested the same IP address, then the local name server will retrieve the IP address from its cache. Again, there should be little or no wait for a response. 
  • If the requested IP address is not registered locally, and you are the first person to request information about this system in a certain period of time (ranging from 12 hours to one week), then the local name server will perform a search on behalf of your workstation. This search may involve querying two or more other name servers at potentially very remote locations. These queries can take anywhere from a second or two up to a minute (depending on how well connected you are to the remote network and how many intermediate name servers must be contacted). Sometimes, due to the lightweight protocol used for DNS, you may not receive a response. In these cases, your workstation or client software may continue to repeat the query until a response is received, or you may receive an error message.

When you use an application such as telnet to connect to another computer, you most likely type in the domain name rather than the IP address of that computer. The telnet application takes the domain name and uses one of the above methods to retrieve its corresponding IP address from the name server. A good analogy is to think of DNS as an electronic telephone book for a computer network. If you know the name of the computer in question, the name server will look up its IP address.