What is a DNS Server?

Last Updated on 28/09/2022

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A Domain Name Service (DNS) server is a crucial communication hub between the computers of end-users of the internet, and the servers where the actual content they are browsing is (your content is on servers handled by your web host – some top examples, if you are looking for a web host in Australia, include Hostinger, A2 Hosting, SiteGround, etc.). DNS servers play a vital role in giving you access to websites and services on the internet that you use every day.

Most of the people do not know what DNS servers are and how they work. We will try to explain in simple terms the role of DNS servers and why they are essential.

Why Do We Need DNS Servers?

Have you ever wondered what happens when you type in a web address in your internet browser? How does the browser know which website to display?

The answer is, it does not. It sends a query to something called a DNS server, which acts like a phonebook or a directory. A DNS server contains a list of all public IP addresses and domain names associated with them.

Domain names allow us to remember the websites we want to visit easily. Still, the servers that store these websites’ contents do not understand “nfl.com.” The server that hosts the content uses an IP address instead of a domain name for that website—something like 102.88.73.15.

DNS servers act as translators as they take the domain names we type into our browsers and translate them into IP addresses of the servers that host those websites. Without DNS servers, our browsing requests would always come back empty.

How Does a DNS Server Work?

Once you enter a domain name into an internet browser, the DNS server starts its journey along which it will contact several servers to execute your query. They are:

  • DNS Resolver – It figures out to which IP address your domain name connects.
  • Root Server – It returns the information to the DNS Resolver about the Top Level Domain (TLD) server containing the requested domain name. TLD is the .com or .org ending of the domain name.
  • TLD Server – DNS Resolver then queries the TLD server to return the information about the Authoritative Name Server of the domain name.
  • Authoritative Name Server – DNS Resolver finally queries the Authoritative Name Server to return the requested domain’s actual IP address.

Once the DNS Resolver finds the IP address, the requested website will load in your internet browser. Although it might seem like a long and complicated process, it happens in fractions of a second, and the domain you are seeking displays in seconds.

This process takes place only the first time you try to access a domain. During this initial query, the internet browser will store the IP information in the browser cache, making future browsing requests instantaneous and bypassing the whole process.

What are Primary and Secondary DNS Servers?

There is more than one DNS server available to the public. In most cases, your ISP provider has a preferred Primary DNS Server, configured automatically when you connect to their internet connection. The Secondary DNS server is there to act as a backup if the query to the Primary DNS fails.

Should You Change DNS Server Settings?

In general, the answer is no. Your ISP provider will choose the DNS servers that are most suitable and closest to your location. In some cases, if you are experiencing slow loading times or failed queries from ISP-configured DNS servers, you might consider changing the settings to external DNS servers to deliver quicker loading times.

Malware Attacks and DNS Servers

DNS servers are often the target of malware attacks by hackers, so it is prudent always to run an anti-malware protection software. The way that hackers use malware to cause damage with DNS servers is by instructing the malware to change your DNS server settings and redirect all your traffic to scam/spam websites full of ads.

A more dangerous form of malware attacks is when hackers change the DNS settings to collect your queries to their servers and redirect your traffic to spoof web pages, such as your online banking login page, etc. to collect your data.

Pay close attention that your anti-malware software is working and up-to-date. Make sure that the websites that collect sensitive personal data look legit and nothing seems out of place.

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Scott Poole

Scott Poole

With over a decade of experience in building websites, Scott has seen it all... bodged website migrations, nightmare web hosts, ridiculous customer support, etc. He decided to centralise all his knowledge on 28msec to guide and help people find the best host possible.