What Does the Recursive DNS Server Do?


Larry Thompson

What Does the Recursive DNS Server Do?

A Recursive DNS (Domain Name System) server plays a vital role in the functioning of the internet. It is responsible for resolving domain names into IP addresses to establish connections between devices and websites. In this article, we will take an in-depth look at what a recursive DNS server does and how it works.

Understanding DNS

Before diving into the details of a recursive DNS server, let’s quickly understand how the overall Domain Name System works. The DNS is like a phonebook for the internet, converting human-readable domain names like www.example.com into machine-readable IP addresses like

The DNS follows a hierarchical structure, with different types of servers serving specific functions. The root servers, located across the globe, are responsible for directing queries to the appropriate top-level domain (TLD) servers such as .com or .org.

Types of DNS Servers

In addition to root and TLD servers, there are two main types of DNS servers: authoritative and recursive.

  • Authoritative DNS Servers: These servers store and provide information about specific domains. When a query reaches an authoritative server, it responds with the requested information if it has it or directs the query further up in the hierarchy.
  • Recursive DNS Servers: These servers act as intermediaries between clients (such as your computer or smartphone) and authoritative servers. They handle requests from clients by recursively searching for the IP address associated with a given domain name.

The Role of Recursive DNS Servers

A recursive DNS server plays a crucial role in resolving domain names into IP addresses by performing the following steps:

  1. Query Initiation: When a client wants to access a website, it sends a query to the recursive DNS server. This query contains the domain name that needs to be resolved.
  2. Caching: The recursive DNS server first checks its cache to see if it has previously resolved the requested domain name. If it finds a matching record in its cache, it can immediately return the corresponding IP address without further processing.
  3. Iterative Querying: If there is no cached record available, the recursive DNS server starts querying other DNS servers in an iterative manner.

    It begins by querying one of the root servers to find out which TLD server is responsible for the requested domain extension (e.g., .com).

  4. TLD Server Querying: Once the recursive DNS server identifies the appropriate TLD server, it queries that server to obtain information about which authoritative name server is responsible for the specific domain.
  5. Authoritative Server Querying: Finally, the recursive DNS server sends a query to the authoritative name server identified in the previous step. The authoritative name server responds with the IP address associated with the requested domain.
  6. Caching and Response: Upon receiving a response from an authoritative name server, the recursive DNS server caches this information so that subsequent queries for the same domain can be resolved more efficiently. It also returns the IP address back to the client who initiated the query.

The Benefits of Recursive DNS Servers

The use of recursive DNS servers offers several benefits:

  • Faster Response Times: By caching resolved records, recursive DNS servers can provide faster responses to subsequent queries for the same domain name.
  • Reduced Network Traffic: Recursive DNS servers help reduce overall network traffic by storing frequently accessed domain records, reducing the need to query higher-level servers repeatedly.
  • Enhanced Security: Recursive DNS servers can also incorporate security measures to protect against various threats like phishing or malware attacks by blocking access to known malicious domains.


A recursive DNS server plays a crucial role in resolving domain names into IP addresses by recursively querying various DNS servers. By caching resolved records, these servers provide faster response times, reduce network traffic, and improve security. Understanding the function of recursive DNS servers helps us appreciate the efficiency and reliability of the internet’s underlying infrastructure.

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