What Exactly Is a DNS Server?


Scott Campbell

A DNS (Domain Name System) server is a crucial component of the internet infrastructure that translates human-friendly domain names into machine-readable IP addresses. In simpler terms, it acts as a phonebook for the internet, converting memorable website addresses like www.example.com into the numerical IP addresses that computers and servers use to communicate with each other.

The Importance of DNS Servers

Without DNS servers, accessing websites by their domain names would be nearly impossible. Imagine having to remember long strings of numbers like instead of typing in user-friendly URLs like google.com.

DNS Resolution Process

When you enter a web address in your browser, your computer contacts the DNS server to obtain the correct IP address associated with that domain name. This process is known as DNS resolution and involves several steps:

  1. Step 1: Local DNS Cache Lookup – Your computer checks its local DNS cache to see if it already has the IP address for the requested domain name stored from previous visits.
  2. Step 2: Recursive Query – If the IP address is not found in the local cache, your computer sends a recursive query to your ISP’s (Internet Service Provider) DNS server.
  3. Step 3: Root DNS Server – If your ISP’s DNS server does not have the requested IP address, it forwards the query to one of the root DNS servers.
  4. Step 4: Top-Level Domain (TLD) Server – The root DNS server directs your ISP’s server to the appropriate Top-Level Domain (TLD) server based on the extension of the requested domain name (.com, .org, etc.).
  5. Step 5: Authoritative DNS Server – The TLD server then refers the ISP’s server to the specific authoritative DNS server that holds the IP address information for the requested domain.
  6. Step 6: IP Address Response – Finally, the authoritative DNS server sends back the IP address to your computer, allowing it to establish a connection with the desired website.

DNS Caching and TTL

To improve efficiency and reduce network traffic, DNS servers utilize caching. When a DNS server receives a response for a specific domain name, it stores that information in its cache for a certain period called Time To Live (TTL). This allows subsequent requests for the same domain to be resolved faster since they can be retrieved from the cache instead of going through the entire resolution process again.


In summary, DNS servers play a critical role in translating human-readable domain names into machine-readable IP addresses. They facilitate seamless communication between devices on the internet and enable us to access websites using memorable URLs. Understanding how DNS resolution works can help troubleshoot issues related to website accessibility and provide insights into how internet traffic is routed.

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