What Is an Authoritative Domain Name System DNS Server?


Larry Thompson

An authoritative Domain Name System (DNS) server is a crucial component of the internet infrastructure. It plays a vital role in translating human-readable domain names into machine-readable IP addresses. In this article, we will explore what an authoritative DNS server is and how it functions.

Understanding DNS

Before diving into the specifics of an authoritative DNS server, let’s briefly understand the concept of DNS. DNS is like a phonebook for the internet. It converts domain names, such as example.com, into IP addresses like that computers use to communicate with each other.

When you enter a domain name in your web browser’s address bar, your computer sends a request to a DNS resolver (usually provided by your Internet Service Provider). The resolver then queries multiple DNS servers to find the IP address associated with that domain name.

The Role of Authority

In the complex hierarchy of DNS servers, authoritative servers are at the top. An authoritative DNS server holds the original and definitive records for a specific domain name. It has the authority to provide accurate information about that domain’s IP address and other related records.

Authoritative vs Recursive

To better understand what makes an authoritative DNS server unique, it’s important to differentiate it from recursive servers. Recursive servers do not possess domain-specific information but instead focus on retrieving information from other servers on behalf of clients.

When a recursive server receives a query for a specific domain name, it starts by contacting one of the root DNS servers—the highest level in the hierarchy—to obtain information about which authoritative server can provide more detailed information about that domain.

The Functioning of an Authoritative Server

An authoritative DNS server stores various types of resource records (RRs) associated with a domain name. These records include the IP address (A record), mail server information (MX record), name server information (NS record), and more.

When a recursive server receives a query for a specific domain, it contacts the authoritative DNS server responsible for that domain. The authoritative server then responds with the appropriate records, enabling the recursive server to fulfill the client’s request.

Zone Files

To manage and store all the necessary resource records, an authoritative DNS server uses zone files. Zone files are plain text files that contain mappings between domain names and their corresponding IP addresses or other records.

Administrators can update these zone files to add, modify, or delete DNS records as required. Once updated, the changes propagate across the DNS system, ensuring that all queries for that domain receive up-to-date information.


An authoritative DNS server is essential for maintaining the accuracy and integrity of the DNS system. It holds authoritative information about specific domain names and provides accurate responses to queries from recursive servers.

Understanding how authoritative DNS servers function can help website administrators ensure their domains are properly configured and accessible to users around the world.

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