What Is the Difference Between DNS Server and Search Domain?


Heather Bennett

What Is the Difference Between DNS Server and Search Domain?

When it comes to networking and internet connectivity, there are several terms that can sometimes be confusing. Two such terms are DNS server and search domain.

While they both play a role in resolving domain names to IP addresses, they serve different purposes. In this article, we will explore the difference between a DNS server and a search domain, and how they work together to ensure smooth internet browsing.

DNS Server

A DNS (Domain Name System) server is essentially a directory that translates human-readable domain names into machine-readable IP addresses. Every time you type a website URL into your browser’s address bar, your computer communicates with a DNS server to find the corresponding IP address for that domain.

The DNS server acts as an intermediary between your computer and the website you want to access. It provides the necessary information for your computer to establish a connection with the webserver hosting the website.

Without DNS servers, we would have to remember complex IP addresses for every website we want to visit instead of simple domain names like google.com or facebook.com.

Types of DNS Servers

There are different types of DNS servers serving various purposes:

  • Recursive DNS Servers: These servers perform the entire resolution process on behalf of your computer. They start from root servers and work their way down until they find the IP address associated with the requested domain.
  • Authoritative DNS Servers: These servers hold specific information about domain names and their corresponding IP addresses.

    When a recursive server receives a query for a particular domain, it contacts authoritative servers to obtain the required information.

  • Caching DNS Servers: These servers store recently accessed DNS records in memory, allowing faster retrieval for subsequent requests. They help reduce the load on recursive and authoritative servers by serving cached data.

Search Domain

A search domain, also known as a DNS suffix or default domain, is a setting configured on your computer or network that helps simplify the process of typing domain names into the browser.

When you enter a domain name without specifying its full address (e.g., typing “google” instead of “google.com”), your computer appends the search domain to complete the address. This allows you to access websites without typing their full domain names each time.

The search domain can be set at various levels, such as on individual computers, routers, or even within larger networks. It helps streamline internet browsing by automatically adding the missing parts of a domain name.


Suppose your computer’s search domain is set to “example.com,” and you type “mail” in your browser’s address bar. Instead of searching for “mail.com,” your computer will automatically append the search domain and look for “mail.example.”

This feature saves time and effort when accessing frequently used websites within a specific organization or network.

DNS Server vs. Search Domain: How They Work Together

Now that we understand what DNS servers and search domains are individually, let’s explore how they work together.

When you type a URL into your browser’s address bar, your computer first checks its local cache to see if it already has the IP address for that domain. If not found, it contacts the configured DNS server to resolve the IP address.

If a search domain is set on your computer or network, and you enter an incomplete URL (without the full domain address), your computer will append the search domain to complete the address before sending the request to the DNS server.

The DNS server then translates the complete domain name into its corresponding IP address and sends it back to your computer. With the IP address in hand, your computer can establish a connection with the webserver and load the website you requested.

In summary, DNS servers handle the translation of domain names to IP addresses, while search domains simplify URL entry by automatically adding missing parts of a domain name.


Understanding the difference between DNS servers and search domains is essential for anyone working with networks or seeking to troubleshoot internet connectivity issues. While DNS servers act as directories that translate domain names into IP addresses, search domains help streamline URL entry by automatically completing partial addresses.

Next time you browse the internet, take a moment to appreciate how these two components work together seamlessly behind the scenes to provide you with fast and reliable internet access.

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