What Is a DNS Server, Why Is It Important, and How Does It Work?
We’ve discussed DNS (domain name system) servers in previous articles. Also know as a name server. As a refresher, we know it has a database of hostnames that link specific public IP addresses. It has special software and communication protocols, and even translates (or resolves) hostnames to IP addresses.
One question you might still have on your mind is…
Why Is a DNS Server Important?
A hostname or domain name like www.nasa.gov is easier to remember than the associated IP address (188.8.131.52). You can access the site by typing in all or part of the site’s URL (Universal Resource Locator), which includes the hostname or domain name.
However, computers in a network don’t locate or identify each other using domain names. Instead, they use IP addresses for precise and efficient communication. A DNS server serves as the translator between humans and computers. Thank goodness! I was not ready to learn how to speak 01101000 01101001 just yet.
How Does a DNS Server Work?
When you type a website address into the address bar of a browser and hit Enter, a DNS server takes over from that point. It locates the website for you by sending a DNS query to multiple servers. Each server translates a specific part of the domain name.
- A DNS resolver receives a request to identify the site’s precise location on the internet by resolving the domain name with the IP address.
- A root server receives a request to identify the Top Level Domain (TLD) server that stores the site’s information. The TLD is the .com or .org part of the domain name.
- A TLD server receives a query from the DNS resolver to return the site’s Authority Name Server.
- The Authority Name Server receives a query from the DNS resolver to return the site’s IP address.
As you might tell, the DNS resolver (much like the leader of a group project) does most of the work. Once it determines the IP address of the site you want to visit, your browser accesses and displays it. This back-and-forth process happens very fast the first time you visit the site. It’s even faster for subsequent visits, provided you don’t clear your browser’s cache, which stores information on sites you visit.
Primary DNS Servers, Secondary DNS Servers and Root Servers
Your internet service provider (ISP) typically configures your device’s primary and secondary DNS servers or router. The secondary DNS server is a fail-safe that resolves hostnames if the primary one fails. Alternatively, you can use any one of several DNS servers that are publicly accessible. Yay options!
Thirteen top-tier root servers on the internet store the database of all domain names and the public IP addresses to which they are associated. They are named using the first 13 letters of the alphabet: A through M. The United States hosts ten of these root servers, whereas Japan, Stockholm and Japan each host one. The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) maintains this DNS root servers list.
Changing Your DNS Server Settings
Access times vary from one DNS server to another, depending on your proximity to them. Suppose, for example, that the DNS servers from your ISP are closer to you than the ones from Google. In that case, your ISP’s DNS servers may resolve domain names faster than Google’s DNS servers.
If you’re unable to access websites because they fail to load, it might be due to issues with the DNS server. The DNS server may not be unable to identify the IP address associated with the hostname you typed into the address bar. As a result, your browser cannot locate and load the website.
Computers (laptops, desktop PCs) and mobile devices (smartphones, tablets) to which your router is connected may rely on different DNS servers to resolve IP addresses. Your network defaults to using these DNS servers instead of the ones configured on your router.
Malware Attacks Targeting DNS Server Settings
DNS servers are often the target of malware attacks. So, it’s wise to run an antivirus program on your computer to prevent malware from potentially changing its DNS server settings. Suppose, for example, that your computer DNS uses Google’s DNS servers 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11. When you type your bank’s URL into your browser’s address bar and hit Enter, you expect it to open your bank’s website.
On the contrary, malware changes your computer’s DNS server settings following an attack. As a result, instead of loading your bank’s website, your computer loads a hacker’s website that looks identical to your bank’s. *GASP* THEY CAN DO THAT?
You unknowingly enter your bank login details into the fake site, giving the hacker information they need to access your bank account. Then, suddenly your bank account is more Frozen than Elsa.
In other cases, malware attacks may modify your DNS server settings to redirect traffic from popular websites, steering you to ad-infested sites that trick you into believing that your device has been infected by a virus. They then persuade you to purchase software on the site to get rid of the supposed virus from your device. Don’t be fooled! These are scams. Make like Gordon Ramsey and shut it down as soon as you encounter them.
You might be thinking wow I didn’t realize just how vulnerable I was. Luckily, you can prevent DNS setting attacks by doing two things.
First, install antimalware on your devices to detect and isolate or delete malware.
Second, be vigilant when visiting popular websites. If something about the site seems off (like misspellings, unaligned menus or unfamiliar images or colors), check your DNS settings to make sure they’re right.
Note that redirection of internet traffic can serve a beneficial goal. For instance, organizations and network administrators can use OpenDNS to redirect users away from problematic websites, such as social media websites, gambling websites and adult websites, to a page that displays a selected message, such as “Blocked.”
Let an Expert Handle Your DNS Server Needs
Now you know the basics of a DNS server and how it works. If it still sounds a bit complicated though, you’re not alone. The inner workings of this process are highly technical if you aren’t familiar. HELP!
Your WordPress Guy can take care of your DNS server needs along with all the other technical aspects of running your website. So you can get back to focusing on what makes your customers happy. Visit Your WordPress Guy today and request an appointment.
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