Domain Names and DNS Explained

As the Internet has matured it’s evolved into a much more user-friendly platform. Today, you can visit a website, purchase a .com name, build your site by dragging and dropping photos add some text and you’re online. If you’re a business owner, you most likely hired a developer to create your website and after checking to make sure it worked, probably haven’t given any thought to the technology involved.

Whether you’re a business owner, an internet newbie, or a seasoned user, it’s good practice to grasp and understand the basic technology behind the web. One key element of the Internet is the creation of domain names, and having an understanding of the Domain Name System or DNS that is the backbone of the online world. Let’s take a look at what constitutes a domain name and how the Domain Name System works.

What Is A Domain Name?

Your domain name consists of two or more pieces known as labels. If you “own” your domain name it is generally your company name followed by a period and the identifier such as com, org, or net.

The label farthest right conveys the top-level domain. Each label to the left specifies a “subdomain.” Your domain name is the tag that shows up when you enter search information and it is how your customers find your website. In order to secure a domain name, you generally contact a host provider and do a search to check for availability.

When you “purchase” your domain name from the host (it’s actually more of a long-term lease) it is registered to you and you pay annually for continued use of the name.  Once you’ve secured your name, you need to find an address to open shop. That is the basic premise behind the Domain Name System.

What is DNS?

The Domain Name System is the service, which translates between your domain name and it’s address on the Internet. Your Internet name is the domain which you registered (for example Internet addresses are in number form (for example and they are the way that routers use to move traffic across the Internet.

The Domain Name System works by creating sets of hierarchical records or “zone files.” It uses these zone files to map your URL or domain name to an IP or Internet provider. The files are kept on DNS servers and are the way your website is connected to the outside world. When someone types your URL into their browser, the request is then forwarded to a DNS server which routes your request to the WebServer where your site resides and delivers the visitor to your website from anywhere in the world, in a matter of seconds!

Another important concept to understand is called DNS propagation. This refers to the time it generally takes for any changes to transmit across the Internet, for example if you move your site to a different host provider. In general, it’s important to remember that DNS changes can take up to 24 – 48 hours to fully propagate.

While much of the activity surrounding DNS happens behind the scenes online, it’s a good practice to have a basic understanding of how domain names and DNS work.