DNS. Just another acronym thrown about by information technology professionals that doesn’t mean anything to the “average Joe.” But what is it, and why should you be concerned about it? This, among other related questions, are ones that I will answer in this blog post.
[Note to programmers and systems engineers: This blog post will focus on public DNS and the resolving of public services like websites, rather than internal (or private) DNS, which resolves internal network host names.]
The public Domain Name System (or service, or server), or DNS for short, is the underlying building blocks of the internet. While the internet would still exist without it, the internet would be a much more confusing place than it already is. As I explained in a workshop I presented (“DNS and BIND“), DNS translates domain names into IP addresses. It works “behind the scenes” so that you, the end user, don’t have to think about it.
Unfortunately, while DNS is arguably one of the most important building blocks of the internet, I firmly believe that many programmers and system engineers do not fully understand its intricacies. I can tell numerous stories of a web developer or systems engineer inadvertently breaking a website by incorrectly changing a DNS setting.
Domain Names and IP Addresses…
If DNS translates domain names into IP addresses, then what’s a Domain Name and what’s an IP address? Before we define a domain name, let’s first define a “domain.” Generally speaking, a domain is something (an area) that is controlled by a particular ruler. Simply put, in the technical sense of the definition, a domain name is something (a name) that is owned (controlled) by some person or entity.
A domain name is a unique name that an entity (business, nonprofit organization, or individual for example) owns, making it possible for people to easily find that entity’s website and other servers (for example, Barred Owl Web owns the domain name “barredowlweb.com“).
Domain Names are used to represent hard-to-remember IP addresses, because domain names are easier to remember. A company or nonprofit organization will purchase a domain name that represents their name.
An IP address, on the other hand, is a set of unique numbers that represent a specific location on the internet. Just like a physical street address, an IP address tells its “postal service” (DNS) where a package should be delivered. The mail man doesn’t know where “The White House” resides, but he DOES know where “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500” is located.
The internet runs off of numbers (IP Addresses), but humans remember domain names more easily.
The website for Barred Owl Web currently resides at the IP address of 126.96.36.199 (which we automatically redirect to the domain name of “barredowlweb.com”). Our domain name is much easier to remember than that long string of numbers, don’t you think?
DNS – Translating Domain Names into IP Addresses
Since the internet communicates using these string of numbers, but humans remember domain names more easily, a system was developed to easily and automatically translate Domain Names into IP Addresses. That, as you now know, is the DNS (Domain Name System).
Great care must be taken not to break these fragile settings. If your organization decides to move its website to a new web hosting provider, then the DNS must be updated to reflect your website’s new IP address. As I indicated at the beginning of this blog post, I have worked with countless individuals and organizations who have made a mistake and needed help fixing their website due to DNS issues.
If you are planning to move your website or email, please contact us for assistance. We can help you with your migration, and we can help reduce the time it normally takes (typically between 24-48 hours) to complete a DNS change.
For a more technical understanding of DNS, review the PDF version of my “DNS and BIND” presentation I gave this past summer at a technical conference for missionaries.
“So what’s this IPv6 Stuff?”
Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) is the newest form of IP communication on the internet. The older version of IP communication runs on IPv4, and is limited to a little less than 4.3 billion total addresses. As more entities launch more public-facing servers, infrastructure engineers knew that this amount would not be enough to keep up with demand, and that IPv4 addresses would eventually become completely exhausted.
As a result, IPv6 was developed. “IPv6 uses a 128-bit address, allowing 2128, or approximately 3.4×1038 addresses, or more than 7.9×1028” (Wikipedia). On June 6, 2012, many major internet corporations (including Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Comcast and others) participated in the World IPv6 Launch Day, thereby permanently supporting IPv6.
As of today, less than 10% of websites support IPv6, and less than 3% of global internet traffic uses IPv6. However, adoption rates are increasing, and usage rates have more than doubled within the last year, which is an extremely encouraging sign.
At Barred Owl Web, we are very happy to natively support IPv6 on our servers (including our DNS servers), so that together with other forward-looking internet companies, we can help the internet continue to work!
For more detailed information about DNS or IPv6, or to obtain technical support with your DNS or IPv6 implementation, please contact us.