Date:01/01/1983The Domain Name System (DNS) is a hierarchical decentralized naming system for computers, services, or any resource connected to the Internet or a private network. It associates various information with domain names assigned to each of the participating entities. Most prominently, it translates more readily memorized domain names to the numerical IP addresses needed for the purpose of locating and identifying computer services and devices with the underlying network protocols. By providing a worldwide, distributed directory service, the Domain Name System is an essential component of the functionality of the Internet.

The Domain Name System (DNS) is basically a large database which resides on various computers and it contains the names and IP addresses of various hosts on the internet and various domains. The Domain Name System is used to provide information to the Domain Name Service to use when queries are made. The service is the act of querying the database, and the system is the data structure and data itself. The Domain Name System is similar to a file system in Unix or DOS starting with a root. Branches attach to the root to create a huge set of paths. Each branch in the DNS is called a label. Each label can be 63 characters long, but most are less. Each text word between the dots can be 63 characters in length, with the total domain name (all the labels) limited to 255 bytes in overall length. The domain name system database is divided into sections called zones. The name servers in their respective zones are responsible for answering queries for their zones. A zone is a subtree of DNS and is administered separately. There are multiple name servers for a zone. There is usually one primary nameserver and one or more secondary name servers. A name server may be authoritative for more than one zone.

The Domain Name System delegates the responsibility of assigning domain names and mapping those names to Internet resources by designating authoritative name servers for each domain. Network administrators may delegate authority over sub-domains of their allocated name space to other name servers. This mechanism provides distributed and fault tolerant service and was designed to avoid a single large central database. The Domain Name System also specifies the technical functionality of the database service which is at its core. It defines the DNS protocol, a detailed specification of the data structures and data communication exchanges used in the DNS, as part of the Internet Protocol Suite. Historically, other directory services preceding DNS were not scalable to large or global directories as they were originally based on text files, prominently the HOSTS.TXT resolver. The Domain Name System has been in use since the 1980s. The Internet maintains two principal namespaces, the domain name hierarchy[ and the Internet Protocol (IP) address spaces. The Domain Name System maintains the domain name hierarchy and provides translation services between it and the address spaces. Internet name servers and a communication protocol implement the Domain Name System. A DNS name server is a server that stores the DNS records for a domain; a DNS name server responds with answers to queries against its database.

The most common types of records stored in the DNS database are for Start of Authority (SOA), IP addresses (A and AAAA), SMTP mail exchangers (MX), name servers (NS), pointers for reverse DNS lookups (PTR), and domain name aliases (CNAME). Although not intended to be a general purpose database, DNS can store records for other types of data for either automatic lookups, such as DNSSEC records, or for human queries such as responsible person (RP) records. As a general purpose database, the DNS has also been used in combating unsolicited email (spam) by storing a real-time blackhole list. The DNS database is traditionally stored in a structured zone file.


An often-used analogy to explain the Domain Name System is that it serves as the phone book for the Internet by translating human-friendly computer hostnames into IP addresses. For example, the domain name translates to the addresses (IPv4) and 2606:2800:220:6d:26bf:1447:1097:aa7 (IPv6). Unlike a phone book, DNS can be quickly updated, allowing a service’s location on the network to change without affecting the end users, who continue to use the same host name. Users take advantage of this when they use meaningful Uniform Resource Locators (URLs), and e-mail addresses without having to know how the computer actually locates the services.

Additionally, DNS reflects administrative partitioning. For zones operated by a registry, also known as public suffix zones, administrative information is often complemented by the registry’s RDAP and WHOIS services. That data can be used to gain insight on, and track responsibility for, a given host on the Internet. An important and ubiquitous function of DNS is its central role in distributed Internet services such as cloud services and content delivery networks. When a user accesses a distributed Internet service using a URL, the domain name of the URL is translated to the IP address of a server that is proximal to the user. The key functionality of DNS exploited here is that different users can simultaneously receive different translations for the same domain name, a key point of divergence from a traditional “phone book” view of DNS. This process of using DNS to assign proximal servers to users is key to providing faster response times on the Internet and is widely used by most major Internet services today.


Using a simpler, more memorable name in place of a host’s numerical address dates back to the ARPANET era. The Stanford Research Institute (now SRI International) maintained a text file named HOSTS.TXT that mapped host names to the numerical addresses of computers on the ARPANET. Host operators obtained copies of the master file. The rapid growth of the emerging network required an automated system for maintaining the host names and addresses.

Paul Mockapetris designed the Domain Name System at the University of California, Irvine in 1983, and wrote the first implementation at the request of Jon Postel from ISI. The Internet Engineering Task Force published the original specifications in RFC 882 and RFC 883 in November 1983, which established the concepts that still guide DNS development.

In 1984, four UC Berkeley students—Douglas Terry, Mark Painter, David Riggle, and Songnian Zhou—wrote the first Unix name server implementation, called the Berkeley Internet Name Domain (BIND) Server. In 1985, Kevin Dunlap of DEC substantially revised the DNS implementation. Mike Karels, Phil Almquist, and Paul Vixie have maintained BIND since then. BIND was ported to the Windows NT platform in the early 1990s. BIND was widely distributed, especially on Unix systems, and is still the most widely used DNS software on the Internet.

In November 1987, RFC 1034 and RFC 1035 superseded the 1983 DNS specifications. Several additional Request for Comments have proposed extensions to the core DNS protocols.

Structure and message format

The drawing below shows a partial DNS hierarchy. At the top is what is called the root and it is the start of all other branches in the DNS tree. It is designated with a period. Each branch moves down from level to level. When referring to DNS addresses, they are referred to from the bottom up with the root designator (period) at the far right. Example: “”.

DNS is hierarchical in structure. A domain is a subtree of the domain name space. From the root, the assigned top-level domains in the U.S. are:

GOV – Government body.

EDU – Educational body.

INT – International organization

NET – Networks

COM – Commercial entity.

MIL – U. S. Military.

ORG –      Any other organization not previously listed.

Outside this list are top level domains for various countries.

Usage and file formats

If a domain name is not found when a query is made, the server may search for the name elsewhere and return the information to the requesting workstation, or return the address of a name server that the workstation can query to get more information. There are special servers on the Internet that provide guidance to all name servers. These are known as root name servers. They do not contain all information about every host on the Internet, but they do provide direction as to where domains are located (the IP address of the name server for the uppermost domain a server is requesting). The root name server is the starting point to find any domain on the Internet.

Name Server Types

There are three types of name servers:

The primary master builds its database from files that were preconfigured on its hosts, called zone or database files. The name server reads these files and builds a database for the zone it is authoritative for.

Secondary masters can provide information to resolvers just like the primary masters, but they get their information from the primary. Any updates to the database are provided by the primary.

Caching name server – It gets all its answers to queries from other name servers and saves (caches) the answers. It is a non-authoritative server.

The caching only name server generates no zone transfer traffic. A DNS Server that can communicate outside of the private network to resolve a DNS name query is referred to as forwarder.