What Is a DNS Server And How Does It Work?
What Is a DNS Server And How Does It Work?
What do you think if your PC, smartphone or tablet knew where to go when you typed in a domain name like schemafix.com? Virtually all internet-connected devices use a domain name system, with a DNS server at its heart.
But what is a DNS Server and how does it work to get us from A (domain name) to B (matching web server)? How do you know if your DNS server is responding correctly or not? Let's find out how DNS works, and what to do if there is a problem with the DNS server.
What are DNS Servers?
There's a reason why you or your friends who are already abroad can all type the URL into your browser and see the same result. The Domain Name System is the foundation of the web, acting as the database of every public facing website. The DNS Server resolves the IP address for the web server and matches it to the domain name and hostname (for www.google.com, the hostname will be www).
This information is stored in aggregate on 13 DNS root name server addresses, run by companies, government agencies, and universities. There are hundreds of matched root servers, hosted by these 13 organizations and sharing the same IP address worldwide for speed and reliability. The reason for DNS is simple, it's much easier for users to remember domain names, such as google.com, than they do with IP addresses.
For Google, it is 18.104.22.168. If you host your website on your own server, you will need to provide your own IP address if you are not using a DNS provider or have a static IP address. You will usually use the DNS server provided by your ISP by default. You can also use public DNS servers to increase your security online, such as Google's own public DNS servers at 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199 .
How Do DNS Servers Work
The DNS directory, like the internet distributed around the world, is stored on Domain Name Servers and everything communicates with each other on a regular basis. Each site can have more than one IP address. In fact, some sites have hundreds or more IP addresses that correspond to a single domain name.
For example, the server your computer reaches for www.google.com is likely to be very different from the server someone in another country would reach by typing the same site name into their browser.
Another reason for the distributed nature of directories is the amount of time it takes for you to get a response when you search a site if there is only one location for the directory, shared among millions, perhaps billions, of people who are also concurrently searching for information.
But DNS information is shared among multiple servers and also cached locally on client computers. Chances are you guys use google.com several times a day. Instead of your computer constantly asking the DNS name server for the google.com IP address, that information is stored on your computer so it doesn't have to access the DNS server to resolve the name with its IP address.
Additional caching can occur on the router used to connect the client to the internet, as well as on the user's Internet Service Provider (ISP) server. With so much caching going on, the number of queries that actually make it to the DNS server is much lower than it seems.
Why is My DNS Server Unavailable?
When your PC cannot find the domain name you typed in, there may be a problem with your DNS server. Your DNS server may be unavailable due to a problem with the server, or a problem with connecting to it (such as an internet outage). If you are using the DNS settings provided by your ISP, and you are getting a DNS server not responding error, try restarting your router.
This can restore your connectivity to the DNS server without any additional steps. If this doesn't work, reset your DNS cache. Try on Windows, press Win + X , select Windows PowerShell (Admin) , then type:
If you are a macOS user, you can open a terminal and type:
sudo dscacheutil -flushcache; sudo killall -HUP mDNSResponder
Linux-based operating systems generally don't do any DNS caching unless you use nscd. If so, type the following:
sudo /etc/init.d/nscd restart
If all else fails, and your DNS server is unavailable for a long period of time, then it's time for you to set it up yourself.
Why Must Set DNS Settings
In most cases, you are not forced to use the DNS servers you use by default with your internet connection. You can set your device to use an alternative DNS server if you want. Actually changing the DNS server can be a good way to protect yourself online. You can also change your DNS server to a provider like OpenDNS, which can help filter out adult content and malware.
However, one of the biggest reasons to change your DNS server settings is for speed. The few extra seconds of loading time for each page can start to add up, you can reclaim that time by changing your DNS settings to a faster provider. Your ISP's DNS Server may not be well maintained, resulting in noticeable slowdowns, even with a fast internet connection.
It also helps to change your DNS settings if the server you are using is unreliable and drops frequently. If you are thinking about using a VPN, you may also want to change the DNS server settings from those provided by your ISP. You'll also want to set up your VPN connection on Windows to properly use DNS leak protection. Otherwise, DNS leaks can reveal your identity to prying authorities.
Dangers Of DNS Malware
DNS Spoofing (or DNS cache poisoning) can be a way for malware authors to manipulate the Domain Name System to benefit themselves. DNS Malware can assign records in your DNS cache to alternative servers. It might look like Google, the URL might match, but your PC will take you to another website entirely and it all happens without you knowing it.
This type of sophisticated phishing attack can cause you to unwittingly reveal your personal data to malicious servers. To prevent this from happening, update your antivirus and antimalware software and run regular scans of your PC. If you find malware, try clearing the DNS cache.
How to Change DNS Settings
You can change DNS settings on modern operating systems like Windows and macOS quickly, although it's a bit tricky on Linux, depending on your distribution.
To change your DNS settings in Windows, press Win + X and select Settings > Network & Internet > Network & Sharing Center. In the menu on the left, select Change adapter settings. Right-click your internet connection and select Properties. Select Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) and select Properties. From here, enable Use the following DNS server addresses and fill in the preferred and alternative DNS server addresses with your preferred DNS provider.
If you are using macOS, click the System Preferences icon in your dock, then click Network. Make sure your connection is selected, then click Advanced > DNS. Remove all existing DNS servers with the – icon, then press the + icon to enter your new address. When finished, click OK.
If you are running Linux, changing your DNS settings will depend on the distribution you are using. It will also depend on the network manager using the distribution. If you are an Ubuntu user, you will have to manage the IP address settings in Ubuntu using the GUI or by using the terminal editor to manually edit the relevant configuration files.
So what are DNS Servers? Distributed directories resolve human-readable hostnames, such as www.schemafix.com, to machine-readable IP addresses such as 188.8.131.52. Under normal circumstances, you don't need to worry about your DNS server. They operate in the background, working to get you from A to B while you use the web without any problems.
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