Setting up the DNS records for this website, took me less than 5 minutes. Though when I was building my very first website, I really struggled to understand DNS. My journey started out by asking a simple question:
Where are my DNS records hosted?
DNS records are hosted on the nameservers connected to your domain name. The connected nameservers can be found under your registrar’s domain management. Your Domain’s DNS records can only be changed from where the connected nameservers are hosted.
Although the answer above is spot on, you might still be confused by all the technical jargon. Rest assured, it’s all about to become crystal clear. Be sure to read on, as properly setting up your DNS records is crucial for making your website publicly available.
Where to find your website’s DNS records
When I was creating my very first website, I didn’t have clue on why DNS even existed. Well, as it turns out, it’s actually a crucial part of the internet. If it wasn’t for DNS, we’d all still be typing in IP addresses to gain access to websites. Imagine that!
If you’re not familiar with DNS, I urge you to read this section first. Though if you’re already up to speed, and just want to know where your dns records are hosted, feel free to continue reading.
You’ll need to start out, by doing some online research. The key is to find the DNS servers, also called nameservers, which are connected to your domain name. Luckily the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), has all the information you need.
You can use Icann’s lookup functionality to find these connected nameservers. Though, sometimes even Icann’s lookup tool doesn’t have all the answers. A great alternative is whois.domaintools.com, which will get you the same, if not better results.
These online tools work quite similarly. All you have to do, is enter your domain name into the search bar. And after a few seconds, the information will be displayed on your screen. When you’ve found the nameservers section, you’ll see addresses which look similar to this:
I’ve taken a screenshot of the Information Icann has on my website. As you might notice, the nameservers for my domain name contain my registrar’s name. This is because I’m currently using my registrar’s nameservers to host my DNS records.
DNS Records hosted on your registrar’s nameservers
After you’ve found your domain’s nameservers. Be sure to check if these server addresses looks similar to your registrar’s name. If so, finding your active DNS records will be a breeze. All you have to do, is login to your registrar account and locate the DNS settings.
Though in most cases, these nameserver addresses will be different from your registrar. If this is the case, you might still want to login into your registrar account. As certain registrars, like Namecheap, use nameserver addresses which don’t contain their actual name.
For example: I own the “richardkoolman.com” domain name. I know for certain, this domain is connected to Namecheap’s default nameservers. Though when I lookup the whois information on Domaintools (see image below), I wouldn’t have been able to guess.
[Image domain tools screenshot]
DNS Records hosted on a network management service
After you’ve made sure, your domain’s nameserver isn’t hosted by your registrar. Your domain will either be connected to a nameserver hosted by a network management service (like: Cloudflare or DNS Made Easy) or by a web hosting service (like: A2Hosting, Siteground or Bluehost).
You’re best bet, is to examine the nameserver addresses you’ve found. Specifically look at the last part of an address, as it usually contains a clue. For example purposes, I’ve temporarily connected one of my domains to different nameservers.
[image Cmd before / Cmd after]
As you can see from the image above, this domain was previously connected to Namecheap’s default nameservers. I’ve changed this, by logging into my namecheap account and opening the domain management. Then I added multiple custom nameservers to this domain name.
After making this change, I won’t be able edit the DNS records from within my namecheap account anymore. As my domain is now connected to namesevers which aren’t hosted by Namecheap. In other words, I’ll have to login to the 3rd party’s website to gain access to my website’s DNS records.
The last part of the new addresses is “dnsmadeeasy.com”. It’s quite obvious my domain’s DNS records are now stored on a nameserver which is hosted by “DNS Made Easy”. All I have to do is login to my DNS Made Easy account, and have a look at the DNS settings.
Pro Tip: If you want to impress your friends, use the command prompt to find your domain’s nameservers (Microsoft Windows only). Click on the Windows start menu, type in “cmd”, press enter. Then type in following command: “nslookup -type=ns”, followed by a space and your full domain name.
DNS Records hosted by your web hosting service provider
Your domain could also be connected nameserver addresses which look something like this: NS1.A2HOSTING.COM, NS1.BLUEHOST.COM or NS1.US15.SITEGROUND.US. These nameservers contain the name of a web hosting service provider.
In order to access your website’s DNS records, you’ll have to login to your web hosting account. Once you’ve logged in, look for an option which contains “DNS Zone”. Now find the domain you want to edit and click the “manage” or “edit” button.
Most web hosts will advise you to use their nameservers. The benefit of doing so, is you’ll able to manage everything from a single account. Though you don’t necessarily have to use your web host’s nameservers.
In most cases you’ll also be able to point your domain to your web server’s IP address, by adding an A record. Though you’ll have to know your web server’s IP address to do so.
In the image below, I’ve added an A record pointing to this website’s IP address. So when I enter webtoolr.com into my browser, the homepage for this website will show up. Though because I haven’t done any setup on my webserver, a warning message appears.
[Image Example of DNS Made Easy]
This warning message warns you the connection isn’t private. This is because I haven’t installed an SSL certificate on my webserver for this domain. Though when I click on the “Advanced” button and the “Proceed to webtoolr.com (unsafe)” link, the homepage will be visible.
[image of warning]
You now know how to find out where your DNS records are hosted. Though I can imagine the technical jargon can make things a little confusing. If this is you, this next section is a must read. I’ve used laymen terms to describe show DNS actually works.
DNS explained in layman terms
You can compare the Domain Name System (DNS) to huge library full of books. In fact a library which contains all the books currently in existence. But what does a library full of books got to do with DNS? Well just bear with me for a moment, it’s a metaphor.
A website is actually just a bunch of publicly available files stored somewhere on a server. There are text files, image files and files which contain code to properly display everything on your screen.
Your web browser is able to compile all these files into a visual representation of the website you want to visit. Though before your browser can display this website, it will first have to know where all the files are stored.
In other words, you’re browser will need to know the (IP) address for the computer or server where your website is hosted.
Let’s say you want to Google something. Here’s one of the computer addresses on which Google has stored their search engine website: 188.8.131.52. If you type this ip number into your browser’s address bar, Google Search will show up.
Now answer the following question:
Which one is easier to remember “Google.com” or “184.108.40.206”? Let me guess, you’re answer is Google.com, right? We, as humans, are better at remembering names than number sequences. And this is why DNS is so important!
Google actually owns multiple domain names, all having a different Top Level Domain (TLD). For example: Google.nl (Netherlands), Google.ca (Canada), Google.cn (China), and so on. Let’s continue with the library metaphor, as it will make more sense now.
A library containing all the books in the world, needs to have enough space to store them all. That’s why this library is located in gigantic skyscraper. Every floor has been dedicated to a specific language or topic.
A floor containing many books written in Dutch is labeled “.nl”. The “.cn” floor contains a lot of books written in Chinese. Though there are also some special floors, like the “.com” floor, which contains all the commercial business books.
There’s a small problem though, every bookcase located in the library contains randomly sorted books. Because of this, each of the skyscraper’s floors has its own authoritative floor manager and respective bookcase managers.
Oh and there’s also librarian called Root, who knows the layout of the entire building.
Imagine, you’re trying to find an english book, called “learnaboutwebsites.com”. You try to locate the book yourself for a few microseconds. Though it’s been a while since you’ve last read that book, and can’t remember where’s it’s located.
So you decide to ask the librarian called Root. Root doesn’t know the book’s exact location, though you’re told to take the lightspeed elevator to the “.com” floor. You’ll need to ask the same question again to the floor manager.
Once you arrive on the “.com” floor, the authoritative floor manager tells you to talk to the bookcase manager called Porkbun. Porkbun actually manages multiple bookcases and points you to the nearest one, containing the book you’re searching for.
In real life, all this literally takes place in the blink of an eye. That’s why I used references like “milliseconds” and “lightspeed elevator”. Some network management services can resolve such queries within 12 milliseconds (or 0.012 seconds).
These laymen terms can be replaced by the following technical jargon:
- The librarian = root name servers
- The floor manager = authoritative (TLD) servers
- The bookcase = (resolving) nameserver
- The book = IP address for your website
I’ve just explained what happens, when visiting a website for the very first time. Though there are websites you visit more frequently. So let’s revert back to the metaphor for a moment. If you’ve found a certain book in the library before, you’ll probably remember where its located.
This also happens when you’ve visited a certain website. Your computer will remember the IP address for that website. So there’s no need to talk to any of the managers or the librarian. Your computer will look at it’s DNS Resolver Cache and use the IP address stored for the domain name you entered into your web browser.
[Image ipconfig /displaydns Image]
To see which IP addresses are currently stored on your computer’s DNS Resolver Cache, go to the Command Prompt (Windows Start Menu, type CMD) and enter this command: “ipconfig /displaydns” followed by an enter.
Your computer actually isn’t the only place where these IP addresses are stored. When you’re connected to the internet, your Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) nameservers also store this kind of information.
Their resolving nameserver will also speed up the process of finding the right IP address connected to the URL you want to visit.
* I know most blog websites use phone books to explain the Domain Name System. Though believe it or not, there are actually people on this planet who’ve never seen or touched a phone book in their lives. Sorry, if you’re feeling a bit old right now.
If skipped ahead, you can go back to “Where to find your website’s DNS records“
Below I’ve added the answers to the most frequently asked questions. You’ll find the short, to the point answers to your most burning questions. If you’re missing a question below, feel free to reach out to me.
What is a Nameserver?
A nameserver is a dedicated computer for hosting DNS records. It’s part of the Domain Name System (DNS). Which allows us to use domain names instead of IP addresses when visiting websites. Sometimes nameservers are also called DNS servers.
There are 3 types of nameservers, each having its own purpose within the DNS.
The Root servers which are the highest level of name servers. This type of nameserver relays the IP addresses for the authoritative nameservers (TLD servers).
Authoritative nameservers relay the IP addresses for the resolving nameservers. These are the nameservers to which a domain name is connected.
The resolving nameserver will relay the IP address for the website you want to visit. This is the IP address for the web server on which your website is hosted.
What is a Registrar
A registrar is the vendor where you’ll be able to register a domain name. Some examples are: Namecheap, GoDaddy, Porkbun.
What are DNS Records?
DNS records simply translate a website’s domain name into an IP address. It’s a table which contains different types of records all having their own purpose.
A records are used to map a domain name to an IP address
Example: Google.com points to 220.127.116.11
AAAA records are similar to A records, though they point to a Ipv6 IP address
Example: Google.com points to 0:0:0:0:0:ffff:acd9:a8ee
CNAME records are alias domains which point to other domains
Example: www.google.com points to google.com (without the www. prefix)
MX records are used for connecting your domain name to an email server
Example: MX – Priority 1 – ALT1.ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM
TXT records are used to store additional information and can be used in different ways. To authenticate you’re the owner of a domain name for Google analytics and Search Console. Or to add Sender Policy Framework (SPF) or DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) information. This last bit is quite important to increase trust for emails send from email addresses using your domain name.
SRV records are well, uhm I actually don’t understand srv records to be completely honest. I’m sorry to leave you hanging, but it’s better than just making up an answer, right?