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Domain Name Servers (DNS) are the Internet’s equivalent of a phone book. They maintain a directory of domain names and translate them to Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.
This is necessary because, although domain names are easy for people to remember, computers or machines, access websites based on IP addresses.
Information from all the domain name servers across the Internet are gathered together and housed at the Central Registry. Host companies and Internet Service Providers interact with the Central Registry on a regular schedule to get updated DNS information.
When you type in a web address, e.g., www.jimsbikes.com, your Internet Service Provider views the DNS associated with the domain name, translates it into a machine friendly IP address (for example 220.127.116.11 is the IP for jimsbikes.com) and directs your Internet connection to the correct website.
After you register a new domain name or when you update the DNS servers on your domain name, it usually takes about 12-36 hours for the domain name servers world-wide to be updated and able to access the information. This 36-hour period is referred to as propagation.
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A domain name consists of one or more parts, technically called labels, that are conventionally concatenated, and delimited by dots, such as example.com.
- The right-most label conveys the top-level domain; for example, the domain name www.example.com belongs to the top-level domain com.
- The hierarchy of domains descends from the right to the left label in the name; each label to the left specifies a subdivision, or subdomain of the domain to the right. For example: the label example specifies a node example.com as a subdomain of the com domain, and www is a label to create www.example.com, a subdomain of example.com. Each label may contain from 1 to 63 octets. The empty label is reserved for the root node and when fully qualified is expressed as the empty label terminated by a dot. The full domain name may not exceed a total length of 253 ASCII characters in its textual representation. Thus, when using a single character per label, the limit is 127 levels: 127 characters plus 126 dots have a total length of 253. In practice, some domain registries may have shorter limits.
- A hostname is a domain name that has at least one associated IP address. For example, the domain names www.example.com and example.com are also hostnames, whereas the com domain is not. However, other top-level domains, particularly country code top-level domains, may indeed have an IP address, and if so, they are also hostnames.
- Hostnames impose restrictions on the characters allowed in the corresponding domain name. A valid hostname is also a valid domain name, but a valid domain name may not necessarily be valid as a hostname.
How Domain Name System Works
The sole purpose of the DNS system is to make your browsing more comfortable. You really don’t want to remember all those number-dot-numbers-dot-more-numbers, right? It’s a lot easier to remember domain.me or some other domain. When you enter that pretty domain name, the browser will search through the DNS system and find the exact IP address of the corresponding website.
This is where domain name hierarchy really shines; if you want to open domain.me, the browser will first go to the root DNS records and try to find all the name servers within the .me top-level domain. It will then go to the first server on the list and try to find the actual IP address which is connected to domain.me. Once found, the browser knows the IP address of the “domain.me” domain and opens up the site.