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I Just Want A Website – Why Do I Need DNS?

A very basic explanation of DNS and why we need it.

 

I know what a website is and that it needs a place (some nebulous server, full of information, somewhere out there) to be stored or ‘hosted’.  And I know what an email is, and that, like websites, there needs to be a storage space for all my emails, (received, sent and deleted).  But what on earth is DNS, and why do I need it?

 

DNS stands for "Domain Name Server".  Great. That clears it up, (she said sarcastically).

 

Here at REM Web Solutions, I like to describe DNS as a sort of phone book that works in the background to help users find websites online. Websites have meaningful names, such as http://www.microsoft.com, in a language we can understand, because  humans communicate with intelligible words (where possible). On the other hand, servers that connect to the Internet use a number based addressing system that is a lot like the phone numbers we use to connect with people over the phone.  That system is called the Internet Protocol (IP for short).  Here’s one here: 192.168.124.1 and another: 208.85.221.74.  

 

When people want to buy apart ment furniture, for example, seemingly random numbers are a lot more difficult to remember than simply going to “ikea.com”, and thus DNS was born to give us all a fighting chance to find websites that matter.

 

Sources vary, but a recent estimate suggests that, worldwide, there are 45-50 million servers functioning.  Clearly some kind of incredible filing and retrieving system is required in order for us to access the things hosted on any of those millions of servers.  DNS is a database that, upon receiving a “query” (for example, you typing “remwebsolutions.com” into your browser), translates that to an IP address and then uses that to locate the server, somewhere in the world, in which the information for that website is kept (or hosted).

 

DNS also plays a vital role in connecting email servers so that you can send and receive emails, as well as instant messages. Both of those processes are a more complex than I am describing here, but the bottom line is that DNS makes possible the daily, web-based tasks and entertainment that we value so highly.

 

Blair Rampling and David Dalan, from DNS For Dummies, summarize it nicely:

In quite a practical sense, any application that uses the Internet to connect two or more hosts to share information, or otherwise communicate, is probably relying on DNS services in one form or another.

 

Now you know, even if on a surface level, that DNS is important and, like a hidden structural support, it helps hold together the entire "building" of the Internet for us to use and enjoy.

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