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DNS for dummies – a basic understanding

Fri, 16/08/2013 - 12:11

All you need to know about your domain to get by

The Domain Name System (DNS) is like a phone book, in that it is a naming system which translates human recognisable domain names into IP addresses to locate devices across the internet. It allows locations to change without affecting the end users, who still keep on using the same domain name, URLs or email addresses. The registration, administration and updating of domain records is a very specialised field, and often confusing to us non-techie plebs, so this blog aims to clarify what you need to know about owning a domain.

Who can register my domain?

Anybody can register a domain for you. You can still register your own domain if you wish. It’s usually quicker if your current domain administrator or service provider does it for you, as they already have accounts with the registrars, and can do it much quicker and without hassle. Just ensure that the management of the domain is entrusted to a competent company or person.

Who administers my domain?

Firstly, to confirm who owns and administers the domain, we go look at the “WHOIS” records. These records are maintained by domain registrars, and publicly available on the internet. Most domain registrars will offer the lookup service for free, and the most popular places to check are as follows:

http://www.org.za/ for .org.za domains; http://www.networksolutions.com/whois/index.jsp or http://who.godaddy.com/?isc=GPPT02K217&ci=8926 for .com and other common domain extensions.

This record will show the registrant (domain owner/you!), billing details (usually the domain administrator will automatically manage this account and bill you separately), domain administrator details (who also has the ability to makes the changes, but is not the registrant) and nameservers (the server which hosts the DNS records).

This is handy, in case you are not sure who to contact with regards to any domain updates.

Your domain administrator is another entity besides the owner who has the privileges to action any changes to the domain (domain pointing, domain updates, accept or reject domain transfers).

Can I administer my own domain?

Owning a domain is easy, you simply need to keep paying the yearly fees. However, making any updates to a domain, such as DNS pointing, can be a sensitive business, and you need to know what you are doing. It is not a DIY job, so rather appoint a competent domain administrator to manage it for you.

Domain Records

A domain name is only a name and can serve no purpose without DNS records. They need to be set up and administered in order to connect the domain name to the website and emails associated with the domain.

All you need to know is that the A-record and www-record will resolve to the IP of the server that your website is hosted on. The MX-record resolves to the IP of the server that your mail is hosted on. This may or may not be the same server.

What about my website?

A website is hosted on a server which is usually specially prepared for hosting websites. In terms of saving costs, many people choose to host on shared hosting, where they pay a better price for space on a server. However, this is quite limited, and if you have a large website or one that has been built on a specialised platform, it is recommended that you look at a dedicated server. Your website administrators will usually suggest the best hosting solution.

Who administers my emails?

Your emails can often be handled by your domain administrator or your website provider. However, if your emails are mission critical, make sure that you go with a service provider who can give you support at the hours that you may require it.

If you’re still keeping up, you’ll realise that your domain administrator can be different to your email provider and these may both be different to your website hosting provider. By this time you’ve probably realised that it is simply the easiest to let one service provider do it all for you. This may also be cost-saving, unless you are comfortable with paying fees to all parties.

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