The Domain Name System (DNS) is a hierarchical and decentralized naming system for computers, services, or other resources connected to the Internet or a private network. It associates various information with domain names assigned to each of the participating entities. Most prominently, it translates more readily memorized domain names to the numerical IP addresses needed for locating and identifying computer services and devices with the underlying network protocols. By providing a worldwide, distributed directory service, the Domain Name System has been an essential component of the functionality of the Internet since 1985.
The Domain Name System delegates the responsibility of assigning domain names and mapping those names to Internet resources by designating authoritative name servers for each domain. Network administrators may delegate authority over sub-domains of their allocated name space to other name servers. This mechanism provides distributed and fault-tolerant service and was designed to avoid a single large central database.
The Domain Name System also specifies the technical functionality of the database service that is at its core. It defines the DNS protocol, a detailed specification of the data structures and data communication exchanges used in the DNS, as part of the Internet Protocol Suite.
The Internet maintains two principal namespaces, the domain name hierarchy and the Internet Protocol (IP) address spaces. The Domain Name System maintains the domain name hierarchy and provides translation services between it and the address spaces. Internet name servers and a communication protocol implement the Domain Name System. A DNS name server is a server that stores the DNS records for a domain; a DNS name server responds with answers to queries against its database.
The most common types of records stored in the DNS database are for Start of Authority (SOA), IP addresses (A and AAAA), SMTP mail exchangers (MX), name servers (NS), pointers for reverse DNS lookups (PTR), and domain name aliases (CNAME). Although not intended to be a general purpose database, DNS has been expanded over time to store records for other types of data for either automatic lookups, such as DNSSEC records, or for human queries such as responsible person (RP) records. As a general purpose database, the DNS has also been used in combating unsolicited email (spam) by storing a real-time blackhole list (RBL). The DNS database is traditionally stored in a structured text file, the zone file, but other database systems are common.
An often-used analogy to explain the Domain Name System is that it serves as the phone book for the Internet by translating human-friendly computer host-names into IP addresses. For example, the domain name www.example.com translates to the addresses 188.8.131.52 (IPv4) and 2606:2800:220:1:248:1893:25c8:1946 (IPv6). The DNS can be quickly and transparently updated, allowing a service’s location on the network to change without affecting the end users, who continue to use the same host-name. Users take advantage of this when they use meaningful Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) and e-mail addresses without having to know how the computer actually locates the services.
An important and ubiquitous function of DNS is its central role in distributed Internet services such as cloud services and content delivery networks. When a user accesses a distributed Internet service using a URL, the domain name of the URL is translated to the IP address of a server that is proximal to the user. The key functionality of DNS exploited here is that different users can simultaneously receive different translations for the same domain name, a key point of divergence from a traditional phone-book view of the DNS. This process of using the DNS to assign proximal servers to users is key to providing faster and more reliable responses on the Internet and is widely used by most major Internet services.
The DNS reflects the structure of administrative responsibility in the Internet. Each subdomain is a zone of administrative autonomy delegated to a manager. For zones operated by a registry, administrative information is often complemented by the registry’s RDAP and WHOIS services. That data can be used to gain insight on, and track responsibility for, a given host on the Internet.
DNS primarily uses the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) on port number 53 to serve requests. DNS queries consist of a single UDP request from the client followed by a single UDP reply from the server. When the length of the answer exceeds 512 bytes and both client and server support EDNS, larger UDP packets are used. Otherwise, the query is sent again using the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP). TCP is also used for tasks such as zone transfers. Some resolver implementations use TCP for all queries.
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