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Glossary of DNS terms

Updated on October 31st, 2022

When working with domain names, there are seemingly countless terms and acronyms that you may come across along the way. Not sure what a TTL is, or how a CNAME relates to your DNS? That’s ok, we’re here to help!


Glossary of DNS Terms

DNS
Domain
Domain Registrar
Nameservers (NS Records)
IP Address
DNS Editor
DNS record types: A Record
DNS record types: CNAME Record
DNS record types: MX Record
Other record types
DNS Propagation
Time To Live (TTL)

DNS

DNS stands for Domain Name System. This system serves as the “phonebook” of the internet. DNS records tell your web browser at what IP address it can find the website requested.

Domain

A website address purchased from a Domain Registrar, for example www.google.com.

Domain Registrar

A Domain Registrar is a company that reserves domain names and manages the assignment of IP addresses for those domain names. Basically, the company that you used to purchase and register your domain name through. Some popular registrars include GoDaddy, Tucows, Hover, Network Solutions, eNom, and Google Domains.

Nameservers (NS Records)

A nameserver is the translator between a sites domain name, for humans to read, and the IP address, for computers to process. Name server settings (sometimes displayed as NS Records) establish which server on the internet contains the records for your particular domain. These servers typically belong to a specific company.

You can look up your NS/Name server record values using this WHOIS DNS lookup tool. If the result is unfamiliar, use the search engine of your choice to ask something like “which company uses the name server [insert name of your name server here]“.

IP address

IP stands for Internet Protocol. An IP address is a number associated with a device that connects to the internet. This can include computers, routers, web servers, and websites. DNS associates Domain Names with IP addresses, for quick lookup by web browsers.

The DNS Editor

Every Domain Registrar calls the page where you edit your DNS records something different. Most just call it “DNS” others call it the “DNS Editor,” “Domain Editor,” “DNS Zone Editor,” or even just “Zone Editor.”

For most services, it looks a bit like a spreadsheet. DNS editors allow users to match up domains and subdomain variations of that domain to the servers where each website is hosted. You can also control which service is managing your email, or create records that help you establish ownership of this domain to third parties.

DNS Record Types: A Records

A Records link a domain or subdomain to a web hosting server. The “A” stands for address and it indicates the IP address of the domain, specifically the IPv4 address (example – 104.17.210.9).

DNS Record Types: CNAME Records

CNAME (Canonical Name record) sends one domain name (an alias) to another (CNAME). This allows you to have different variations of a domain name pointed to the same A record. For example, ftp.dnsthings.com and www.dnsthings.com can point to dnsthings.com, which is an A record.

DNS Record Types: MX Records

These records control which mail service is handling email for this domain. Please note that Flywheel does not offer personal or business email inbox hosting for your domain. For that reason, we strongly advise against deleting or editing any MX records for your domain unless advised to do so by your email provider.

Note

Emails that are sent out from your WordPress site are managed by Flywheel for all plans. The kind of email handled by the MX records inside your DNS editor would be the type that you’d use in an email inbox platform like Gmail or Outlook.

Other DNS Record Types

There are several other types of DNS records available to different DNS editors, depending on the system in use.  These fields control a host of more niche domain functions, few that are relevant to hosting on Flywheel. We recommend consulting the support of any service requesting edits these other field types.

DNS propagation

Changes made to your domain, such as updating the A record values or nameservers, will usually complete with in a hour or two. However, this can sometimes take up to 72 hours, depending on certain factors (such as TTL settings, see below).

The timeframe it takes for these changes to DNS to be updated across the internet is called DNS propagation.

The timing of this process will vary because ISPs (Internet Service Providers) around the globe need to update their caches with the DNS changes you’ve made. These updates are made at different rates determined by each individual ISP. There is no way to “speed up” propagation due to this fact.

TTL (Time to Live) settings

If your DNS editor has control settings for something called TTL (Time to Live),  it’s essentially a number specifying of how long your domain registrar should wait before it refreshes your record(s) and publishes any changes that have been made since it last refreshed.

 


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