Left in the dark about the term DNS? Neil Cumins sheds a little light on the issue…
It’s a common misapprehension that when you type a web address into your Internet browser, your computer trots off to that location and displays the content it finds. In fact, these web addresses act as a shorthand code for the Internet Protocol address for each website. Rather than having to remember a complex series of alphanumeric characters, the Domain Name System allows users to enter an easily-recognisable name followed by a basic suffix (such as .com or .net). For example, the UK2 website can be accessed by entering www.uk2.net into your browser’s address bar. However, this site’s “proper” IP address is 18.104.22.168.
Commonly abbreviated to DNS, the Domain Name System has several advantages over the numeric address system that divides each website location into three or four-character blocks separated by full stops or colons. The most obvious benefit is simplicity. Even if you don’t know a specific company’s website address, you can usually have a pretty good guess at its location by entering the company name followed by .com. The DNS server looks up the domain you’re trying to access and resolves your typed entry into the relevant IP address. If it can’t find the IP address in its database, it can ask another server to have a go – DNS servers are typically interconnected like a huge online spider’s web.
The established system of IPv4 address (typified by the UK2 example above) has 4.3 billion possible combinations of numbers. IPv4 is increasingly being superseded by IPv6 – a new and even lengthier method of assigning addresses to websites, which has 3.4 x1038 possible combinations. If you play in a tribute band called Dead Zeppelin, you’d probably rather have www.deadzeppelin.co.uk as your band’s website address than a less memorable IPv6 address like 2144:2800:209:6d:21cd:3177:1097:aa7.
Incidentally, if you do play in a tribute band called Dead Zeppelin, UK2 Group will sell you a year’s domain registration for deadzeppelin.co.uk for just £2.50. You’d struggle to buy a pint for that, even in the sort of dingy basement pubs that are probably all too familiar.
Another advantage of DNS is that it allows different languages or character sets to access the same website addresses. Not every country uses the English language’s 26-letter alphabet, but residents of any country in the world might wish to access bbc.co.uk or cnn.com. Similarly, a website’s name can easily be changed without affecting the IP address it’s hosted at. That’s particularly useful when a company changes its branding or gets taken over, ensuring continuity of service. It’s also handy for registering multiple domain names – securing both the.co.uk and .com suffixes, for instance. That way, you’re less likely to lose site visitors who guess the wrong suffix and end up on a completely different site.
DNS information also contains details of a site’s technical functionality, which advises computers trying to access a particular website about the sort of content they’re going to receive and how it should be displayed. There are many aspects to name servers that often stray into complex coding jargon, such as reverse lookups. Happily, UK2 handles all these complicated behind-the-scenes issues on your behalf, and DNS management is provided for free. This offers customers control over sub-domains, record-keeping and other technical issues that can be adjusted by IT experts – or left well alone by beginners…