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A short guide to DNS records

When we design a new website, build new landing pages for a marketing campaign or migrate a website to our hosting environment, we ask clients to create or edit DNS records on their domain. This is a fairly standard part of any deployment process for us, but working with DNS records is not something many people do every day.

If you haven’t worked with DNS records before, this guide is for you. We’ll cover:

  1. What is DNS?
  2. What does each type of DNS record do?
  3. What do DNS records look like?
  4. How to find out where your domain is registered
  5. How to create or edit DNS records at that specific service

1.What is DNS?

DNS stands for Domain Name System, and it controls your domain name’s website and email settings. Humans aren’t great at remembering long IP addresses. When you type a domain into your browser to visit a website, the DNS records match your domain to your host’s IP address and tell the browser where to go to reach your site.

DNS record management should be approached with a little caution, and if you have any doubt about editing existing records always ask for help. If you remove the wrong MX record for example, you’ll stop everyone at your organisation sending or receiving email…

So, if you have a web ops or IT team this is probably one for them. If not though hopefully this very short guide will help.

2.What does each type of DNS record do?

Itineris will normally only ask you to create or edit A records and CNAME records, as these control your website and any subdomains.

Nameserver

Nameservers “point” your domain name to the company that controls its DNS settings. Usually, this will be the company where you registered the domain name.

However, if your website is hosted by another company, sometimes they will provide nameservers you need to point to instead.

Zone file

Zone Files are simply the files that store all of your domain’s DNS settings.

Your domain name’s Zone File is stored on the company’s nameserver.

A record

A Records point your domain name to an individual server using an IP address. An example IP address is 123.4.67.5.

Every domain name has a primary A Record called “@,” which controls what your domain name does when some visits it directly.

You can also use A Records to point subdomains (for example subdomain.coolexample.com) to a server’s IP address.

CNAME

CNAMEs point your subdomains to another server using a server name, like server1.godaddy.com.

Most domain names have many CNAMEs.

Unlike A Records, CNAMEs cannot use IP addresses.

MX records

MX Records point your domain name’s email to its email provider.

3. What do DNS records look like?

If you haven’t seen DNS records before there’s nothing to fear! Here’s a real example of some of the record types listed above:

4. How to find out where your domain is registered

DNS records are usually managed in the same place that your domain was registered. If your organisation hasn’t updated your website for a while, the marketing team is unlikely to know where the domain was registered.

Fortunately, you can use a simple and free WHOIS search to find out. There are many available but we find GoDaddy’s tool very reliable:

https://uk.godaddy.com/whois

Enter your domain into the search box and hit search:

Here’s the WHOIS search result for our domain Itineris.co.uk:

Under registrar it shows that our domain was registered through Namesco, so to update our DNS we would log into names.co.uk.

5. How to create or edit DNS records

By now you should:

  • Know what DNS records do, and understand the different record types
  • Have specific DNS record change instructions from itineris.co.uk
  • Know the registrar you’ll need to log into to make these changes

There are literally thousands of domain registrars so we’re unable to provide specific advice on managing DNS records for all of them. We recommend either contacting their support team, or as the ad says you can let Google do it:

Written by

Head of Execution

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