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Domain Name System (DNS)

In order to create a Web site you must have a domain name. The domain name system (DNS) is designed to simplify domain names for people accessing your site. This article provides some history of the domain name system and explains how the DNS works.

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When you decide to set up a Web site on the Internet, you need a domain name. Your domain name is something like www.yourcompany.com, and is used to identify you on the Web. Your domain name is unique, so that when it is typed in to computers around the world, it one goes to one place. The Domain Name System (DNS) was created to make things easier for people using computers. The main point of the DNS is to allow people to find Web sites by typing in letters and names that are easy to remember. Imagine if people had to locate your Web site by remembering to type in something like 921.56.897.123.

The domain name system matches the numerical location of your Web site to letters that people can actually remember and that make sense to them. The entire process is meant to make it easier for people to use the Internet and find what they are looking for. On top of providing a way for people to interact online, the DNS also lays out a specific structure for domain names, describing how they are to function.

History of the domain name system

Before the DNS was officially formed, networks such as ARPAnet used a system of assigning names to numbered locations. Being able to simplify the use of computer networks has always been very important. However, at the time a system of host files was used. These files were stored on the computers connected to the network. Every time a change was made, all of the host files had to be updated. As you might guess, the process was tedious and sometimes imprecise. As networking became more widespread, the host file system obviously was inadequate. Something scalable had to be used.

In 1983, Paul Mockapetris invented the Domain Name System at the behest of Job Postel. Originally, extensions were limited to seven, and some other protocols were somewhat limiting. However, various changes to the original DNS protocol have been made in order to expand its scope and add several additional extensions in order to allow the Internet to grow. The dominant DNS software used on the Internet is one written in 1984 at Berkeley, called BIND (Berkeley Internet Name Domain).

How the DNS works

Domain names have at least two parts. The top level domain name is the extension. This is something like .com, .biz, .edu or .org. These extensions can provide information about the domain name, and they provide a way to offer more domain names for use on the Internet. Other subdomains can be added. You can something like yourcompay.com, or something like yourcompany.wordpress.com. In the second case, yourcompany is a subdomain of wordpress.com. It is possible to have sublevels up to 127 in the DNS, but most domain name registrars limit those possibilities due to issues of practicality.

The entire system is maintained on a database system. This system is a distributed system that makes use of what is known as the client-server model. This means that the work of retrieving information is divided into those that request services (or request that a domain name be attached to a string of numbers that make up an IP address) and those that provide the services. Servers, which are basically high performance computers without monitors, are used to store the location of different Web sites and used to facilitate the transaction.

The domain name system works because the computers around the world are interconnected. When you are on the Internet and looking for a specific Web site, you can type in that Web site’s name, and the request is translated into numbers. These numbers correspond with the IP address where the Web site is located. It is then possible for the information to be displayed on your computer monitor.

Domain name registration is controlled by the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers (ICANN), which sets policy that ensures that domain names are unique. This way, there cannot be two yourcompany.com Web sites, causing confusion and mucking up the workings of the World Wide Web. It is possible to have a yourcompany.com and a yourcompany.net, but ICANN’s system of approved and accredited domain name registrars works to prevent identical domain names attached to different numerical locations on DNS servers.

In the end, the domain name system is vital to the proper functioning of a global Internet. Without it, things would be chaos and we would not have the same abilities we have now for worldwide connections.

Related Article: ICANN and Domain Registrars >>

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