What is DNS? How Does It Work? – Short Guide for Beginners

Sandra Wilk - Senior Content Creator at Woodpecker

Are you worried you won’t get what DNS is all about because you’re not a tech-savvy person? Well, neither am I. It’s for other people like me that I did my best to get to the bottom of this topic and explain it in plain English, as simply as possible.

So set your worries aside and dig in.

What is DNS?

DNS (Domain Name System) is a database that stores records for a domain (I’ll get to the records in a bit).

It’s most commonly used to translate domain names (that are easy to remember) into IP addresses (that are not).

Each device connected to the internet has an IP number. It uses it to communicate. I’m sure you’ve seen them, but IP addresses look something like this: Or this: 2001:db8:0:1234:0:567:8:1. Imagine what a drag it would be if you had to remember the IPs! Thanks to DNS, though, you don’t have to: you can simply type in a domain name (e.g. woodpecker.co) and you’ll get the result – the site you were looking for.

DNS is basically like a dictionary translating from human-friendly to computer-friendly and the other way around.

That’s why you don’t have to wreck your brain and try to remember a long sequence of numbers every time you want to visit a website. All the server communication happens behind the scenes.

That’s not all that DNS is, though. It also holds a bunch of other important information about domains. As I mentioned, DNS is built of records. Some of them are: email authentication mechanisms (SPF, DKIM and DMARC records), email servers records (MX records), and TXT record verification of domain ownership.

What is DNS propagation?

It’s important that you remember that there is no one, universal DNS database.

When you make changes on your DNS server, it takes some time for them to take effect (aka, propagate) across the Internet.

You can check if your updates have already been propagated worldwide with tools such as this one or this one.

What DNS records are there?

Going back to DNS records – here are some of the most common ones:

A Record (Address Mapping record)

This is the address record. Most commonly used for linking hostnames (e.g. domains) with corresponding IPv4 addresses.

AAAA (IP version 6 Address record)

This is also an address record, but for IPv6 addresses. Its function is the same as an A Record.

CNAME (Canonical Name record)

CNAME aliases one hostname to another. What does it mean? It works similarly to an A Record, but instead of linking to an IP address, it links to another hostname.

MX (Mail Exchange record)

MX records are used to route outgoing emails to an email server. They specify an SMTP email server for a domain.

See what SMTP is>>

TXT (Text record)

These are machine-readable data that you add to your DNS. They may have various purposes, one of which is email security (the SPF, DKIM and DMARC records).

Read more about why you should set up SPF and DKIM and how to do it.

And why it’s also important to set up DMARC and how to do it.

How do you check your DNS records? And why would you even do that?

Well, if you have trouble accessing a service, you might need to check the status of corresponding DNS records.

Or you might want to verify the updates you made.

How can you check DNS records?

It’s simple – with a DNS lookup tool, like this one.

You may also check specific records. Just type your domain name in the search bar, and choose the record you want to look up. For example, “MX Lookup” or type in: “mx:yourdomain.com”.

You can check your DKIM, SPF and DMARC records this way as well.

While you’re at it, you might also check if your domain has been blacklisted – choose the “blacklist check” or type in “blacklist:yourdomain.com”

(If you’ve been blacklisted, no worries – see how to get your email server IP or domain off a blacklist.)

Over to you

DNS is a part of a complicated process that makes it easy for us to use the Internet – and email.

Hope this short guide helped you understand DNS a bit better!