iNoobs: What is DNS? And How Does DNS Work?

Categories Articles, iNoobs, Web Design

Before we get to What is DNS? How Does DNS Work? I’d like to first welcome you to the first article in the Inspired Noob Series. My name is Zach and I’m spearheading this effort at Inspired Magazine. Although I’m a new addition to the team I’ve been working in web development for a while.

What is iNoob aka Inspired Noob?

Inspired Noob will be our weekly series for those new to web design and web development. We’ll answer important questions, and cover topics you MUST know if you’re going to be in the world of web design. Be it what software you should use to edit HTML, or how the process of hosting works, Inspired Noob will cover the gamut of things you should know in web design and web development.

Before we begin, I would like to point out something I’ve noticed about web developers and designers – and I’m not sure it’s true of many professions, but I’ve definitely seen it in all of the most successful (technically and professionally) web developers and web designers I’ve had the pleasure of working with…

Web Developers are Jack-of-all-Trades with a passion for technology – specifically the Internet.

So if you’re interested in becoming a web designer ask yourself this:

Do you love to learn? Do you have a passion for the latest and greatest technologies, learning and assimilating all you can?

Although the old saying holds true, “Jack-of-all-Trades Master of None” a web designer, freelance – or part of a team – may be asked in any given day to help setup a server, create a design, and code some HTML, CSS, and Javascript – all of these somewhat unrelated and requiring different skills (and hemispheres of the brain!).

But, have no fear – if you have a passion for the net, and love to learn (and read our Inspired Noob series) you should do fine!

Who Am I?

How about you back off and not ask too many questions… who am I?! Who are you!

Just kidding, that’s a good question – and besides having a few different personalities while writing – I don’t like extolling advice on subjects I don’t feel 100% confident in my own abilities (although I do feel, because of my passion for learning that NO topic is out of my reach).

With that said I’ve been in the “professional” world of web development for over a decade. I started designing and coding sites back in high school. I’ve worked on hundreds of sites in a number of different capacities (as coder, design, project manager, company head, and sales person). You like hats! I’ve worn them all – working on small sites for small businesses, through total custom social networks built from scratch or web apps that meet a particular need.

Back to high school – my employer at the time knew I was good at computers and asked that I design their website. I read a few books, visited some tutorial sites and “voila” it was created. By then my dreams of setting up servers for small businesses had switched to building websites for small businesses – I was hooked. I read all I could about design, Photoshop, coding, XHTML & CSS (which were brand new at the time). I refined their site and got into marketing it (what made search engines tick and how to attract visitors and turn them into leads and sales).

Then I helped a national marketing agency start their own Internet Marketing department, until finally partnering up with my current business partner and creating Atilus –we’ve been in business for nearly a decade and have helped small and medium businesses get online, and grow all across the world. In that time I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside some amazing developers, designers, and other tech-savvy people and hope I can pass on some of this knowledge to you. I also run my own website with a team of writers where we help coach small businesses on how to best use the Internet and web tools (like Basecamp) to best run their business.

With introductions out of the way I now give you…

What is DNS & How Does it Work?

DNS is really two things – the acronym can stand for two things:

Domain Name Service & Domain Name Server

Two sides of a similar coin that work together in this crazy interweb’ed world to bring us a functioning network for computers (the Internet).

The best real definition for DNS I was able to find is:

The Domain Name System. A networked database primarily used to identify mail handlers and to resolve IP addresses from symbolic names.

But even then… what the HELL does that mean? Technical gobbly gook if you ask me!

Basically DNS works to convert the IP Address for which computers truly sit into pretty domain names – the ones you and I type in to visit sites, or send in email addresses.

Let’s look at an example.

Example of DNS in Action

I want to visit and do some searching. How do I do this? You guessed it; I launch my browser and type in the domain name into my browsers address bar. Then I’m taken to

But, the whole process is a bit more complicated because my browser doesn’t just “know” where is. It must stop along the way, checking a number of different resources, before finding its way to’s home. Ultimately my browser is trying to resolve (a word you’ve probably seen when there’s a problem with your browser being unable to find a domain name) a domain name to its real location – an ip address.

Okay, taking a quick step back from the example, that’s also really important to point out.

What is Everything’s IP Address?

All websites, and stuff on the internet (email) are really located behind IP addresses. These are like the physical addresses of the internet. Don’t believe me… quick visit:

That’s right, you just got to Google.

When you visit the opposite is happening. Your browser needs to “figure out” what IP address is using and it does this using the DNS system.

Back to the Example

So when you type in the address of the website you want to visit your browser says… “thanks boss, I’ll pull that right up, please hold on while I figure out the location (IP address) of this site.”

Your computer will then check the DNS server of the network you’re on (for example if you use Comcast as your ISP, it will check Comcast’s designated DNS servers in effect saying “Hi comcast, my owner wants to go to some zany site called ‘’ would you happen to know where exactly that is.”

Then the DNS server replies with “F$%* yea I do! Here you go…” Your browser then shows you the designated stuff for from the IP Address

Take a look at the following graphic courtesy of HowStuffWorks:

How DNS Works

There you have it… in an nutshell that’s what DNS is and how it works. But there’s still one more thing you Inspired Noobs should know…

What is a domain server and what role does it play in web design – or how do you setup a domain to appear on a server!

But we’ll save that for the next Inspired Noob post.

Zach Katkin - Entrepreneur, Web Developer, Designer and Writer - is the co-founder of Florida Web Design Company Atilus. In business for nearly a decade, Atilus has more than 600 clients worldwide.