Acronym Monday: DNS
DNS stands for Domain Name System. These words all probably sound familiar to you by themselves, but when put together like this, maybe you’re not so sure what they mean.
The Domain Name System is what we use to name and identify all the websites on the internet. A domain name is the name of the website like www.google.com. It’s a place you can go while you’re browsing online.
If you remember our discussion of IP addresses from our IPv6 article a few weeks ago, IP addresses can be compared to street addresses. You can send and receive mail to any street address, just as you can send and receive data between IP addresses. Each website is assigned an IP address. If you type in that address into your browser, you’ll be taken to the website. Similarly, each domain name translates to an IP address that takes you to the website you’re looking for.
For most people, remembering google.com is much easier than remembering 126.96.36.199, the IP address assigned to Google. Domain names make it easier for people to remember the names of websites.
I like to think of a domain name kind of like the person or business that is located at an address, where the name of the person is the domain name, and the street address is the IP address. Usually a name like Jim Jimson, for example, is easier to remember and means more to someone than 1368 79th ST. Exampleville, WI
In a way, domain names are just marketing tools. Think about a commercial where the business uses a phone number that spells a word (called vanity phone numbers). The first example I thought of was AT&T, whose commercials advertised the number 1-800-CALL-ATT. That’s a lot easier to remember than 1-800-225-5288. Domain names work the same way. Instead of remembering the IP address—or another, just as complex number—you only need to know google.com or wildcardcorp.com, for example.
Ultimately, DNS is like the internet's address book/directory.
While we’re looking at DNS, I’d like to also discuss the similar acronym DNSSEC, which stands for Domain Name System Security Extensions.
Originally, the Domain Name System wasn’t secure. One kind of security vulnerability is known as DNS spoofing. This attack happens when you type in a domain name that you know and trust, but an attacker has taken you somewhere else—somewhere you probably don’t trust.
Think of it this way. You are going to drive to your grandmother’s house, but an attacker has changed all the road signs to point to a different location, and has even put your grandmother’s address numbers on the destination. As far as you know, the road signs tell you you’re going the right way, and the address looks right. But you’ve really been tricked into going somewhere dangerous and untrusted.
DNSSEC helps protect against that. When a domain name has security extensions, it’s basically like the signature of the domain owner saying, “You are where you think you are, and this domain can be trusted.”
Domain Name Server
Sometimes when people say DNS, they mean domain name server, even though that’s not the proper acronym assigned to it. It can be confusing, so when we refer to a server, we will call it a name server instead of by an acronym. Still, it’s important to explore the difference between domain name system, and domain name server, in case it comes up.
The domain name system, described in detail above, is the overall system used to translate easy-to-read names into IP addresses so that computers can communicate on the internet. A domain name server is the equipment that makes the whole system work. When you type in a domain name, the name server does all the work of translating the name into the corresponding IP address. Without name servers, the domain name system would essentially be nothing.
Wildcard Corp. provides domain names and security extensions for our clients. If you’re in the market for a website and want to know more about how we can help, visit our website and contact us. We’re just an email or phone call away.