What Does A DNS Do?
An IT worker draws a diagram of the Domain Name System (DNS) on a digital whiteboard.
The internet and the World Wide Web are wild frontiers that rely on computer languages and
codes to find and share data and information. One of the most fundamental instruments of
the internet is the Domain Name System, or DNS. (Although many people think "DNS"
stands for "Domain Name Server," it really stands for "Domain Name System.") DNS is a
protocol within the set of standards for how computers exchange data on the internet and on
many private networks, known as the TCP/IP protocol suite. Its purpose is vital, as it helps
convert easy-to-understand domain names like "howstuffworks.com" into an Internet Protocol
(IP) address, such as 18.104.22.168 that computers use to identify each other on the network.
It is, in short, a system of matching names with numbers.
The DNS concept is like a phone book for the internet. Without this kind of wayfinding
system, you'd have to resort to much more complicated and esoteric means to sift through
the virtual open plains and dense cities of data strewn across the global internet ... and you
can bet that it wouldn't be nearly as much fun, especially since there are now hundreds of
millions of domain names [source: VeriSign]. This is similar to dialing a phone number to
connect to the person you're trying to call. Thanks to DNS, though, you don't have to keep
your own address book of IP addresses. Instead, you just connect through a domain name
server, also called a DNS server or name server, which manages a massive database that
maps domain names to IP addresses.
Whether you're accessing a website or sending e-mail, your computer uses a DNS server to
look up the domain name you're trying to access. The proper term for this process is DNS
name resolution, and you would say that the DNS server resolves the domain name to the IP
address. For example, when you enter "www.howstuffworks.com" in your browser, part of the
network connection i