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What's In A Name? A Basic Intro to DNS

written by Arin Anderson on Friday November 7, 2014
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DNS abstract image

All the acronyms.

So many acronyms.

So. Much. Information.

DNS. Three little letters that hold a lot of weight regarding the communication and data exchange process for your web systems. We know it can be tricky when you're learning not only how Plone works, but how these acronyms play into the development and maintenance of your site. To help you through the process we turned to Jen Mukes, one of our account managers at Six Feet Up, who helps many of our clients understand the key aspects of DNS. Here's what she had to say.

From the front lines:

"When I first came to Six Feet Up, I had no idea what DNS meant. But, working on the front lines of customer support, I quickly had to learn. I spoke with our development team and searched Google to find the simplest explanation for clients of this technical topic. After much research and diagramming (yes, I am a very visual learner), I finally figured out a way to make sense of all the upper case letters.

" I finally figured out a way to make sense of all the upper case letters. "

And now I oversee many requests from clients wanting to make changes to their DNS, adding A Records, updating MX records, and figuring out where the DNS is hosted for their site." -Jen Mukes, Account Manager at Six Feet Up.

Beginners can struggle to understand DNS, A records, CNAMEs, MX records, and all the basic intricacies of DNS. Here's a guide to what it all means and how it affects you.

Deciphering the acronyms


DNS stands for Domain Name System and 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. Or, more simply put, DNS can be thought of as an address book of the Internet. It links a domain name ( to an IP address ( It translates numbers (IP address) into words (domain name). The DNS is essentially all the information related to a particular domain name.

DNS information can be found on any DNS hosting and domain search website. Two of our favorite places to look are and DNS Watch. Oftentimes we refer our clients to these sites so they are empowered to find the answers to their questions before coming to Six Feet Up, saving them time and money.

Both sites display all information related to a particular domain name. However, DNS Watch is a little more user friendly in that it allows a user to choose the following information from a drop-down menu:

  • SOA
  • NS
  • A record
  • MX record
  • TXT

But what do all the letters mean?! Let's break it down:

The Zone File

or Start of Authority (SOA) file contains all the DNS information for a specific domain.

The Name Server (NS)

is the server that controls your DNS record and shares it with other DNS servers across the internet. If you look up on DNS Watch you will notice that the records point to our Name Servers:

The Address (A) Record

is the mapping of a host name to an IP address within the DNS record for visitors to your website. It specifies the IP address that the user will be taken to for each domain or sub-domain. For example, an A record would say when users request the URL send them to IP address If you know the IP address of a website you can put that in your browser and go directly to the site.

Mail Exchanger, a.k.a. the MX records

maps email traffic to specific servers. The MX records tell email servers sending email what IP address to be delivered to for a specific domain. Mail Servers can be at a different IP address than your website. You can also have multiple mail servers identified in case the primary server is not responding, or if you send email from multiple servers.

A CNAME, or Canonical Name

is the alias for your domain. Anyone accessing the alias will be automatically directed to the server indicated on an A record it points to. So, you could set up to take users to You can even setup CNAMEs on your domain name that point to external services such as pointing to to deliver a third party service with your vanity domain name.

The TXT record

provides information about sources outside your domain, or readable information about the server, network, data center and other account information. This is commonly used to deliver SPF information about your email servers.

Time to Live (TTL)

is how often other DNS servers across the Internet should check your Name Server for updates to your DNS entries. The TTL is defined in seconds (ex. 300) and usually is 24 to 48 hours by default. Clients requesting a DNS change have the option to indicate if the TTL needs to be lowered in order to have the DNS changes take effect more quickly.

Now what?!

Now that you know what each acronym means, what's next? Remember, the team at Six Feet Up can help you through any basic DNS process including changes, updates, or additions to any of the items in this post.

Now, go back and make sure this information is added to the Important Technical Terms (ITT) folder in your brain. You are now fully equipped to whip out little tidbits of information at your next party and wow everyone with your knowledge of domain names and IP addresses. However, when you're not working this information into your latest repertoire of party tricks, be sure to bookmark this post for future reference, in case changes need to be made to your site's DNS.

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Arin Anderson
Master Scheduler & Content Strategy
Arin's Recent Posts:
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What's In A Name? A Basic Intro to DNS (11/07/2014)

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