Making Sense of DNS Records

Prerequisite Definitions

Domain

This is that thing people type into their web browser’s address bar (Chrome, Safari, etc) to get to your website. Looks something like https://westartwithgood.co.

Each domain is unique, and you pay a yearly fee to keep it registered it. If you don’t renew it, someone else can pay to use it.

It contains nothing, and on it’s own does nothing.

Wanderoak’s favourite domain registar is Namecheap.

Host

Website information needs to be stored somewhere. Just like apps on your phone take up some of your phone’s storage, the images, text, and code that make up a website need to be stored somewhere. A host provides you this space (on something called a server) where everything can live.

Emails also need to be hosted somewhere. Often a web host can also provide email (often through cPanel).

Wanderoak’s favourite hosts are Flywheel and Siteground.

DNS Records

DNS (Domain Name System) Records are what connect your domain to the server your website lives on, among other things. Once that connection is made, your website will show up when your domain is typed into the browser.

Let’s get a little old school. Think of it like a phone book. You open up the phone book and find someone by name (domain). The phone book (list of DNS records) has associated each name with a phone number (server). Success! You can look someone up by name and find their phone number. You can type a domain into a browser and the connected website shows up.

*DNS Records also do other things, like route your emails. We’ll get there.

So you want a website?

If you want a website, this means you’ll have to pay for both a domain (through a domain registrar) and server space (through a hosting provider), then connect the two using DNS Records. Often, you can buy both your domain and your hosting from the same service provider, however, it’s not recommended. Sometimes service providers make it difficult to move or change providers if you buy both things from them.

It sounds scary, but it’s not so bad! Let’s start with the different types of records.

Types of DNS Records

A Records point your domain to your server (more directly, to the IP Address of your server). These are required for the website set-up process. If they don’t exist, your domain will point into nothingness.

CNAME Records are like A records, except instead of pointing to an IP Address, they allow you to point a domain to another record (like an A record you set up earlier). They are not necessary, but can be useful in certain cases.

MX Records route email to the correct place. There are often multiple so that if one server can’t make it happen, the next one will. A priority is set to designate which order the servers are tried.

*There are more than 5 other types of DNS records you can set. Think PTR, SOA, TXT, AAAA, and a few others. We won’t get into those today.

Adding DNS Records

This is done wherever your domain is registered (ex: Namecheap). You’ll navigate to the Domain management area, and find where to add/edit DNS Records.

Here are the things you’ll be asked to input:

Type: A, CNAME, MX, etc

Host: What you’re pointing. You’ll commonly see @ (your domain, ex: wanderoak.co), www (for when www is added to the front of your domain, ex: www.wanderoak.co), and subdomains like shop (to point shop.yourwebsite.com to something like your Etsy store).

Value: Where you’re pointing to. An A record requires an IP address, a CNAME record requires a domain.

TTL: Time to live. How long the record can be cached(auto-saved) before it must get re-checked. Set in seconds. There is usually a default. When you update a record, the old value may be used up until the record is refreshed, so the lower the number, the quicker it refreshes.

Where do you get this information?

Your hosting provider will be able to provide you the correct information you need in order to set up any required DNS records.

Happy DNS Record-making! 😃