DNS Records: What they are and why you need them

First, what is a name server?

Basically, a name server (or ‘nameserver’) is a specific server that tells the world where your website and email are hosted. For example, if your domain name is andymalmin.com, your nameservers will give an IP address to any device that wants to visit andymalmin.com. In order to do this, they store an “Address Record” or “A Record”, a type of DNS record designed to map names to numbers. The IP address returned is the address of the server where your website is hosted.

When you sign up for web hosting with KWR, you automatically get to use our nameservers. If you want, you can choose to use your domain registrar’s nameservers instead.

What nameservers should I use?

If you are hosting your email with KWR, we recommend that you use our nameservers. However, if your email is hosted elsewhere, like with Google, Microsoft, or an in-house Exchange server, you should probably use the nameservers at your registrar - in this case we would only need to change your address records to point to our web servers.

Can I enter my own DNS Records?

We usually don't recommend this unless you are an IT or web professional, but yes, you can. See Nameserver and DNS records for KWR Hosting.

Why does any of this matter?

Nameservers and DNS records are obviously important, because without them, the computers of the world wouldn’t be able to find your website or send you email. In fact, if any of your DNS records are ever entered incorrectly, there’s a good chance that your website or email will effectively ‘go down’.

Nameservers store various types of DNS records, each having a particular purpose.

Types of DNS Records

There are many types of DNS records. Here are the most important ones for you to know:

Type What does it do? When to update? What if it breaks?
NS (Nameserver) Record Tells the world where your nameservers are hosted. NS records are the grand daddy of DNS records. Typically stored by your domain registrar, your NS records tell the world where your nameservers are hosted, so the nameservers can do their job and manage other records. If you are using your web host's nameservers, you will need to update your NS records whenever you change web hosts or web servers. Both your website and your email will likely 'go down'.
A (Address) Record Maps domain names to IP addresses, tells the world where your website is hosted. Will likely need to be changed whenever your website is moved to a different web server. Your website will most likely 'go down'.
MX (Mail Exchange) Record Tells the world where your email is hosted (incoming mail server). Whenever your email hosting is moved to a different provider or server. If these aren't working right, you won't receive any email.
TXT Records: SPF and DKIM SPF (Sender Policy Framework) record is a specific type of TXT record that tells other mail servers which mail servers are allowed to send email from your domain. DKIM records are another type of TXT record, used to authenticate email. Your DKIM and SPF records may need to be updated any time you switch your email or web hosting, in order to maximize the chances that your outgoing mail is received. If these records are neglected, your outgoing mail is more likely to be blocked by other mail servers and spam filters.

When and how to change DNS records?

Whenever you switch your web hosting or email hosting to a different provider (or your web host moves your website to a new server) some or all of your DNS records will probably need to be changed. Your nameservers may also have to be changed. Other than that, DNS records rarely need to be changed. If you are hosting with KWR, we can take care of these changes for you - we may need you to provide us with your domain registration login info (Godaddy, Name.com, Network Solutions, etc.) in order to be able to do this. If you are brave, you can edit your own DNS records, but we would recommend having this done by an IT or web professional if possible.

DNS and Whois Lookups: Is My DNS Working?

Here are a few useful tips for troubleshooting domain name resolution issues, figuring out where exactly your domain is registered and what your global DNS records actually are.

Local DNS vs Global DNS: They Don't Always Match

Sometimes it’s hard to tell if your DNS records are even working at all, because your local computer (and sometimes your local network) can store a cache of records that lasts for hours or even days. Because of these local records, you can’t trust your own computer to tell you whether your domain name is resolving correctly to the rest of the world. Local networks can sometimes even have their own permanent DNS records that force computers in your office to go to a specific IP address for your domain name. Sometimes this makes it confusing to switch web hosting, because from within your office you might be looking at website that’s completely different from what the rest of the world sees.

How do I test my global DNS records?

If you want to make sure your DNS records have been entered correctly, you can’t just type your domain name into your web browser on your local computer. You have to check the global DNS records. Here’s a useful (and free) website that you can use to do this: What's my DNS - To look up your website’s address record, enter your domain name and select “A” as your record type. You will then be shown a list of IP addresses returned from various servers around the world. This will give you a pretty good indication of what your global records are. This is a very useful tool during domain propagation (the period of time after your DNS records are changed, but before the servers of the world have all had a chance to update their cache). Domain propagation is usually complete within about 2-4 hours, but it can sometimes take a few days.

Who is my Domain Registrar?

It’s important to know who your domain registrar is, because you have to pay them to keep your registration active, and because you or your web host will most likely have to log into their control panel to change DNS records at some point in time. If you aren’t sure who your domain registrar is, you can do a WHOIS lookup on your domain name.

What’s a WHOIS Lookup?

Every domain name that is currently registered has a public record (published by the registrar) that tells the world who owns it, who the registrar is, when it expires and other details. A WHOIS lookup just means that you look up this public record to get information. You can do a WHOIS lookup at any of the sites listed below.

Where to perform a WHOIS lookup

There are hundreds if not thousands of sites that you can use to perform a WHOIS lookup. Here are a few:

Some sites might not have the details for your particular domain. If you can’t find your domain at one site, try another. There are plenty of other sites that aren’t listed above. Just search for ‘WHOIS’ on Google and you will see several.