How Domain Name Servers Work

Creating a New Domain Name

person shopping online person shopping online
Having a memorable domain name is important if you're a shopping website. skaman306/Getty Images

When you want to create a new domain name, you need to do the following:

  • Use the Whois database to find a unique domain name that isn't yet registered. There are several sites that offer free Whois database searches, such as Network Solutions. If the search comes up empty, you know the domain name is available.
  • Register the domain name with a registrar. There are a lot of registrars to choose from, and some offer special prices for registering the COM, NET, and ORG versions of a domain at the same time, for registering for two or more years, or for hosting the domain with the same company.
  • If you're hosting the domain at a different company than your registrar, configure the registrar to point your domain name to the correct host name or IP address for your hosting company (see information below about A records) [source: Wilson and Randall].

Using the DNS servers from your registrar or hosting company means that you have a parked domain. This means that someone else owns the computer hardware for the DNS servers, and your domain is just part of that company's larger DNS configuration. Alternatively, if you're passionate about hosting your own DNS, you can set up your own server, either as a physical or virtual machine. Whichever DNS setup you decide on, that DNS server (or group of servers) becomes the SOA for your domain, as described earlier [source: BlueHost].

Whether your SOA is somewhere else or on your own system, you can extend and modify your DNS settings to add sub-domains, redirect e-mail and control other services. This information is kept in a zone file on the DNS server. If you're running your own server, you'll probably need to manually edit the zone file in a text editor. Many registrars today have a web interface you can use to manage DNS for your domain. Each new configuration you add is called a record, and the following are the most common types of records you can configure for your DNS server [source:].

  • Host (A) — This is the basic mapping of IP address to host name, the essential component for any domain name.
  • Canonical Name (CNAME) — This is an alias for your domain. Anyone accessing that alias will be automatically directed to the server indicated in the A record.
  • Mail Exchanger (MX) — This maps e-mail traffic to a specific server. It could indicate another host name or an IP address. For example, people who use Google for the e-mail for their domain will create an MX record that points to
  • Name Server (NS) — This contains the name server information for the zone. If you configure this, your server will let other DNS servers know that yours is the ultimate authority (SOA) for your domain when caching lookup information on your domain from other DNS servers around the world.
  • Start of Authority (SOA) — This is one larger record at the beginning of every zone file with the primary name server for the zone and some other information. If your registrar or hosting company is running your DNS server, you won't need to manage this. If you're managing your own DNS, you can peek at tips for doing so using this article on the structure of a DNS SOA Record.

The following is an example of what a zone file might look like for those who are editing it directly in a text editor. Note that the center column (second item on each line) includes a record type from those listed above. When you see an "@" in the left column, it means that the record applies in all cases not otherwise specified:

@ NS

@ NS

@ MX 10 mail

mail A

vip1 A

www CNAME vip1

Typical users will probably get the most use out of MX and CNAME records. The MX records allows you to point your mail services somewhere other than your hosting company if you choose to use something like Google Apps for your domain. The CNAME records let you point host names for your domain to various other locations. This could include setting to redirect to, or setting up a dedicated game server with its own IP address and pointing it to something like