You’re Closer Than You Think: The Only 6 DNS Concepts You Really Need

Feeling like DNS is this big, scary monster you’ll never fully understand? Here’s some good news: you’re probably a lot closer to mastering it than you realize. In fact, there are really only six core concepts you need to have down pat. The rest? You can offload that from your mental RAM. Let’s walk through these essentials and show you how much you already know – and how little more you need to learn to handle 80% of your DNS needs with confidence.

You might want to scroll fast past the next table… its a bit intimidating.

A quick complete list of DNS Functionality and Descriptions

#DNS FunctionalityDescription
1A RecordsMap domain names to IPv4 addresses
2AAAA RecordsMap domain names to IPv6 addresses
3CNAME RecordsCreate aliases for domain names
4MX RecordsSpecify mail servers for handling email
5TXT RecordsStore arbitrary text strings, often used for domain verification
6NS RecordsDelegate a domain or subdomain to a set of name servers
7SOA RecordSpecify authoritative information about a DNS zone
8PTR RecordsReverse DNS lookup, map IP addresses to domain names
9SRV RecordsSpecify location of services (e.g., VoIP, IM)
10CAA RecordsSpecify which Certificate Authorities can issue SSL/TLS certificates
11DKIM RecordsEmail authentication method to detect forged sender addresses
12SPF RecordsEmail authentication method to prevent email spoofing
13DMARC RecordsEmail authentication, policy, and reporting protocol
14NAPTR RecordsUsed for ENUM and SIP services
15SSHFP RecordsStore SSH public host key fingerprints
16DS RecordsUsed in DNSSEC to secure delegation of subdomains
17TLSA RecordsAssociate TLS/SSL certificate with domain name for DANE protocol
18LOC RecordsSpecify geographical location of a domain
19HINFO RecordsSpecify host hardware and operating system
20RP RecordsSpecify a responsible person for a domain
21AFSDB RecordsSpecify location of AFS cell database servers
22Zone TransfersConfigure zone transfer settings between primary and secondary DNS servers
23TTLSet caching duration for DNS records
24Reverse DNS ZonesConfigure reverse lookup zones for IP to domain mapping
25SubdomainsCreate and manage subdomains
26Wildcard DNS RecordsSet up catch-all records for subdomains
27DNS ForwardingConfigure DNS servers to forward queries to other DNS servers
28DNSSECEnable and configure DNSSEC for securing DNS
29GeoDNSSet up location-based DNS responses
30Round Robin DNSConfigure multiple A or AAAA records for load balancing
31Dynamic DNSAllow automatic updates of DNS records
32DNS AliasesCreate alternative names for the same host
33DNS ViewsConfigure different DNS responses based on the source of the query

Intimidating, right? But here’s the secret: you don’t need all that. Let’s strip it down to the essentials:

#DNS FunctionalityDescription
1A RecordsMap domain names to IPv4 addresses
2CNAME RecordsCreate aliases for domain names
3MX RecordsSpecify mail servers for handling email
4TXT RecordsStore text strings, often used for domain verification
5NS RecordsDelegate a domain to name servers
6TTLSet caching duration for DNS records

Look, I get it. DNS can seem like a labyrinth of cryptic records and arcane configurations. But here’s the dirty little secret: most devs are massively overcomplicating things. You don’t need to be a DNS guru to get shit done. In fact, understanding just six key concepts will cover about 80% of your DNS needs. Let’s break it down, shall we?

A Records: Your Domain’s Home Address

You’re launching a new website. Your hosting provider tells you your server’s IP address is You’d set up an A record like this: IN A

In this case, is the actual “house address” where your website lives on the internet. When someone types into their browser, this A record tells them to go to this specific IP address to find your website’s content.

Diving a bit deeper: A records can also be used for subdomain mapping. For instance, you could have separate A records for “” and “”, each pointing to different IP addresses. This allows for flexible hosting arrangements, like having your main site on one server and your blog on another.

CNAME: Your Domain’s Nickname Generator

You want both and to lead to the same place. You’d set up a CNAME record like: IN CNAME

Here, you’re saying that is just another name for It’s like having a “doing business as” name – both lead to the same website, giving users flexibility in how they type your URL.

For the curious: CNAME records can be chained, but be careful – this can increase DNS lookup times. Also, the target of a CNAME must always be a domain name, never an IP address. This makes CNAMEs great for services that might change their IP addresses, as you only need to update the target domain’s A record.

MX Records: Directing Your Digital Mail

MX records are all about email. They tell the world which servers handle the email for your domain. Without these, your “[email protected]” address is about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Set them up right, and your email flows like a dream.

Example MX Records Usage

Going further: MX records have a priority value. You can set up multiple MX records with different priorities, creating a fallback system. If the primary mail server is down, the next one in line takes over. This adds redundancy to your email system, ensuring you never miss important messages.

TXT Records: The Swiss Army Knife of DNS

TXT records are the wild cards of DNS. Need to verify domain ownership? TXT record. Setting up email authentication? TXT record. They’re basically a place to stash any text-based information about your domain. Handy little buggers.

Example TXT Record

You need to verify your domain for Google Search Console. They ask you to add a TXT record like: IN TXT “google-site-verification=randomstringhere”

This record is like a secret handshake with Google. By adding this specific text to your domain’s DNS, you’re proving to Google that you have control over the domain, allowing you to use their Search Console tools for your site.

Digging deeper: TXT records are crucial for modern email security protocols like SPF, DKIM, and DMARC. These help prevent email spoofing and improve deliverability. TXT records can also be used for human-readable notes about the domain, though this is less common in practice.

NS Records: The Internet’s Yellow Pages

NS Record Example

NS (Name Server) records are crucial for the hierarchical structure of DNS. They tell the internet which servers are authoritative for your domain’s DNS information.

Example NS Record Usage:
You’re using Cloudflare for DNS. You’d set up NS records like: IN NS IN NS

By setting these NS records, you’re delegating responsibility for your domain’s DNS to Cloudflare’s name servers. It’s like telling the internet, ‘For information about, ask these Cloudflare servers.’

Going deeper: NS records are part of a larger system of delegation in DNS. When you change NS records, you’re changing who controls your domain’s DNS settings. This change needs to be reflected at your domain registrar to take full effect, which is why NS changes can take time to propagate fully across the internet.

TTL: The Expiry Date on Your DNS Cache

Time To Live (TTL) is how long DNS information is cached. Set it low, and changes propagate quickly but increase server load. Set it high, and you’ll wait longer for changes to take effect, but it’s easier on the servers. It’s all about finding that Goldilocks zone.

TTL Record Example

You’re planning to change your website’s IP address soon. You’d lower the TTL on your A record to 300 seconds (5 minutes): IN A 300

The 300 here means that DNS servers should only remember this information for 5 minutes before checking for updates. Before making significant DNS changes, it’s common practice to lower your TTL. This ensures that when you make the change, it propagates quickly across the internet. After the change has taken effect, you can increase the TTL back to a higher value for efficiency.

For the nerds: TTL is specified in seconds. A common strategy is to lower your TTL a day or two before making significant DNS changes. This ensures that when you make the change, it propagates quickly. After the change, you can increase the TTL back to a higher value for efficiency.

And there you have it, folks. Six simple concepts that’ll cover most of your DNS needs. Sure, there’s more to learn if you want to go deep – AAAA records for IPv6, DKIM for email authentication, DNSSEC for the paranoid – but honestly? You can probably offload that stuff from your brain for now.

Focus on these six, and you’ll handle 80% of your DNS tasks without breaking a sweat. When you do run into something more complex, you can always look it up. After all, isn’t that what we do for most of our jobs anyway?

So stop stressing about DNS and get back to building cool shit. That’s what we’re here for, right?

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8 responses to “You’re Closer Than You Think: The Only 6 DNS Concepts You Really Need”

  1. Kelly Walker Avatar
    Kelly Walker

    Cool article.
    I think there is a mistake in the “A Records” section where 10 is used for the last component of the example IP address in the text but 1 is used in the record.

  2. TTL is actually the minimum Time To Live. You can set TTL to 300 seconds (5 minutes) all you like, but ISPs are still free to cache the record for three days. I’ve seen this happen, especially with satellite ISPs.

    1. Thats a great point Brent. This along with other caching related issues (for example infra caching things you have asked it pretty please not to cache) is an endless supply of opaque headaches for people.

  3. Andrew Rich Avatar
    Andrew Rich

    Your CAPTCHA isn’t working — I’d like to subscribe but can’t. Tried in Chrome and Safari.

    1. Thanks for letting me know. I just switched over to Google Recaptcha. Do you mind trying again? Thanks!

      1. Andrew Rich Avatar
        Andrew Rich

        Seems good now! Thanks.

  4. Alice Avatar

    Oof, telling people not to worry about security (dnssec) 😔

    1. Alice what do you think would be a great starting place for people to learn about DNSSEC? There are so many things I wanted to included but didn’t in the interest of keeping things as stripped back and easy to digest as possible without downright misinforming people. I’ll have a ponder about including something on this in an edit.

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