Managing DNS Records – Part I – A Records and TXT Records
This is the first in a series of technical articles looking at the topic of DNS records. In particular, we wish to focus on the main types of DNS records that are most commonly used to provide a greater understanding for our readers.
You control your DNS at the registrar where you host your domain name. The first decision you make is whether to:
1) Use the registrars own nameservers (which usually allow forwarding, email setup and forwarding, and txt and A records)
2) Use customer nameservers to accomplish the above, or have a third party hosting or landing page or other service provider manage your domain name.
To start with, we are going to explore what exactly a DNS record is and two of the most frequently used records, the A record and the TXT record. However, it is important to note that there are actually a wide range of types of records, some more commonly used than others and if you’re interested in the more technical aspects of domain management then it is worth reading about these in more depth.
So let’s get started with just what we mean by a DNS record.
What is a DNS record and what are the different types?
A DNS record (sometimes known as a zone file) is a series of text-based instructions that provide systems with information about a particular domain. This information includes the IP address linked with that domain and how specific requests for that domain should be handled.
As mentioned, these records are text files and they are written in a specific syntax known as DNS syntax. What this means is that each record has a string of characters that can be used as commands to tell the particular DNS server what it should do. One common theme across all records is that they all should have a time-to-live (TTL), which is an instruction on how often the DNS server will refresh the record.
For those who find analogies helpful, imagine a collection of DNS records as a business listing on Google or Yelp. The listing will offer readers a range of helpful information for that specific business, including the product offered, opening hours, geographical location etc.
Each domain must have certain vital DNS records that allow users to access the website linked to that domain, but there are countless other option records depending on individual requirements.
What are the different types of DNS records?
You can find a full list of the different types of DNS records here, but here are some examples:
- A record
- AAAA record
- CNAME record
- TXT record
- SRV record
- DNSKEY record
- DNAME record
- Plus many more!
DNS A record – What is it and why do you need it?
The first record we are going to highlight is the A record, one of the most common DNS records utilised. Put simply, the A record directs your domain hostname to a specific IP address. Given the job it does, this is one of the most important and frequently used records in the DNS environment.
You can use multiple A records if you wish, helping with redundancy and fallbacks and each one would have its own A record pointing to the same IP address.
Why do we need the A record?
No one wants to have to remember the IP address for a particular website and this is exactly why an A record is so important and why we need them. When you buy a domain name, on a platform like Cloudname, you will want to link it to a site hosted on a web server. The A record maps the domain to the server’s IP address and allows people to type in your domain name, loading up the website without typing in the IP address.
When the user types in the domain name into their web browser, the browser then sends a query to a DNS resolver who checks this record.
A record vs CNAME record – What is the difference?
There is sometimes a little confusion about the difference between an A record and a CNAME record. These are indeed two of the most frequently used records, making it a good idea to understand the difference.
The A record is used to make sure that the hostname connects with a specific IP address, whereas a CNAME record helps map the hostname to another hostname. This is a common tactic used when users wish to point multiple hosts to the same place and ensure they stay updated.
You can find more information on CNAME records in our next article, so please keep an eye on our blog section in the coming weeks.
DNS TXT record – What is it and why do you need it?
Next on the list of most common DNS records is the TXT record. It may seem confusing as every DNS record is a text file but this specific TXT record is used to provide information to sources that are outside of the domain.
This could be for people to use, or machines if in a machine-readable format and there are different uses. In general, these TXT records will hold information about the domain name and details used for processes such as verification and email validation.
Why do you need a TXT record?
There are multiple reasons why a TXT record is required and it very much depends on the different processes and DNS records used (for example DKIM and DMARC). However, one common reason for needing a TXT record is that providers such as Office 365 and Google will often require a verification code added to the DNS zone and this is done within the TXT record.
The purpose of this is to provide evidence that you are the owner of the domain name and is an added layer of verification and security.
How do TXT records help verify domain ownership and prevent email spam?
The DNS TXT record plays an important role in two areas of security and verification for domains. These are the verification of domain ownership and the prevention of email spam. You can find more detail here, but a summary of each can be found below.
Verify domain ownership
It was not an initial purpose for the TXT record to help with the verification of domain ownership but more and more providers do utilise these records for that purpose. If you upload a TXT record with the right information, it helps to prove the person controls the domain and then should a change be requested, the provider will be able to verify it is a legitimate request.
Prevent email spam
When spammers send emails to potential victims, they often attempt to fake the domains from where they send the emails. TXT records play a big part in helping email servers determine if an email is coming from a source that can be trusted. By configuring certain DNS records, domain owners and operators can make it harder for spammers to forge domains.
As an introduction to the world of managing DNS records, we wanted to explore the key concept of what DNS records are and two of the most important records utilised by domains. Whilst many domain traders will not need to be concerned about the technical aspects of how their domains work, by developing a more technical understanding you can have greater control and potential to improve the security and performance of your domains.
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