Nameservers and DNS

The Role of Nameservers

Nameservers are a small, but important part of your web service. They serve information similar to that of a phonebook — if you know the name of a restaurant that you haven’t been to before, a phonebook can tell you its exact address. Likewise, nameservers translate a domain name into a specific IP address so that Internet users do not have to remember 32 bit IPv4 addresses such as 123.45.67.89 or 128 bit IPv6 addresses that are far longer. They instead allow us to recall and input the familiar .com domain names for all of our favorite websites.

Every domain name needs to be listed on a name server somewhere. There are three kinds of name servers to choose from: name servers run by your web host, third-party name servers (typically, people use the name servers run by their domain registrar if they have third-party name servers), and private name servers you run on your hosted server. Which one should you choose?

Webhost Name Servers

Your webhost’s name servers are owned and operated by your webhost. ServInt, like all web hosts, has its own nameservers. They will appear something like this:

ns.servint.com
ns2.servint.com

There are advantages and disadvantages to using your host’s nameservers. At ServInt, the main advantage is that our MST staff can perform DNS-related tasks for you, which can simplify a few steps when you’re setting up a new site and are unfamiliar with DNS.

This is also the main drawback. If you wish to use ServInt’s name servers you will need to submit a support ticket every time you need to make a DNS entry or modification. Additionally, should you ever move to another host, you will no longer be allowed to use these name servers.

We recommend ServInt name servers only for our clients that wish to host a few domains and do not anticipate the need for regular DNS additions or changes.

Third-Party Name Servers

Third-party name servers are owned by the registrar where you purchased your domain name (such as GoDaddy.com, Register.com, or Name.com). Here is an example from GoDaddy:

ns01.domaincontrol.com
ns02.domaincontrol.com

Your registrar assigns these nameservers by default. These name servers reside on your registrar’s network and you are welcome to continue using them. The advantage is you can leave your domain with the name servers that have already been set; however, if you need to make any DNS additions or modifications, you will need to use whatever interface your registrar provides. This typically requires a thorough understanding of how DNS works.

The other main drawback to registrar name servers for our customers is that while ServInt will always be here to offer advice and answer questions, we can neither troubleshoot nor investigate technical problems or malfunctions that exist on the registrar’s website.

Private Nameservers

Private name servers are hosted on the server you purchased from your webhost. An example would be:

ns1.YourDomainName.com
ns2.YourDomainName.com

At ServInt, we primarily recommend private name servers for our customers for a variety of reasons:

  • The WHM control panel will make the vast majority of DNS entries for you automatically and also provides an interface for custom or non-standard DNS entries. For example, if you create a subdomain in your domain’s cPanel account, the DNS entry for the subdomain is automatically added to the domain’s DNS zone. ServInt MST staff will still provide full support for your name servers.
  • If you should ever move to another host, you can take your private name servers with you.
  • Additionally, running your own name servers is a great way to become familiar with how DNS works with the knowledge that ServInt is always there to offer advice.

Find answers to specific nameserver FAQs.

In the end, the type of name server you choose will be dictated by your particular needs. And as always, ServInt’s MST are here for our customers to help you make the best choice.

Photo by Ryan Godfrey

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Comments
  1. >>I am one of the developer of an interface for Amazon route53 EasyDNS recently mentioned their users leveraging Route53 during a recent DDoS attack. They have it available as a tool in their EasyDNS account: http://blog.easydns.org/2012/01/13/updates-on-the-easyroute53-service/
  2. Hi, To route DNS queries through the Naming servers , There are growing edge locations world wide for these naming servers. I am one of the developer of an interface for Amazon route53, which is http://www.dns30.com It is a web based UI tool.
  3. If you are concerned about speed across the entire world, you should seek out a third-party DNS service that can balance their name servers IPs over multiple continents. There are plenty of options to investigate. ServInt currently does not have a preferred partner to recommend, but that is something we are looking into.
  4. We use servintdomains for a couple of our sites. What ways can we increase DNS time to first byte speed. I use a service that checks speed form all over the world. and it typically averages around 300 MS
    Craig Mullins /
  5. Thanks scmeeven - I actually meant to include geographic distribution as one of the biggest advantage of DNS hosts, but got lost in thought while thumb-pounding away my initial comment! Excellent point, also, about hosting your DNS "on-box"...can't count the number of times I've had people call because their web server has run away (or worse been DDoS'd) and they realize their externally-hosted mail, etc. is all down as well. My guess is the vast majority of "secondary" nameservers are actually pointing to the same machine (definitely true with most VPSes) which, as you point out, provides absolutely zero redundancy. 3rd party hosts are usually globally distributed, and those that offer anycast are even a step beyond that, with the added anti-DDoS bonus anycast can provide.
  6. Thanks for the in-depth response, scmeeven! Great analysis. This is certainly an option for some customers. Thanks for taking the time to explain this particular solution.
  7. I second Dave's suggestion of 3rd party “non-registrar” DNS Hosts. In my opinion, they are probably the best DNS option, far more reliable than private nameservers which are almost always in the same data center (for example, pointing to two IP addresses of a ServInt VPS) and are thus without even basic redundancy (not geographically dispersed). If your VPS is down for maintenance or has a network routing issue, not just the web site but even the email goes for a toss. Whereas, with a 3rd party managed DNS service, even if the VPS is down, the email remains unaffected. Unless the 3rd party managed DNS provider is itself the target of a DoS or DDoS attack. For the clients on my 4 VPSes at ServInt, I host the DNS of all but a handful of them at different 3rd party services. I have found EasyDNS and Nettica (not anycast) to be good. DNSmadeeasy I found to be cheesy operators who will promise enterprise grade services for $60 per year but will fail to offer any support should the occasion demand it and then turn around and tick you off for asking for what they promised when they made the sale to you. They got slapped resoundingly with quite a few serious DDoS attacks in the last year or so. Nettica has also had occasional issues with DDoS attacks, but are fine overall for what they offer at the price points they offer. EasyDNS is probably the best in terms of uptime even if a little slow compared to others. Then, there is also DNS.com. DNSmadeeasy, DNS.com and Nettica also let you use your domain names (sort of like private nameservers) for their nameservers. Bottom line - if you get used to 3rd party managed DNS, you will probably never use any of the options listed in this article :-) That is not a criticism of this article which is a fine roundup of the various options available.
  8. Excellent points, Dave. Yeah, we were trying to hit the usual suspects and not overwhelm people just getting to understand the topic. Sometimes it's hard to find the right balance when writing for a wide audience. Still, we're really glad you chimed in and brought up these other nameserver options. It adds another layer of depth to the discussion.
  9. Great subject! I know you were trying to be concise, but there's two other categories I'd mention: 3rd party "non-registrar" DNS Hosts: typically are more DNS and customer focused than registrars DNS services. The support is provided by trained engineers that work on DNS day in/out, rather than whoever you get on the "support line" at godaddy, etc. Just as important, is because it's typically a paid service, they will provide reliability (anycast, etc) and a more flexible, usable DNS interface. Private, self-hosted nameservers: I'd put this last as generally it provides the lowest level of reliability and support, but I do know some rather DNS saavy techs who are hosting their own public nameservers effectively on various platforms; bind, powerdns, MS DNS, etc.
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