What is a DNS and why should I care?

Most business owners have only vaguely heard of the letters DNS. Techno-geeks might have mentioned them when the website was being put together, but we didn’t understand then, and we’ve forgotten now.

Yet a DNS provider is critical to how the web works. And not making a conscious decision on your provider means you’ll be left with the default. And usually the default sucks.

If you would like to jump straight to the answer, here it is:

In most cases a business should switch their DNS provider to Cloudflare. It’s what we use, and there’s a good case for you doing the same.

There we go! That was a short article, wasn’t it? But if you’d like a bit more of an explanation as to why the answer is what it is, read on.

How the internet works

Ok, a big ask, but I’m going to try to explain how the internet works in a matter of a couple of sentences.

When you’re on your computer (or any other internety thing) and you browse for a website, 999 times out of 1000 your computer has no idea where the thing you’ve asked for lives. For example, you want to look at your favourite gardening website – TulipWorld.com. And why not!

So, given your computer doesn’t know where the web-server is that could serve up these dutch beauties, it goes to its Internet Service Provider (which could be Virgin, BT or Sky if you’re at home, or whoever is providing your mobile or wifi services if you’re out and about). Your computer asks “I want the homepage of tulipworld.com – can you get it for me?”.

Your ISP knows something about the domain name tulipworld.com. It doesn’t know where the website is, but it does have information about the domain, including the Domain Name-Servers. This information is stored as part of the standard info every time you register a domain name.

The ISP goes to the server listed as the domain name server, and asks “Any idea where the website tulipworld.com is being hosted?”. The job of the DNS is to reply with the location of the server that hosts the site. This is the IP Address of the website server, or web server.

Now the ISP knows where the web server is, it can just ask the server for the page of content, and pass it back to your computer.

And that’s how it works!

This raises a few questions…

The observant among you might already be jumping to a few conclusions, and maybe have a few questions…

  • Firstly, does this then happen for pretty much every website page request? The simple answer is that it happens a lot. It may be that your ISP remembers the answer to the question (by storing it in a cache – a temporary memory that will be deleted later), so subsequent page requests might not need it. But it will definitely be required for every visitor to your site, and more importantly it will be required for the first page request – the one that we don’t want users bouncing from.
  • Secondly, what about other things? Does it happen a bit like this for email? For VOIP calls? Yes, it does. Each thing that hangs off your domain name has records that are provided by your DNS.
  • Thirdly, what happens if I don’t explicitly choose my DNS provider when I register my domain name? In 999 cases out of 1000, the company you buy the domain from (your domain name registrar) bundles in DNS provider functionality as part of the £10 a year or whatever it charges for the domain name.

So what are the chances that your particular domain name registrar is also the best provider of fast, cheap DNS services? Slim to zero!

Fastest DNS provider for UK websites

So how do we get to the answer of what DNS provider to use? Firstly, let’s go to the data. DNSPerf tests a lot of this stuff. You can look at the answers for resolver simulation in Europe here:  http://www.dnsperf.com/#!dns-providers,Europe,resolver_simulation

 

Do you see your domain name registrar in the list? At time of writing, GoDaddy is at 20, and Namecheap is at 18. Lots of the other biggies aren’t there at all. No Fasthosts, no 123-Reg… etc, etc.

Right at the top of the pile is Cloudflare. Cloudflare’s predicted resolve time is 6.87ms at time of writing. GoDaddy’s is 22.15ms. So Cloudflare is 3 times faster.

Cloudflare basic is free.

Hence, our suggestion is to change DNS providers from yours to Cloudflare. If you come on board with WP Aid they will manage the whole thing for you so nothing breaks during the transition. Just drop me a message.

Jake Liddell

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