What is Primary DNS?

Every time a person accesses the internet and types an address or search term into their browser, they’re using DNS—whether they know it or not. The domain name system is constantly running behind the scenes and is the reason the internet is what it is today. In this resource, I’ll be covering Primary DNS and its place in the online process.

Primary DNS

Primary DNS refers to the main authoritative nameserver for a domain. It’s this server that stores the IP address and other important details correlating with a specific website. In order for a recursive resolver to send internet users to the correct destination, it needs the information stored within the primary server. While a query is typically resolved within milliseconds (depending on the DNS provider), it’s not a straight A to B process. Let’s take a look at how it works.

Primary DNS Server: How Does it Work?

Although it seems like it, once a person searches for something on the web, they aren’t magically transported to their online destination. There is a process that occurs that is completely unnoticeable to end users—that is, unless something has gone awry.

The domain name system doesn’t just store DNS record information, it also translates domain names into a machine-readable format—numerical IP addresses. The primary DNS server for a domain is what provides the IP address. There are essentially eight steps in the DNS for a query that isn’t cached by a resolver:

  1. User’s browser (or device) contacts recursive nameserver
  2. Recursive nameserver contacts root server
  3. Root server refers recursive server to top-level domain (TLD) server
  4. Recursive server contacts TLD server
  5. TLD refers recursive server to an authoritative nameserver
  6. Recursive server contacts authoritative nameserver
  7. Authoritative nameserver provides final answer to recursive server
  8. Recursive server resolves query and directs browser (or device) to destination

The amazing thing about DNS is that all of these steps take only milliseconds in most cases. Each server in the process needs the other to work, but it’s the Primary DNS that answers the actual query request, hence the reason it’s called an authoritative nameserver.

There are, of course, exceptions to these steps. If one of the servers has the information for a domain in its cache, the resolver will answer the query with the cached details. Also, in rare cases, if an authoritative nameserver doesn’t provide a final answer, the process will repeat.

DNS Server Not Responding

Of course, there are times when DNS can actually prevent a user from accessing a website, or the internet as a whole. Anyone who frequents the web has likely experienced a “DNS server not responding” or similar error message when trying to access a website. These types of errors are usually a result of misconfigurations or network connectivity issues on the user’s end. However, this can also happen if an internet service provider (ISP) or a domain’s primary DNS provider has an outage that has no redundancy measures in place.

Primary vs Secondary DNS

While Primary DNS providers can’t do anything about user-related problems, they can do something to keep domains from experiencing DNS-related outages. This is where Secondary DNS comes in. While the primary DNS provider holds the main copy of a domain’s DNS records, the secondary provider holds a copy of the same data. This essentially means that a domain with secondary DNS would have two sets of authoritative DNS servers instead of just one. This way, if the primary provider has an outage, queries would automatically be directed to the secondary provider, with no noticeable effects for the end user.

A bonus to having a secondary DNS configuration is that resolvers learn which nameserver is faster. And, resolvers typically prefer the fastest resource. This is a win-win for your users as it provides them with an optimal experience.

Did you know?: DNS Made Easy has an 11+-year history of zero downtime—no one else in the industry can make that claim.

The TL;DR of Primary DNS

Regardless of how you access the internet, you use DNS. The internet wouldn’t be the same without it. Individuals access the web through recursive resolvers, typically that of an ISP or a free DNS platform such as Google or OpenDNS. Anyone who owns a domain, on the other hand, has primary DNS, which is an authoritative nameserver that holds the domain’s records and pertinent information. Without authoritative DNS, your website couldn’t be found online.

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Heather Oliver
Heather Oliver is a Technical Writer for Constellix and DNS Made Easy, subsidiaries of Tiggee LLC. She’s fascinated by technology and loves adding a little spark to complex topics. Want to connect? Find her on LinkedIn.

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