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One reason DNS is confusing is that the DNS server you query (a resolver) is different from the DNS server where the records are stored (a network of authoritative nameservers.

Beside “resolver” there is an illustration of a smiling little box holding a magnifying glass, and beside “authoritative nameserver” there is an illustration of a smiling little box with a crown.

anytime your browser makes a DNS query, it’s asking a resolver

Illustration of a conversation between a browser, represented by the Firefox logo of a fox wrapped around a globe, and a resolver, represented by a smiling little box holding a magnifying glass

browser: what’s the IP for
resolver: I’ll find out for you!

anytime you update a domain’s DNS records, you’re updating an authoritative nameserver

Illustration between a smiling stick figure with curly hair, and an authoritative nameserver, represented by a pink box with a smiley face wearing a crown.

person: set the IP for to
authoritative nameserver: got it! Next time someone asks, that’s what I’ll tell them.

how a resolver handles queries

  1. check its cache, or (if that fails)
  2. find the right authoritative nameserver and ask it

how an authoritative nameserver handles queries

  1. check its database for a match
  2. that’s it, there’s no step 2. It’s the authority! (illustration of a crown)

the terminology is really confusing

Other names for resolvers: - recursive resolver - DNS recursor - public DNS server - recursive nameserver - DNS resolution service - caching-only nameserver

Types of authoritative nameservers: - root nameserver - TLD nameserver (like .com or .ca)

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