What is a name server?

Name Servers are of great importance in the world of the internet, helping to convert information relating to a computers IP address (usually in 10 digit numerical format) into a more human friendly version (a domain name). In the earlier days of the internet you had to know the IP address of the website you were trying to reach, you then had to manually enter the IP number into the URL to get to the website, this was quite a labour intensive way of doing things which lead to the development of the name server.

Name servers are part of a system known as DNS (Domain Name System) and help form a link between the human user and the essential processes a computer must go through to be able to find and display a given website. A good way to think about this process is to take a mobile phone, when you take someones contact number you automatically ask them for their name and create a contact by attaching their name to the number they have given…..imagine if you couldn’t take a name and instead had to memorise each contact by their number alone?! This would be comparable to a situation where you didn’t have a name server (the mobile number for your contact would be comparable to an IP address assigned to a website domain). This explanation is simplified somewhat as the pathway looks more like this: –

  • Web Domain ——————-> Name Server ——————-> IP Address of server that contains your website

A name server looks very much like a web domain in appearance, for example ns1.example.com, there are usually 2 name servers designated to each site just in case one of the severs goes down.

Its worth mentioning at this point that a web domain can point directly to the IP address of the server that contains your website, however by pointing to a name server you can change the IP address (of the web server) allowing the host to only have to amend the IP address at the name server level, this also makes things easier further down the line when you wish to move your hosting activities to a different hosting provider. Rather than having to type in a 10 digit number you just have to input the name of your new name server. 

A name server also comes in handy when you have multiple websites attached to one IP address, The name server will contact the server which contains, for example – Peters Web and will ask the server ‘Do you contain Peters Web?’. The server will then look through its own DNS records and work out which files are associated with Peters Web, if it finds Peters Web the files are then sent back to the user. 

We often have people ask ‘why do I need two name servers?’ The answer is…… each name server will point to a different IP address, so that if one IP is unavailable the other IP will still respond. As we are on the subject of name servers we feel its worth pointing out some important information relating to our ‘uptime’ report feature. Here at Peters Web we display a monitor which feeds back information to our clients relating to how much time we have been online (time where we (including our clients) have had an uninterrupted connection to the internet). Sometimes one of our name servers may display a figure less than 100% – this would suggest that some ‘uptime’ has been lost across our system. In this case our service would run via the other name server. This means that we always maintain a connection!

This is a very short and simplified description of a name server and how it functions, I have linked a short YouTube video here that explains the process in a little bit more detail.

If you have any questions relating to this article or would just like to stop by for a chat please get in touch via a support ticket (open a ticket) with our hosting department – we will do our best to get back in touch as soon as possible.

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