What are DNS records and why do they matter for your utility website?
In my previous post about domain names, we learned about what a domain name is. We also touched briefly on how DNS records interact with your domain name and allow your website to function. In this post we’ll go into more detail about what DNS records are, what to know about them, and why they are important.
What are DNS records anyway?
A DNS record defines a name to go with a value, often one that is more difficult to remember, such as an IP address.
Let’s say you are hosting your website on a Powerful web server and the IP address of that server is
126.96.36.199. Not exactly easy to remember, right? It’s much easier to simply remember a name, like exampleelectric.com. In this way, DNS makes the internet easily usable.
DNS also allows for other types of records. For example:
- You are setting up a service that wants to confirm that you own your website. A common method of verification is to ask you to add a DNS record with a specified string of numbers and letters. This is done using a TXT type of DNS record.
- DNS is how you specify where emails should be sent for your domain name. For example, if you are using Google Workspace for your company email accounts, you would add a MX type of DNS record for your domain name with the value
ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM(the location of one of Google’s email servers).
Why DNS records matter
DNS records also aid in allowing one server, with one IP address, to answers requests made to multiple names. For example, let’s say you are using our shared hosting, where you host your utility website on one of our servers that is shared with other utility websites. This allows for an efficient use of resources and keeps your hosting costs down by sharing those resources with other organizations.
With DNS records, many names can share the same value — for example, the IP address
188.8.131.52. This is one of the keys to allowing multiple websites to seamlessly be accessed from the same web server.
The name–value pairing of DNS records also means that people visiting your website are abstracted away from needing to know which server your website is hosted on. If the web server that your website is hosted on changes, you can simply update the DNS record to point to a different IP address. Visitors to your website will be none the wiser and don’t need to experience any disruption.
Here’s an analogy:
Think of DNS like the Google Maps app on your phone. Let’s say you have a favorite pizza shop, Ben’s World Famous Pizza. Ben’s has a street address, and Google Maps knows the address. But you don’t have to.
You punch in the name of the restaurant and Google Maps simply guides you there. All you needed to know was the name.
Let’s say Ben’s decides to expand and moves to a new location. This new location has a street address, and it may be very different from their previous address. But you are still saved from needing to know or remember the address. Ben’s can simply submit their new address to Google Maps. The next time that you look up Ben’s World Famous Pizza on Google Maps, it will simply direct you to the new address. All you need to know to find world famous pizza is the name.
This exact scenario plays out when you partner with us for a brand new Powerful website. After the website has been designed, tested, and approved, it will be time for you to update the DNS records for your domain name to so that the name corresponds with the IP address of a Powerful server instead of the server that hosts your outgoing legacy website. Your website visitors keep using the domain name they always have (like exampleelectric.com), but will now see your new utility website!
What to consider when it comes to your DNS records
DNS records, as you may remember from a previous post, function with your domain name, but are not the same thing. They are a distinct component.
Almost all domain registrars (GoDaddy, NameCheap, Hover, etc.) will offer DNS services along with your domain name for free. In fact, this is typically the default set up.
While the DNS service offered by your domain registrar is often good enough, it may lack some flexibility or not reach the level of reliability of a dedicated DNS provider.
Your domain registrar allows you to change to a different DNS provider should you so choose. This setting is typically called something like “choose nameservers”, “authoritative nameservers”, “advanced DNS”, or “custom DNS”.
Essentially, you may specify to your domain registrar who your authorized DNS provider is, whether it be your domain registrar’s service or a third party service such as DNS Made Easy or Cloudflare.
While you may not need to change DNS records often, it’s crucial that they function reliably. If your authoritative Domain Name Servers (the ones you designate to your domain registrar) go down, people may be unable to access your website and you may be unable to receive inbound emails, depending on your specific email set up.
You may also find that the DNS records for your domain name are already being managed outside of your domain registrar. Your IT vendor may be managing it for you on their own server or through a third party service.
Or your in house IT department may even be running a DNS server on site that serves as the authoritative nameserver for your domain name. A word of caution regarding on site DNS: if power or internet to your facility fails, your onsite DNS server may go down. This can cause your utility website to go down, which is likely the last thing you want to be dealing with during this situation.
If you do run your DNS nameserver on site, opt for longer Time To Live (TTL) times — in the range of 6 to 12 hours (or as TTL times are typically expressed in seconds: 21,600 to 43,200). This essentially tells computers that have fetched the DNS records for your website how long to wait before discarding the information and fetching it again from the DNS system. If you have a short Time To Live on the records and your in house DNS server goes down, people will quickly stop being able to access your website. However, if the Time To Live is longer, site visitors have a better chance of already having the DNS information on hand, allowing visitors to access the website while your in house DNS server is down. You can adjust TTL times using the same interface you use to change the values of DNS records.
It’s also important, just like your domain name itself, to keep track of who is administrating the DNS records for your domain name, the current contact information of your administrator, and so on. Include these DNS related checks as part of your annual audit of your domain name. Should you ever need to make an urgent change to DNS records, it’s important to have current information about how to make changes.
If you want a new Powerful website for your utility organization, we can handle DNS records for you
If you are partnering with Powerful for a brand new website for your utility organization, we also offer to manage your domain name(s) at no or low cost.
As part of this management service, we fully administrate your DNS records, ensuring their reliability and standing ready as your trusted web experts whenever you need to make a change to your DNS records.