Chapter 2. How Does DNS Work?

" . . . and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”

The Domain Name System is basically a database of host information. Admittedly, you get a lot with that: funny dotted names, networked nameservers, a shadowy “namespace.” But keep in mind that, in the end, the service DNS provides is information about internet hosts.

We’ve already covered some important aspects of DNS, including its client/server architecture and the structure of the DNS database. However, we haven’t gone into much detail, and we haven’t explained the nuts and bolts of DNS’s operation.

In this chapter, we’ll explain and illustrate the mechanisms that make DNS work. We’ll also introduce the terms you’ll need to know to read the rest of the book (and to converse intelligently with your fellow zone administrators).

First, though, let’s take a more detailed look at the concepts introduced in the previous chapter. We’ll try to add enough detail to spice it up a little.

The Domain Namespace

DNS’s distributed database is indexed by domain names. Each domain name is essentially just a path in a large inverted tree, called the domain namespace. The tree’s hierarchical structure, shown in Figure 2-1, is similar to the structure of the Unix filesystem. The tree has a single root at the top.[*] In the Unix filesystem, this is called the root directory and is represented by a slash (/). DNS simply calls it “the root.” Like a filesystem, DNS’s tree can branch ...

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