Domain Name System (DNS) is a database system that translates a computer's fully qualified domain name into its IP address.
Think of it as using your mobile telephones address book. You look up and select the name of the person you are calling, but the telephone transparently calls the actual telephone number - it turns a name into a number
Networked computers use IP addresses to locate and connect to each other, but IP addresses can be difficult for people to remember. For example, on the web, it's much easier to remember the domain name www.gradwell.net than it is to remember its corresponding IP address (126.96.36.199).
DNS allows you to connect to another networked computer or remote service by using its user-friendly domain name rather than its numerical IP address. Conversely, Reverse DNS (rDNS) translates an IP address into a domain name.
Each organization that maintains a computer network will have at least one server handling DNS queries. That server, called a name server, will hold a list of all the IP addresses within its network, plus a cache of IP addresses for recently accessed computers outside the network. Each computer on each network needs to know the location of only one name server. When your computer requests an IP address, one of three things happens, depending on whether or not the requested IP address is within your local network:
If the requested IP address is registered locally (i.e., it's within your organization's network), you'll receive a response directly from one of the local name servers listed in your computer configuration. In this case, there usually is little or no wait for a response.
If the requested IP address is not registered locally (i.e., outside your organization's network), but someone within your organization has recently requested the same IP address, then the local name server will retrieve the IP address from its cache. Again, there should be little or no wait for a response.
If the requested IP address is not registered locally, and you are the first person to request information about this system in a certain period of time (ranging from 12 hours to one week), then the local name server will perform a search on behalf of your computer. This search may involve querying two or more other name servers at potentially very remote locations. These queries can take anywhere from a second or two up to a minute (depending on how well connected you are to the remote network and how many intermediate name servers must be contacted). Sometimes, due to the lightweight protocol used for DNS, you may not receive a response. In these cases, your computer or client software may continue to repeat the query until a response is received, or you may receive an error message.
Advanced Settings and Troubleshooting
Sometime you might find your DNS server is out of date. You may visit a website and it may have changed servers but you are still seeing the old version. This is because DNS changes take time to propagate and this is not helped by the fact that some ISPs cache DNS and previous DNS queries for too long.
If you control your DNS, you can stop your information being cached for so long by lowering the TTL settings in your DNS record entries.