DNS 101: Should I Run My Own Nameserver?

Despite being one of the foundational pillars of the Internet, DNS is often a poorly understood service, even by otherwise tech-savvy people. We often find DNS nameserver setup to be a frequent source of confusion for new clients migrating to our servers. 

Due to the nature of shared hosting, DNS services are typically managed by the hosting provider. However, when upgrading to a dedicated server or to a cloud server, that responsibility will typically fall on you. Hopefully, we can help shed some light on DNS to improve your understanding of this important component of your environment.

What is a Nameserver?

If you are hosting a domain, you are already using a nameserver. It may be managed by you, your hosting provider, your domain registrar, or a third-party — but it’s there. A nameserver maps domain names and subdomains to IP addresses using a service called DNS (Domain Name Service). Because the Internet is built upon IP addresses, without DNS, the Internet would become far less accessible. DNS allows visitors’ computers to find your server without them having to navigate strictly by IP address. How many IP addresses do you have memorized?

Should I Run My Own Nameservers?

Managing your own nameserver is generally not as difficult as you might think, but it is still wise to first explore your options. 

Hosting Provider Nameservers

Most shared hosting providers manage the DNS for their clients and will often require you to use their nameservers if you are using their hosting services. If this is your situation, your choice is simple. Your hosting provider will require some basic information from you, and add the appropriate DNS entries. However, if you are moving to a dedicated or cloud hosting service, you will want to explore some of the other options listed below.

Domain Registrar Nameservers

As their name indicates, a Domain Registrar is an organization from which one registers domains. Many will provide a basic DNS service that you can use for your domains, given that you have registered the domain through them. In most cases, this service is available for free and controlled through the same control panel interface where you buy and manage your domain names. Therefore, if this is a service provided by your registrar, the barrier to entry is low, and it may even be already set up by default when you buy a domain. 

There is a downside to using your Registrar’s DNS service. Doing so divorces your DNS from your server hosting, so unless you are adept at managing your own DNS, you will have to deal with different support teams to manage your whole solution. This can introduce confusion, communication issues, and finger-pointing into your environment.

Managing your own Nameservers

Managing your own nameserver with a dedicated or cloud server is a very common approach. When paired with a web hosting control panel, such as cPanel, many DNS tasks are handled automatically and others are done through a simple interface that is integrated into the control panel itself. While some knowledge of DNS is still expected, there are a lot of tutorials to help you. One of the more challenging steps is the initial setup which requires configuration of your nameservers, as well as those of your domain registrar. Once past this step, it’s fairly straight-forward from there.

Things get a bit more complicated when you are dealing with more than one server, but doing so can make your site much more resilient to outages. If you have a high-availability server environment, you’ll likely want to designate a second nameserver and synchronize the DNS records between them. This will allow visitors to still be able to find your site if one of the nameservers is down. 

At its core, DNS is a fairly simple concept. It’s just a way to map domain names to IP addresses – but without it, the Internet wouldn’t function. Hopefully, we’ve been able to help make it more understandable and help you navigate through the myriad of choices that may be faced when setting up your DNS services.