In the wake of the recent GoDaddy outages, many web hosting customers have been sorting out what happened and how they can prevent more downtime in the future. Although initially a hacker took responsibility for the outage, GoDaddy has since asserted that the extended downtime was due to internal problems with their Domain Name System or DNS servers. So what's a DNS server?
A domain name is the address associated with a specific website. In our case, our domain name is NextAdvisor.com. (There is a subtle difference between a URL like http://www.nextadvisor.com and a domain name. The domain name is just the last portion of the URL, while the "http://www." at the beginning of the URL tell your computer where to look for the domain name. Today, many browsers allow users to navigate to websites by just entering the domain name without the other components of the URL.)
In many ways, a domain name works like a phone number. The domain name identifies a website hosted on a server, just like a telephone number identifies a specific telephone location. The phone company maintains a registry of telephone numbers and their corresponding telephones, so they can route calls to the correct location. A DNS server works just like this registry, keeping track of which server each website is stored at, and which domain name corresponds to that website, so when a user enters the domain name, the DNS server can direct that user to the right page.
When you register your domain name, it gets an entry in your domain registrar's DNS server. If you register your domain name through your web hosting company, then your domain is in your host's DNS server. If you registered your domain name with another company, you will need to give your web hosting company information about your domain registrar to properly connect your site and your domain name.
When GoDaddy's DNS server began having problems, users who had registered a domain name with GoDaddy began having trouble accessing their sites. When visitors typed in a domain name registered with GoDaddy, they got no response from the DNS server, so even if a site was hosted with another company and working fine, those visitors couldn't get to the pages, since their browsers couldn't access the "directions" stored in the DNS server.
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