What Is a Nameserver? Why Are Nameservers Important?

If you’re trying to point your domain name to your web hosting, you’ve probably come across the term nameserver. So, what is a nameserver? Try a free demo


Nameservers help connect URLs with the IP address of web servers. Nameservers are an important part of the Domain Name System (DNS), which many people call the “phone book of the Internet”.


In this article, we’ll go deeper into the topic of what nameservers are, how they work, and how you can use them to manage your site’s domain name and other parts of your site:

What Is a Nameserver? Explained in More Detail

When a user enters a URL in their browser, like “kinsta.com, there needs to be some way to connect that URL with the underlying web server that powers the website at that domain name.


Think how difficult it would be if you had to enter the actual IP address of a web server every time you wanted to visit a website. You wouldn’t be able to remember whether it was 159.89.229.118 or 159.89.229.119 — it would be a mess!


Nameservers play an important role in connecting a URL with a server IP address in a much more human-friendly way.


Nameservers look like any other domain name. When you look at a website’s nameservers, you’ll typically see a minimum of two nameservers (though you can use more). Here’s an example of what they look like:

  • ns-380.awsdns-47.com
  • Ns-1076.awsdns-06.org

Only instead of serving up a website, those nameservers help direct traffic.


To illustrate the role that nameservers play in directing traffic on the Internet, let’s look at a real example.


Let’s say you want to visit the Kinsta homepage. On the surface, this action is simple: you type “kinsta.com” into your browser’s address bar and you see the Kinsta homepage. Easy, right?


But behind-the-scenes, the high-level process actually goes something like this:

  • You type “kinsta.com” into the address bar and hit enter
  • Your browser sends a request to that domain’s nameservers
  • The nameservers respond back with the IP address of the website’s server
  • Your browser requests the website content from that IP address
  • Your browser retrieves the content and renders it in your browser

Nameservers vs DNS Records

In the example above, we left out one point for simplicity:
DNS records.
DNS records are what contain the actual information that other browsers or services need to interact with, like your server’s IP address.
Nameservers, on the other hand, help store and organize those individual DNS records.
Earlier, we referred to DNS as the phone book of the Internet. But a more specific analogy would be that:

  • Nameservers are the physical phone book itself.
  • DNS records are the individual entries in the phone book.

If you wanted to find someone’s phone number (back when phone books existed!), you’d first grab the phone book itself. Then, you’d open the phone book and go through the entries to find the specific information that you need.


Armed with that knowledge, let’s look at a fuller sequence of what happens when you visit a website:

  • You type “kinsta.com” into the address bar and hit enter
  • Your browser uses DNS to retrieve the domain’s nameservers
  • Your browser asks for the A record that contains the IP address of the web server (a specific DNS record)
  • The nameservers provide the IP address from the A record
  • Your browser requests the website content from that IP address
  • Your browser retrieves the content and renders it in your browser

How to Use Nameservers in the Real World

In the real world, you’ll use nameservers and DNS records primarily to point your domain name towards your hosting. You also might use the DNS records supplied by your nameservers in other ways, like setting up your email account with MX records or verifying your domain name with Google Search Console.

Where Are Your Domain’s Nameservers Located?

The answer to this question is that “it depends”.


When you register your domain name through a domain registrar, your domain is usually pointed towards your domain registrar’s nameservers at first. Your domain registrar is also where you can edit your domain’s nameservers.
If you wanted to, you could leave your nameservers at your domain registrar and just edit the DNS records to point your domain name towards your web hosting.


However, many web hosts recommend that you change your domain’s nameservers to nameservers provided by the host. For example, here at Kinsta, we provide premium nameservers powered by Amazon Route 53 that you can use (though you don’t have to):

To change your nameservers, you’ll need to use the interface at the domain registrar where you purchased your domain name.

Summary

Nameservers play an essential role in directing traffic on the Internet by helping to connect your domain name with the IP address of your web server.


To do this, they help web browsers and other services access your domain’s DNS records.


You can edit your domain’s nameservers at the domain registrar where you purchased your domain name. Then, you’ll manage your individual DNS records at the nameserver “service” that you’re using. For example, the Kinsta dashboard if you’re using Kinsta’s nameservers or the Cloudflare dashboard if you’re using Cloudflare.


Finally, if you want to change your domain’s nameservers to use Kinsta’s nameservers, you can follow the steps in this help article.

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