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CNAME, Canonical Name Records

CNAME records simply allow a machine to be known by more than one hostname. There must always be an A record for the machine before aliases can be added. The host name of a machine that is stated in an A record is called the canonical, or official name of the machine. Other records should point to the canonical name. Here is an example of a CNAME: IN CNAME

You can see the similarities to the previous record. Records always read from left to right, with the subject to be queried about on the left and the answer to the query on the right. A machine can have an unlimited number of CNAME aliases. A new record must be entered for each alias.

A, Address Records

Address, or "A" records, map the name of a machine to its numeric IP address. In clearer terms, this record states the hostname and IP address of a certain machine. To "resolve" a hostname means to find its matching IP address. This is the record that A nameserver would send another name server to answer a resolution query. The record below is an example of how an A record should look: IN A

The first column contains the machine's hostname. The second column lists what class the record is. For most basic DNS work, all you will need is the IN designation, which stands for Internet. The next column denotes the type of record the entry actually is, and the last column is the IP address itself. It is possible to map more than one IP address to a given hostname. This often happens for people who run a firewall and have two ethernet cards in one machine. All you must do is add a second A record, with every column the same save for the IP address. It is also possible to map more than one host name to one IP address. This is not recommended, however, since DNS has a special record for allowing machines to have aliases, called a canonical name, or CNAME record.

NS, Nameserver Records

NS records are imperative to functioning DNS entries. They are very simple; they merely state the authoritative name servers for the given domain. There must be at least two NS records in every DNS entry. NS records look like this: IN NS

There also must be an A record in your DNS for each machine you enter as A NAME server in your domain. If Wyith Limited is doing primary and secondary names service, we will set up these records for you automatically, with and as your two authoritative name servers.

Start of authority SOA records

The SOA record is the most crucial record in a DNS entry. It conveys more information than all the other records combined. This record is called the start of authority because it denotes the DNS entry as the official source of information for its domain. Here is an example of a SOA record, then each part of it will be explained: IN SOA (
   1996111901 ; Serial
   10800 ; Refresh
   3600 ; Retry
   3600000 ; Expire
   86400 ) ; Minimum

The first column contains the domain for which this record begins authority for. The next two entries should look familiar. The entry is the primary name server for the domain. The last entry on this row is actually an email address, if you substituted a @ for the first ".". There should always be a viable contact address in the SOA record. The next entries are a little more unusual then what we have become used to. The serial number is a record of how often this DNS entry has been updated. Every time a change is made to the entry, the serial number must be incremented. Other name servers that pull information for a zone from the primary only pull the zone if the serial number on the primary name server's entry is higher than the serial number on it's entry. In this way the name servers for a domain are able to update themselves. A recommended way of using your serial number is the YYYYMMDDNN format shown above, where the NN is the number of times that day the DNS has been changed. Also, a note for Wyith Limited customers who run their own name servers: even if the serial number is incremented, you should still fill out the web form and use the comment box when you make changes asking us to pull the new zones. All the rest of the numbers in the record are measurements of time, in seconds. The "refresh" number stands for how often secondary name servers should check the primary for a change in the serial number. "Retry" is how long a secondary server should wait before trying to reconnect to primary server if the connection was refused. "Expire" is how long the secondary server should use its current entry if it is unable to perform a refresh, and "minimum" is how long other nameservers should cache, or save, this entry. There can only be one SOA record per domain. Like NS records, Wyith Limited sets up this record for you if you are not running your own name server.

Other records

There are many other types of DNS records, however these are the most relevant ones you will need to understand. Other record types, like Host Information (HINFO) or Text (TXT) are informational for people only, listing facts about the domain and types of computers used that are not vital to the operation of DNS. Now that you have seen the format these records take, you should send your DNS requests to us in the correct format. This will expedite the processing of your requests. If you wish to find out more about how DNS works, a good reference written in clear terms is the book DNS and BIND, by O'Reilly & Associates. It is available in most bookstores. To find a comprehensive list of most available DNS resources, look on the Web at

Suggested further readings

  • TCP/IP Network Administration, O'Reilly & Associates
  • UNIX System Administration Handbook, 2/ed, Evi Nemeth
  • TCP/IP Illustrated, vol.1, W. Richard Stevens
  • Firewalls and Internet Security, W.R. Cheswick
  • Building Internet Firewalls, D. Brent Chapman

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