DNS resolution: Step-by-step guide

DNS (Domain Name System) resolution is a crucial behind-the-scenes process that enables us to access websites, send emails, and connect to various services on the internet. While it might seem like magic, it’s a well-defined process that involves multiple steps. In this step-by-step guide, we’ll demystify DNS resolution and explain how it works.

Step 1: User Input

Everything starts with a user’s request to access a website or service. This request typically comes in the form of a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) entered into a web browser’s address bar or a similar input method. For example, when you type “www.example.com” into your browser, you’re initiating a DNS resolution process.

Step 2: Local DNS Cache

Before sending the request out into the vast internet, your device checks its local DNS cache. This cache stores recently resolved DNS queries to reduce the time it takes to access frequently visited websites. If the URL you entered matches a cached DNS record, your device can skip the DNS resolution process and proceed directly to the website.

Step 3: Recursive Resolver

If the DNS record is not found in the local cache or has expired, your device needs to consult a recursive resolver. This resolver is typically provided by your internet service provider (ISP) or a third-party DNS service like Google DNS or Cloudflare DNS. The recursive resolver is responsible for finding the IP address associated with the domain name in your query.

Step 4: Root DNS Server

The recursive resolver begins by contacting a root DNS server. There are 13 root DNS servers worldwide, managed by various organizations. These root servers maintain a database of the top-level domain (TLD) name servers, such as .com, .org, and .net.

Step 5: TLD DNS Server

The root DNS server responds to the recursive resolver with information about the TLD DNS server responsible for the domain’s extension. For instance, if you were trying to access “www.example.com,” the root server would direct the resolver to the .com TLD DNS server.

Step 6: Authoritative DNS Server

The TLD DNS server, in turn, directs the recursive resolver to the authoritative DNS server for the specific domain, which is responsible for storing the IP address associated with “www.example.com.”

Step 7: IP Address Retrieval

The recursive resolver contacts the authoritative DNS server, requesting the IP address for “www.example.com.” The authoritative DNS server responds with the IP address, allowing the resolver to complete the DNS resolution process.

Step 8: Local DNS Cache Update

After successfully resolving the domain name to an IP address, the recursive resolver updates its cache with the newly acquired DNS record. This helps speed up future requests for the same domain.

Step 9: Connection

Armed with the IP address, your device can now establish a connection to the web server hosting the website you requested. It sends an HTTP request to the server, which, in turn, responds with the web page’s content.

Step 10: Display

Finally, your web browser receives the web page’s content and renders it for you to see and interact with. The entire process, from user input to web page display, typically happens in just a fraction of a second.


DNS resolution is a fundamental process that allows us to access the vast array of resources available on the internet. It involves several steps, including user input, local DNS cache checks, interactions with recursive resolvers, root and TLD DNS servers, and authoritative DNS servers. Understanding this process can help you troubleshoot connectivity issues and appreciate the complexity behind seemingly simple tasks like accessing a website. So, the next time you enter a URL in your browser, remember the intricate journey it takes through the DNS resolution process before it reaches your screen.

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