Domain names and zone records explained

Domain names and zone records explained

Increasingly, small business users need their domain names to handle web and email services which are catered for by different providers. Without the knowledge to leverage their domain name records, users often default their email to free services like “Live” and “GMail” so that web designers can at least manage their website. These kinds of services while fine for residential use do not provide the reliability, resilience, and efficacy provided by professional solutions like Office 365. For instance, users frequently find that Yahoo, Live, and Gmail treat incoming email from a web site contact form as spam, and users unknowingly lose important communications.

So, how do domain names work, and how can domains be put to work to manage business’ needs for web sites, email, messaging services, online document management systems, etc. under one roof?

DNS

One way to think of a domain name is by comparing it to a phone book, where the domain name is the title of a phone book which lists a variety of entries that point to addresses. In the same way that phone books help us find phone numbers for people or organisations, a domain name lists records which computers need to connect to web sites, email servers, and other things. Domain names hold this list in a “zone record”. Once a domain name and its “authoritative” record is established, copies of the zone record are distributed automatically around the Internet to make it easier for users to find and connect to that domain name’s services. If records need to be amended, then copies of the amended zone record are redistributed. This is DNS.

Zone records

Small businesses used to organise their websites and email with a single web server sourced from a retail provider. The zone record below is typical of this kind of deployment. The “www” record points to the website, and we can deduce that mail services are handled by the same server because “www” and “mail” records point to the same address (see bottom of image).

sample mx record
As email becomes more difficult to manage, small businesses are having to separate mail services from websites so that email can be handled by dedicated email providers, like Microsoft’s Office 365 Exchange email service. Another reason why domain names are becoming more difficult to handle  is because businesses are using more externally based “cloud” services like document management, instant messaging, video conferencing, etc. All of these often need customised entries in a domain name’s zone record.  So, zone records can become complex, and their scope, already beyond the ability of in-house management, is becoming much trickier to handle.

Conceptually, domain names and zone records are not difficult. Since these records exist in a real-time operational state, though, amendments which are incorrectly made can cause catastrophic disruption to email and web services. Professional guidance is recommended for dealing with these services.

Problems also arise when multiple parties need access to a domain name to manage specific services like web hosting and email. A web designer might manage a web site, while a network engineer provides Exchange Email via Office 365. Domain name registrars only recognise one administrator for managing domain name owners’ services. So, who gets the key? Web designers know what kind of records they need and are not too concerned about other services, for example.

DNS Management

To deal with these unusual problems, ComStat uniquely provides specialist services not just for its own customers but also for third party engineers who need access to customers’ zone records for their project work via web based access to a centralised management control panel. ComStat’s service enables customers to prevent their domain name portfolios from fragmenting while enabling authorised parties to collaboratively manage records. In addition to conventional records, ComStat’s zone management cPpanel, below, provides for advanced services like IP v6, SPF, SOA, and TXT records .

comstats zone record control panel

For more information about ComStat’s domain name management services, please contact Steve Galloway on +44 (07834) 461 266, or send him a message via our contact form.