Nameservers Vs. DNS: A Complete Guide

by Stefanus Hadi, Ph.D.
Nameservers Vs. DNS: A Complete Guide thumbnail

Are you thinking of migrating your site to a new hosting service provider? You might be wondering what this’ll mean for your domain registration. Will switching web hosts prevent people from accessing your content? It’s enough to send a shiver down your spine.

This is why it’s important to understand what nameservers and the Domain Name System (DNS) are and how they work. This knowledge will help you manage your migration efficiently and keep the traffic flowing.

In this post, we’ll look closer at nameservers and DNS records. We’ll also show you how you can access these essential components of your site. Let’s get started!

Nameservers Vs. DNS Records: What They Are And How They Work

DreamHost Glossary


A nameserver is the Domain Name System (DNS) server component that translates a website’s domain name into a numerical IP address. This term can refer to any server with DNS software, as well as a hosting provider’s server that manages customer domain names.

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A nameserver connects your domain name with the server’s Internet Protocol (IP) address that hosts your website. Thanks to nameservers, browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox can direct users to the right page when they type in a site address.

For example, if you type into Google, the nameserver tells the browser where that domain is located (i.e., the address of your web host). Without this information, the browser couldn’t display the site.

Nameservers form a part of an online database known as the Domain Name System (DNS).

DreamHost Glossary


The Domain Name System (DNS) protocol keeps records of which domain names correspond to specific IP addresses. DNS enables you to browse the web by typing in regular URLs instead of IP addresses.

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This system works in partnership with the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and the Internet Protocol (IP), which define how computers communicate via the Internet and private networks.

DNS plays an important role in converting simple domain names (e.g., into an IP address (e.g.,, which computers then use to identify one another on the network.

Essentially, think of DNS as a phone directory. It contains records of web devices, such as computers and servers, and their associated IP addresses.

Every domain has its own DNS records, which include the nameserver. These are generated when you register your domain name with a hosting provider or a domain registrar. Therefore, your nameserver points your domain name to the IP address of your host or registrar.

A "How DNS Works" diagram with numbers and arrows showing connections between different nodes.

How The Browser Finds Your Website

Everything that’s connected to the internet has an IP address, including websites and servers. There are millions of IPs in use all over the world, and they’re all unique. Your site will have its own IP address, which your host provides.

Your domain name must, however, be able to connect to the IP address of your site. For example, when you enter a site’s URL into an address bar, your browser will try to access the corresponding page. To do this, it’ll go through some steps that you won’t see.

First, the browser connects to the target site’s domain registrar and asks for directions. This is called a DNS query. Then, the registrar points the browser to the target site’s hosting provider (e.g., Once the browser arrives at the web host, it’ll look for the correct nameserver (e.g.,

This whole process is instantaneous.

As users, we don’t fully appreciate the additional steps. However, if you decide to change hosting providers, you’ll need to update your domain name records to point to the new host. This is a vital step. Otherwise, users won’t be able to find or access your site.

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How To Use Nameservers And DNS Records

Accessing the DNS records, including your nameservers, can make the process much easier when transferring your domain. Let’s take a look at the different ways you can locate and manage these important records.

Locating And Managing Your Nameservers

Your domain’s nameservers can be found in your web hosting account. These might also be available on the hosting company’s documentation page.

The nameservers for domains managed by DreamHost are:


If you’re a DreamHost client, you can log in to your hosting account to view your nameservers.

Note that if your domain is registered with a different company, you won’t be able to update your nameservers from your DreamHost account. To manage your nameservers, you’ll need to log in to your account with the company that manages your domain.

If your domain is registered with DreamHost, you’ll be able to edit your nameservers. For instance, if you want to replace your current nameservers, you can simply erase them from the box and type in your new ones.

You can also manage your domain from the Registrations page in your account. For more information about this, you can read our complete instructions for editing your nameservers on DreamHost.

Alternatively, you can find out what a website’s nameservers are by performing a WHOIS lookup. Nameservers are public records, so it’s possible to find this information by using a third-party tool.

Several sites offer this service, including ICANN’s lookup tool.

"ICANN Lookup" website hero section with "Registration data lookup tool" in focus.

You can type the domain name into the search bar, and a list of records will appear. For example, here are the nameservers for

"Domain Information" details for with website name, domain ID, status, nameservers, and relevant dates.

Note that a WHOIS search can also show the personal details of the domain’s owner, including their name and email address. Some hosting providers and domain registrars offer WHOIS privacy, which protects the user’s identity.

Locating And Managing Your DNS Records

Your DNS records are just as easy to locate and manage. You can log in to your hosting account to view your records and change them. If your domain is managed by a third party, such as a domain name registrar, you’ll need to log in to your account with that company.

If you have a DreamHost account, your DNS records can be found on the same page as your nameservers.

You can add a new DNS record to your domain by following these instructions. You’ll notice there are different types of records you can create. Let’s take a closer look at the most common ones.

A Record

The address record is the most basic type of DNS record. It points a domain (or subdomain) to an IP address.

DreamHost Glossary


A subdomain is an additional element added to the start of a website’s domain name. In, “blog.” is the subdomain. Subdomains are usually added to domains to create new pages that have unique content and/or functionality that extend the reach and purpose of a website.

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CNAME Record

The canonical name record points a domain to another domain instead of an IP address. This is used when a site has subdomains, such as or

These are subdomains of Let’s say that each of these subdomains has a CNAME record containing the value Since the DNS is looking for an IP address when the CNAME record is accessed, a further lookup is carried out at (as this is the value contained in the CNAME file).

DreamHost Glossary

CNAME Record

CNAME is an abbreviation of “Canonical Name”. This term is typical when referring to a “CNAME record” in a Domain Name System (DNS). It maps an alias domain to its true domain name.

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It’ll then return the IP address stored in’s “A” record. This means that these subdomains are aliases of the main domain, and the canonical name (or “true name”) of these subdomains is actually

MX Record

A mail exchange record is used to direct emails to an address registered on your domain (e.g., per the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) — the standard protocol for email.

Ensuring that your MX records point to the right mail server is important. Otherwise, you won’t receive emails through your account. Also, before switching hosts, we recommend backing up your emails.

NS Record

As mentioned previously, this is the nameserver record. You can use this setting to change your nameservers so that they point to your new hosting provider.

TXT (Text) Record

This one allows you to insert text into your DNS records. Originally, the TXT record was designed for human notes, such as site descriptions or development details. However, it’s possible to include machine-readable data.

This record can help you to protect your site against spam. It also enables you to verify your domain (e.g., by adding a Google Site Verification record). It’s quite common to have multiple TXT records for a single website.

Monitoring Your DNS Records

When updating your nameservers and other domain records, you’ll need to take DNS propagation into account. This is the time it takes for your DNS records to update across the internet. For example, when you modify your nameserver to point to your new hosting company, this change can take up to 72 hours to come into effect.

At DreamHost, we offer a DNS propagation checker to help you monitor your records. You can also use the propagation checker from or, which even has a map that shows your domain’s current IP address and DNS record information at multiple nameservers all over the world.

"DreamHost DNS Propagation" graphic showing a world map with locations of nameservers marked by green ticks and red crosses.

DNS And Nameserver FAQS

By now, you should have a pretty good understanding of how DNS and nameservers work. But there are a few more questions you should know the answers to. Let’s clear those up now:

What Is The Difference Between A DNS Zone And A Nameserver?

In simple terms, a DNS zone holds all the DNS records managed by a specific person or organization. It usually applies to one specific domain and related subdomains.

For example: if you own, your DNS zone might include records for:


In contrast, a nameserver is a server computer that hosts DNS zones. It stores all DNS records saved for your domain, and looks up the IP address when prompted.

What Is The Difference Between DNS Resolver And Nameserver?

A DNS resolver is a piece of software that initiates DNS queries whenever you try to access a website or internet resource by domain name. The resolver contacts nameservers and asks “What is the IP address for this domain name?”

The nameserver is the dedicated server computer that has the DNS records stored and which looks up the right IP address to send back to the resolver.

What Is TTL In DNS?

TTL stands for Time to Live. It’s a setting that tells resolvers and other computers how long to cache (temporarily store) a specific DNS record before requesting it again from the nameserver.

This helps reduce the number of queries whenever a domain is looked up, improving your site’s performance.

TTL is always set in seconds. You can choose anything between 30 seconds and 86,400 seconds (one whole day) or select automatic. In the latter case, records are refreshed automatically whenever they’re updated.

Nameservers Vs. DNS In A Nutshell

When you migrate your site to a new host, knowing how nameservers and DNS Records work can make the process a lot smoother. You need to make sure your domain points to the correct nameserver. Otherwise, site visitors will be unable to access your pages.

At DreamHost, we make your life easier by managing the entire transition process, including your domain transfers.

Plus, you can manage your own domains and DNS from your hosting account with us, and your domain also gets free privacy protection.

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Stefanus Hadi, Ph.D., is Product Research Manager at DreamHost. He is responsible for directing and managing the company’s partnerships with various domain registries, including those that control TLDs like .com, .online, .shop, .xyz, .club, .art, .io, .co, .me, and many others. In his free time, Stefanus enjoys outdoor activities, visits national parks regularly, and serves as a member of a Los Angeles high school support group. Connect with Stefanus on LinkedIn: