understanding dns

Understanding DNS, and how it can slow down your website

The world of online business and the digital space is a huge well of information, guidelines, and best practices. You might have a grasp on the basics, which is when it comes time to talk about the Domain Name System (DNS). Understanding DNS and how it affects your website is an important aspect of your site’s operation. While you don’t need to be an expert on this topic, it’s good to have a basic overview of how it relates to you, your online presence, and your business. 

What does DNS mean?

DNS stands for Domain Name System. You can think about understanding DNS as the foundation or groundwork of the internet, as much of our online capabilities exist as a result of this system. In its most basic form, DNS matches domain names with Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, which allows people to access websites. As a quick reminder, a domain name is the name of a particular website, such as WordPress or Facebook. IP addresses are unique strings of numbers used to identify specific websites, a bit like an online order number.

The DNS system is often compared to a phone book, with domain names and IP addresses taking the place of people’s names and phone numbers. When a person types in the domain name of the site they want to visit, the DNS server matches that with the corresponding IP address. This is how online searches send users to the right place.

How does DNS work?

While understanding DNS in its entirety is a bit confusing, it’s helpful to know the basics of how it works. Every device and website on the internet has a unique assigned IP address to identify it. As mentioned, these addresses are a combination of numbers separated by decimals. However, IP addresses are hard to remember and they don’t give any specific information on the website they represent. For example, is an IP address for Facebook, but you would never know that as it tells you nothing about the website or the business it represents. This makes them unrealistic to use as a website’s main identifier.

Domain names solve this problem by being a readable address that identifies a website and is easy for users to remember. The DNS system matches these domain names with the corresponding IP address to direct people to the website. Whenever you make a search, your browser will send a query to match that name with the right IP address.

How can DNS slow your website down?

DNS is essential to the internet and to your website, but it can perform differently for different websites. It’s important to know that DNS isn’t the same as your internet speed, so it has no direct impact on your web speed. However, DNS affects individual sites and their IP addresses. If every other website seems to be loading well but your own website is sluggish, this is often a result of DNS, as opposed to your internet plan or provider.

The process of matching website names with IP addresses and sending the user to the right site is called a DNS lookup. Understanding DNS includes understanding why this lookup can be laggy. In general, it can be slow for a few main reasons.

Slow DNS provider

Just like with website hosting, the types of DNS providers can vary and affect your site’s performance. In general, free providers are slower than paid services. This is because paid DNS providers give the time, security, and speed measures to individual websites that free ones just can’t compete with. DNS providers are a bit of a “you get what you pay for” situation. If you have a business website, it’s best to spend the money on a solid provider to keep your DNS lookups fast.

Keep in mind that some security-focused DNS providers, such as Cloudflare, can be a bit slower because of the security measures they have in place for your site. This might be a necessary trade off when reviewing your DNS needs, but your site’s overall performance shouldn’t be affected too much. If your site requires enhanced security actions, this protection is worth it.

Not using a CDN

CDN stands for content delivery network. A CDN is a group of servers that are geographically spaced out to give users the best internet speed. Loading internet content on your site, such as text, images, videos, and headers, takes time. However, hosting this material on a CDN provides a shortcut and a fast transfer of this content to your website. 

Everything you don’t host on a CDN will require a DNS lookup to fetch. The more material the DNS lookup has to find, the longer the process will take. DNS lookups always work as fast as possible, but understanding DNS means knowing how to help speed the process along. 

Not prefetching

DNS prefetching is a handy feature that can save visitors time on a site and make their experience better. Unfortunately, it’s often neglected. Prefetching is the practice of a browser examining an entire website to find links, and preparing them ahead of time in case a user clicks on one. While a user is on a certain page of a website, the browser is performing this task behind the scenes. By the time a visitor clicks on a prefetched link, the DNS lookup has already been completed while they were on a different page and there’s no wait for loading.

While this method of working ahead saves time, not using it can lengthen the lookup wait time. Understanding DNS involves using this feature to take advantage of DNS shortcuts and reduce the chances of users experiencing a slowdown. 

Understanding DNS is complex, but this is a good introduction to how it relates to your website and how it impacts its speed. Of course, Atom is also ready to guide you through your website with a complete and comprehensive hosting plan to suit your needs.

If you’re looking to improve your website’s speed, security, and reliability, Atom is here to help. Get in touch with us here!