A name server refers to the server component of the Domain Name System (DNS), one of the two principal namespaces of the Internet. The most important function of DNS servers is the translation (resolution) of human-memorable domain names (example.com) and hostnames into the corresponding numeric Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, the second principal name space of the Internet which is used to identify and locate computer systems and resources on the Internet.
Although it is typically used in reference to DNS, the term name server may also be used for any computer application that implements a network service for providing responses to queries against a directory service which translates an often humanly meaningful, text-based identifier to a system-internal, often numeric identification or addressing component. This service is performed by the server in response to a service protocol request.
The Internet maintains two principal namespaces: the domain name hierarchy and the IP address system. The Domain Name System maintains the domain namespace and provides translation services between these two namespaces. Internet name servers implement the Domain Name System. The top hierarchy of the Domain Name System is served by the root name servers maintained by delegation by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Below the root, Internet resources are organized into a hierarchy of domains, administered by the respective registrars and domain name holders. A DNS name server is a server that stores the DNS records, such as address (A, AAAA) records, name server (NS) records, and mail exchanger (MX) records for a domain name (see also List of DNS record types) and responds with answers to queries against its database.
An authoritative name server is a name server that gives answers in response to questions asked about names in a zone. An authoritative-only name server returns answers only to queries about domain names that have been specifically configured by the administrator. Name servers can also be configured to give authoritative answers to queries in some zones, while acting as a caching name server for all other zones.
An authoritative name server can either be a primary server (master) or a secondary server (slave). A primary server for a zone is the server that stores the definitive versions of all records in that zone. It is identified in the start-of-authority (SOA) resource record. A secondary server for a zone uses an automatic updating mechanism to maintain an identical copy of the primary server's database for a zone. Examples of such mechanisms include DNS zone transfers and file transfer protocols. DNS provides a mechanism whereby the primary for a zone can notify all the known secondaries for that zone when the contents of the zone have changed. The contents of a zone are either manually configured by an administrator, or managed using Dynamic DNS.
Every domain name appears in a zone served by one or more authoritative name servers. The fully qualified domain names of the authoritative name servers of a zone are listed in the NS records of that zone. If the server for a zone is not also authoritative for its parent zone, the server for the parent zone must be configured with a delegation for the zone.
When a domain is registered with a domain name registrar, the zone administrator provides the list of name servers (typically at least two, for redundancy) that are authoritative for the zone that contains the domain. The registrar provides the names of these servers to the domain registry for the top level domain containing the zone. The domain registry in turn configures the authoritative name servers for that top level domain with delegations for each server for the zone. If the fully qualified domain name of any name server for a zone appears within that zone, the zone administrator provides IP addresses (192.168.l0.l) for that name server, which are installed in the parent zone as glue records; otherwise, the delegation consists of the list of NS records for that zone.