18.3. Name Resolution

DNS assists in assigning an IP address to one or more names and assigning a name to an IP address. In Linux, this conversion is usually carried out by a special type of software known as bind. The machine that takes care of this conversion is called a name server. The names make up a hierarchical system in which each name component is separated by dots. The name hierarchy is, however, independent of the IP address hierarchy described above.

Consider a complete name, such as earth.example.com, written in the format hostname.domain. A full name, referred to as a fully qualified domain name (FQDN), consists of a hostname and a domain name (example.com). The latter also includes the top level domain or TLD (com).

TLD assignment has become quite confusing for historical reasons. Traditionally, three-letter domain names are used in the USA. In the rest of the world, the two-letter ISO national codes are the standard. In addition to that, longer TLDs were introduced in 2000 that represent certain spheres of activity (for example, .info, .name, .museum).

In the early days of the Internet (before 1990), the file /etc/hosts was used to store the names of all the machines represented over the Internet. This quickly proved to be impractical in the face of the rapidly growing number of computers connected to the Internet. For this reason, a decentralized database was developed to store the hostnames in a widely distributed manner. This database, similar to the name server, does not have the data pertaining to all hosts in the Internet readily available, but can dispatch requests to other name servers.

The top of the hierarchy is occupied by root name servers. These root name servers manage the top level domains and are run by the Network Information Center (NIC). Each root name server knows about the name servers responsible for a given top level domain. Information about top level domain NICs is available at http://www.internic.net.

DNS can do more than just resolve hostnames. The name server also knows which host is receiving e-mails for an entire domain—the mail exchanger (MX).

For your machine to resolve an IP address, it must know about at least one name server and its IP address. Easily specify such a name server with the help of YaST. If you have a modem dial-up connection, you may not need to configure a name server manually at all. The dial-up protocol provides the name server address as the connection is made. The configuration of name server access with SUSE Linux is described in Chapter 20, The Domain Name System.

The protocol whois is closely related to DNS. With this program, quickly find out who is responsible for any given domain.