What is DNS Propagation?

If you’ve ever struggled with registering a name for your website, then chances are you may have seen results like this: “domain name is unavailable.” That’s the domain name system (DNS) at work.  The DNS is the internet phone book responsible for storing domain names and matching them to numeric IP addresses.  

However, storing domain names is not the only use of a DNS. The system also keeps records of your website on multiple name servers and brings up a webpage when a user types in your URL address on their browser.

But here’s the thing, these DNS servers can’t understand any human language, but communicate with numbers. One wrong sequence and your “site can’t be reached” or “is unavailable.” That’s where DNS propagation comes in. In this article, you’ll learn about how it works.

Let’s get to it. 

What is DNS Propagation and How Does it Work?

You must be used to the primary function of the DNS by now.  A domain name server (DNS) accesses records at a particular IP address to show your website to visitors.

When you change your hosting service or register a new domain for your website, the location of your IP address changes and your website’s DNS needs to move your DNS records from the old location to the new one so that users can access them. 

This “relocation” process is DNS propagation.  The DNS makes use of global DNS servers and local DNS resolvers to move these records. 

In other words, when you initiate a change in your domain name or a DNS record, that change needs to be updated (propagated) across all DNS servers in the world. 

If a user visits your site during this process, the DNS will take that user to the old location (old website) and not the new one. 

Here’s why. A name server links your website’s domain name to its corresponding IP address.  To access your website, a user will have to issue a query. This query will search for a DNS record called the A record. This record contains the web server’s IP address.

When you create a website, your website uses the name server of the domain registrar you bought a domain from. However, it is best to change that name server to that of your web hosting service company.

You may make these changes by editing the website’s DNS file. Subsequent changes you make to your website will be on the new name server. If you’re not sure of your website name server, you can check it with a DNS lookup tool.

Why Does DNS Propagation Take So Long? 

DNS propagation never happens instantaneously. It can take anything from a few hours to as long as 72 hours to complete.

That’s because many variables influence the propagation process. You may have to consider a few of them before initiating your website’s DNS propagation. 

Let’s look at three factors.

Time to Live (TTL) Settings

Time to Live is the period a DNS record can stay (allowed to “live”) on your local DNS server or your local device cache. Your website automatically loses DNS information at the end of each TTL period.

This wait-time can significantly influence how long your website’s DNS propagation takes. The longer it is, the slower the propagation. 

For example, if you set your website’s TTL to 30 minutes and enact some changes on the DNS record within that time, these servers will hold on to the old information till 30 minutes elapses. 

After which, this service can make a new DNS request to get new information.

Internet Service Provider (ISP)

Internet Service Providers are in charge of providing internet access, routing internet traffic, and resolving domain names.

To ensure quicker internet access, your ISPs cache DNS records locally. They perform a DNS lookup once and serve the results to many users at once.  While this will speed up web browsing and reduce traffic, it may also slow your DNS propagation time. 

What’s more, some ISPs may ignore TTL settings, retain DNS records, and only update their cache every two to three days. This may prevent you or other users from viewing the actual website immediately till the propagation is complete.

Domain Registry

Every change that you enact on your DNS record must reflect in other parts of the DNS hierarchy.

What is DNS Propagation?, Domain Registry

Screenshot:DNS Hierarchy

We help you do this at Scala Hosting by sending your change request to the domain registry. The registry, in turn, publishes records of your name server to their root zone.

This may take some time. But most registries make these changes to their zones promptly.

You’ll also get free access to an efficient DNS management system when you register your domain. This is especially helpful for you when you want to point your domain name to a local web server.

A handy tool to check if DNS propagation is working is whatsmydns.net. If the change is taking effect, then you may proceed to speed up the propagation process.

How to Hasten the DNS Propagation Process

Since you know how the TTL affects DNS propagation time, do you just update the settings and hope your website propagates faster? No. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. 

ISPs, browsers, and even devices like phones, computers, or tablets have different caching rules that may affect your DNS propagation time. Sadly, there isn’t much to do about it anyways. Each of these things has its reasons for keeping these rules. But most of it is to optimize speed.

Nevertheless, if you plan to move your web server to a new IP address in the future, you should adjust the TTL to a lower value in advance. We recommend anything between five to 60 minutes.

Also, you can:

  • Flush (empty) your device’s DNS cache
  • Clear your browser’s cache
  • Restart your router
  • Contact your ISP

These steps can resolve many of the issues you may encounter during DNS propagation. In many cases, though, these processes may speed up propagation significantly. But keep in mind that there’s no way to predict the actual time propagation will complete.

Final Words 

DNS propagation is a vital aspect of maintaining your website. The process involves updating your TTL with a low value and ensuring your website is up and running for users while at it. Learn to carry out the appropriate changes to your DNS files with care and plan accordingly to speed up the process.

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Working in the web hosting industry for over 13 years, Rado has inevitably got some insight into the industry. A digital marketer by education, Rado is always putting himself in the client's shoes, trying to see what's best for THEM first. A man of the fine detail, you can often find him spending 10+ minutes wondering over a missing comma or slightly skewed design.