If you’re trying to point your domain name to your web hosting, you’ve probably come across the term nameserver. So, what is a nameserver?

Nameservers help connect URLs with the IP address of web servers. Nameservers are an important part of the Domain Name System (DNS), which many people call the “phone book of the Internet”.

In this article, we’ll go deeper into the topic of what nameservers are, how they work, and how you can use them to manage your site’s domain name and other parts of your site:

What Is a Nameserver? Explained in More Detail

When a user enters a URL in their browser, like “kinsta.com, there needs to be some way to connect that URL with the underlying web server that powers the website at that domain name.

Think how difficult it would be if you had to enter the actual IP address of a web server every time you wanted to visit a website. You wouldn’t be able to remember whether it was 159.89.229.118 or 159.89.229.119 — it would be a mess!

Nameservers play an important role in connecting a URL with a server IP address in a much more human-friendly way.

Nameservers look like any other domain name. When you look at a website’s nameservers, you’ll typically see a minimum of two nameservers (though you can use more). Here’s an example of what they look like:

Only instead of serving up a website, those nameservers help direct traffic.

To illustrate the role that nameservers play in directing traffic on the Internet, let’s look at a real example.

Let’s say you want to visit the Kinsta homepage. On the surface, this action is simple: you type “kinsta.com” into your browser’s address bar and you see the Kinsta homepage. Easy, right?

But behind-the-scenes, the high-level process actually goes something like this:

Nameservers vs DNS Records

In the example above, we left out one point for simplicity:

DNS records.

DNS records are what contain the actual information that other browsers or services need to interact with, like your server’s IP address.

Nameservers, on the other hand, help store and organize those individual DNS records.

Earlier, we referred to DNS as the phone book of the Internet. But a more specific analogy would be that:

If you wanted to find someone’s phone number (back when phone books existed!), you’d first grab the phone book itself. Then, you’d open the phone book and go through the entries to find the specific information that you need.

Armed with that knowledge, let’s look at a fuller sequence of what happens when you visit a website:

How to Use Nameservers in the Real World

In the real world, you’ll use nameservers and DNS records primarily to point your domain name towards your hosting.

You also might use the DNS records supplied by your nameservers in other ways, like setting up your email account with MX records or verifying your domain name with Google Search Console.

Where Are Your Domain’s Nameservers Located?

The answer to this question is that “it depends”.

When you register your domain name through a domain registrar, your domain is usually pointed towards your domain registrar’s nameservers at first. Your domain registrar is also where you can edit your domain’s nameservers.

If you wanted to, you could leave your nameservers at your domain registrar and just edit the DNS records to point your domain name towards your web hosting.

However, many web hosts recommend that you change your domain’s nameservers to nameservers provided by the host. For example, here at Kinsta, we provide premium nameservers powered by Amazon Route 53 that you can use (though you don’t have to):

The nameservers in your Kinsta dashboard

The nameservers in your Kinsta dashboard

To change your nameservers, you’ll need to use the interface at the domain registrar where you purchased your domain name.

For example, here’s what it looks like to change the nameservers at a domain registered through Google Domains.

You can see that the domain is originally configured to use the Google Domains nameservers:

The default nameservers at Google Domains

The default nameservers at Google Domains

But if you check the Use custom name servers box, you can change your domain’s nameservers to use your host’s nameservers instead (or another provider):

How to use your own nameservers at Google Domains

How to use your own nameservers at Google Domains

Speaking of “other providers”, you can also use third-party nameservers. The most popular example here is Cloudflare. If you use the Cloudflare service, you’ll point your domain’s nameservers to Cloudflare, rather than your web host or your domain registrar.

You Manage Your DNS Records Through Your Nameservers

The important thing to remember is this:

if you change your domain’s nameservers away from the default nameservers at your domain registrar, you’ll control your domain’s DNS records at your nameserver provider.

For example, if you use the nameservers from Amazon Route 53 that Kinsta provides, you’d then edit your individual DNS records from your Kinsta dashboard, not your domain registrar:

Editing an individual DNS record

Editing an individual DNS record

On the other hand, if you use Cloudflare’s nameservers, you’ll manage your DNS records through the Cloudflare interface (even if your website is still hosted at Kinsta).

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What are Kinsta’s Nameservers?

If you’re hosting at Kinsta, you can find your sites’ nameservers in the Kinsta DNS tab in your Kinsta hosting dashboard:

Kinsta includes premium nameservers via Amazon Route 53

Kinsta includes premium nameservers via Amazon Route 53

You also do not need to use Kinsta’s nameservers. You can point your domain name to Kinsta by editing the A record at your domain registrar’s nameservers or Cloudflare’s nameservers (or anywhere else).

To help you point your domain towards Kinsta, we have tutorials for how to edit the nameservers and A records at popular domain registrars:

How to Check Which Nameservers Your Website is Using

If you’re not sure which nameservers you’re currently using, you can check by entering your domain name in one of the many Whois lookup tools. For example, Whois.com.

How to check what nameservers you're using with Whois

How to check what nameservers you’re using with Whois

Alternatively, you can also run a simple test from your local computer.

On Windows, you can test your nameservers by following these steps:

You should then see your nameservers:

How to check nameservers using Windows PowerShell

How to check nameservers using Windows PowerShell

On Mac, you can open Terminal and run the following command:

host -t NS exampledomain.com

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Summary

Nameservers play an essential role in directing traffic on the Internet by helping to connect your domain name with the IP address of your web server.

To do this, they help web browsers and other services access your domain’s DNS records.

You can edit your domain’s nameservers at the domain registrar where you purchased your domain name. Then, you’ll manage your individual DNS records at the nameserver “service” that you’re using. For example, the Kinsta dashboard if you’re using Kinsta’s nameservers or the Cloudflare dashboard if you’re using Cloudflare.

Finally, if you want to change your domain’s nameservers to use Kinsta’s nameservers, you can follow the steps in this help article.


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