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What are zone files and zone records?

Zone files organize the zone records for domain names and subdomains in a DNS server. Every domain name and subdomain has a zone file, and each zone file contains zone records. These files, editable in any plain text editor, hold the DNS information linking domain names and subdomains to IP addresses. Zone files usually contain several different zone records.

Note: Although domain names might have subdomains, the zone files for subdomains are not considered sub-zone. All zone files are separate entities and do not have a hierarchical structure.

The most common records contained in a zone file are start of authority (SOA), nameserver, mail exchanger, host, and CNAME. These are described below.

  • Start of Authority (SOA) — Required for every zone file, the SOA record contains caching information, the zone administrator's email address, and the master name server for the zone. The SOA also contains a number incremented with each update. As this number updates, it triggers the DNS to reload the zone data.
  • Name Server (NS) — The NS record contains the name server information for the zone.
  • Mail Exchanger (MX) — The MX record provides the mail server information for that zone to deliver email to the correct location.
  • Host (A) — Uses the A record to map an IP address to a host name. This is the most common type of record on the Internet.
  • Canonical Name (CNAME) — A CNAME is an alias for a host. Using CNAMEs, you can have more than one DNS name for a host. CNAME records that point to other domain names (i.e. ghs.google.com) do not point to any A records within their own Zone File. However, if a CNAME does point to the @ A record, changing the IP address in your A record will cause all CNAME records for that domain name to automatically follow the new IP address.
  • Text (TXT) — This is an informational record. Use it for additional information about a host or for technical information to servers.
  • Service Records (SRV) — SRV records are resource records used to identify computers hosting specific services.
  • AAAA — AAAA records store a 128-bit Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6) address that does not fit the standard A record format. For example, 2007:0db6:85a3:0000:0000:6a2e:0371:7234 is a valid 128-bit/IPv6 address.

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