What is a nameserver?

Isometric server-side processing concept
(Image credit: Shutterstock/Net Vector)

In order for your website to be accessible online, it needs to be hosted on a web server. This is a machine that is connected to the internet and stores your website files. 

When a person types in your domain name, their computer looks up the IP address of the web server where your website is stored, and then they are directed to your site. In order for this process to work, you need to set up DNS records with a domain registrar or web hosting company. 

These records tell the world where your website lives. One of the most important DNS records is the nameserver record. In this article, we will explain what a nameserver is and how it works.

What is a nameserver?

A nameserver is a server on the internet that is responsible for translating domain names into IP addresses. In other words, it is a server that helps computers connect to each other by providing the IP address of the requested website.

Each domain name generally has at least two nameservers associated with it. If one nameserver fails, the other is available as a backup, and your website can still be found.

When you type a domain name into your browser, it contacts the nameserver specified in your DNS records. This then sends back the IP address of your web server, allowing you to access the site.

How to use a nameserver?  

If you've registered your domain with the same provider who is hosting the site, there's usually no need to worry about DNS or nameservers. The web host configures everything for you, and once you've uploaded your site to example.com, it'll appear there right away.

If you've registered domain with another company, perhaps a specialist domain registrar or a different web host, then at a minimum you'll need to configure that company's DNS settings to point to your new space.

Typically you'll need to add one or more DNS records which point your example.com domain name to the IP address of your server. What is that IP address? Good question. It might appear in your account dashboard, or sometimes it's in a 'Welcome' email from your provider, along with a bunch of other technical details.

Check your current web host’s support site for more guidance. This HostGator page https://www.hostgator.com/help/article/how-to-point-my-domain-to-hostgator-when-using-dns-elsewhere is a good example of what you're looking for.

Why are nameservers important?

Nameservers play an important role in routing traffic on the internet. Without them, it would not be possible to connect users with websites when they enter a domain name into their web browser. In addition, nameservers also play a crucial role in email delivery. 

When you send an email, your email client will query a DNS server to find out which server is responsible for handling mail for that domain. The DNS server will then provide your email client with the correct server address, and your email will be delivered successfully. 

Acronym DNS - Domain Name System in circle

(Image credit: Shutterstock/GrAl)

Are DNS and nameservers the same thing?

DNS, or Domain Name System, is a network of servers that translate human-readable domain names (like example.com) into computer-readable IP addresses (like In other words, it's what allows you to type in a website's URL and be taken to the correct site. 

Nameservers are a specific type of DNS server that provides authoritative answers about which DNS records are associated with a particular domain name. In other words, they store the DNS records for a domain and provide that information to anyone who asks for it. 

How to look up your website’s nameserver?   

There are a few ways that you can look up your website's nameserver: 

Use a whois lookup: A whois lookup will give you information about your domain name, including the nameservers. 

Check your domain registrar: If you purchased your domain name from a domain registrar like GoDaddy or Namecheap, you can log into your account and check the DNS settings for your domain name. The nameservers should be listed there. 

Check your web hosting provider account: If you host your website with a company like WP Engine or Kinsta, you can log in to your account and check the DNS settings for your domain name from there. Again, the nameservers should be listed. 

Once you have found your website's nameservers, make sure that they are pointing to active IP addresses that are serving up your website content. You can use a tool like Pingdom Tools or GTmetrix to check if your website is accessible from those IP addresses. If not, then there may be an issue with how your domain name is set up or with your hosting provider. 

There are a few reasons why website owners need to know their website's nameserver - the first being, if you ever need to change hosting providers, you will need to point your domain name to the new hosting provider's nameservers. 

Also, if your website goes down, checking your DNS settings (including the nameservers) can help you pinpoint the problem. 

Additionally, some advanced DNS configuration changes can only be made by editing the zone file on the nameservers. 

Ruby has been a freelance technology writer for over four years and has a passion for information technology and the Internet in its entirety. She has a wide range of specialities including web hosting, streaming (Firestick, Kodi, and APKs), VPN, information technology, and affiliate marketing. Ruby is a graduate of Bachelor of Science in Commerce from the University of the Philippines, and regularly codes in her free time.