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Next: Enter DNS Up: The Domain Name System Previous: The Domain Name System

Hostname Resolution

As described above, addressing in TCP/IP networking revolves around 32-bit numbers. However, you will have a hard time remembering more than a few of these. Therefore, hosts are generally known by ``ordinary'' names such as gauss or strange. It is then the application's duty to find the IP-address corresponding to this name. This process is called host name resolution.

An application that wants to find the IP-address of a given host name does not have to provide its own routines for looking up a hosts and IP-addresses. Instead, it relies on number of library functions that do this transparently, called gethostbyname(3) and gethostbyaddr(3). Traditionally, these and a number of related procedures were grouped in a separate library called the resolver library; on , these are part of the standard libc. Colloquially, this collection of functions are therefore referred to as ``the resolver''.

Now, on a small network like an Ethernet, or even a cluster of them, it is not very difficult to maintain tables mapping host names to addresses. This information is usually kept in a file named /etc/hosts. When adding or removing hosts, or reassigning addresses, all you have to do is update the hosts on all hosts. Quite obviously, this will become burdensome with networks than comprise more than a handful of machines.

One solution to this problem is NIS, the Network Information System developed by Sun Microsystems, colloquially called YP, or Yellow Pages. NIS stores the hosts file (and other information) in a database on a master host, from which clients may retrieve it as needed. Still, this approach is only suitable for medium-sized networks such as LANs, because it involves maintaining the entire hosts database centrally, and distributing it to all servers.

On the Internet, address information was initially stored in a single HOSTS.TXT database, too. This file was maintained at the Network Information Center, or NIC, and had to be downloaded and installed by all participating sites. When the network grew, several problems with this scheme arose. Beside the administrative overhead involved in installing HOSTS.TXT regularly, the load on the servers that distributed it became too high. Even more severe was the problem that all names had to be registered with the NIC, which had to make sure that no name was issued twice.

This is why, in 1984, a new name resolution scheme has been adopted, the Domain Name System. DNS was designed by Paul Mockapetris, and addresses both problems simultaneously.


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Next: Enter DNS Up: The Domain Name System Previous: The Domain Name System

Andrew Anderson
Thu Mar 7 23:22:06 EST 1996

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