What is DNS Propagation? Why Should I Wait After Making a DNS Change?

This scenario might seem familiar to all of you who owned a website. You’ve just purchased a hosting plan along with a domain name, and in the welcome email, you noticed they’re telling you to wait at least 24 hours for the DNS to propagate.

You think to yourself, why? Why should I have to wait? Is this just a sign of a bad hosting provider? I have paid, so i should be able to use my website instantly right?

Well, not exactly. Unfortunately, that’s not how the internet work. To better explain why this is, let us go to the very basic question of how DNS work.

How DNS Work

DNS, short for Domain Name System, is the glue that makes everything on the internet work. When you set up a website, in a very simplified term there are 2 components involved. Your domain name, which is the address where you set up your website, and your hosting, or server, where the space for that address exist.

Now, in order for your browser to know what address is going where, it needs to translate the address of your site into an IP Address, so that it can traverse the path of the internet in order to access the space where the data of your website exists.

This IP Address, is called an A record. I’m not gonna explain comprehensively about types of DNS records, that is gonna require another article entirely. But you now should understand how it works in very basic terms. But now the real question for this article came into play. Where did they keep the DNS records?

Where DNS Records Are Kept

Now, DNS is a decentralized system. This means that there are no central servers that kept all the records and serve it to the whole internet. The way it works is, your domain is pointing to an authoritative nameserver that tell your computer where they should look for the DNS records that they need.

These are typically something like ns1.hostingprovider.com and ns1.hostingprovider.com. Note that this means that wherever you register the domain, your browser does not care. If, for example, you register your domain on registrar A but configured the domain to point to nameservers on registrar B, any DNS change you made on registrar A won’t have an effect.

Why you need to wait after a DNS change

Now we arrive at the real question in this post. Why did you need to wait then? If you have changed your nameservers and made a change, shouldn’t your browser just knows instantly and point your domain to the right DNS records?

Well, unfortunately, the authoritative nameservers might have been already changed, but your computer doesn’t know it yet. In order to make DNS queries faster, DNS records are kept and cached on the DNS servers that you are using locally. Sometimes, these DNS servers are maintained by your Internet Service Provider (ISP), or if you are using a 3rd party DNS like Google DNS, it is maintained by that organization.

You need to wait until these servers catch up to the change, and with the distribution of DNS servers around the world, sometimes when you’ve made a change to your DNS records, the change that you have seen might not reflect what other people who are using different DNS servers have seen.

In order to see if DNS has been propagated fully throughout the world, you can use a free tool like What’s My DNS.

So that’s it. Now that you know why you need to wait, hopefully, that can help you be more patient after performing a DNS change.

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AuthorGagah Putra Arifianto

I've been working in the web hosting industry since 2009. Been helping people get their website online since i was 14.