For example, if I have registered a domain with GoDaddy, and I point
the nameservers for the domain to HostGator, do I then edit the DNS
Zone from GoDaddy or HostGator?
Depends. Either. And doesn’t even have to be either of them.
It depends on who is managing DNS. This might seem confusing since hosting companies and registrars want to imply you “must” be with them for all things, the reality is there are three broad things you are dealing with.
The three big things you are dealing with even if you don’t know it.
- Domain Registrar: They manage domain registration and hold the records to the DNS authority entries that tell the world, “You want to know who this domain is? Check these DNS records.”
- DNS Management: Who manages the DNS authority servers for your domain.
- Hosting: The place that actually hosts the services tied to the IP address that is tied to the hostname that you have registered. Sometimes the control panel of a hosting service will require a domain name be entered for a site. But that is connected to the concept of virtual hosts being tired to a site and not really a DNS-centric issue.
In general, the place you register your domain name will handle DNS management. This is default practice in the industry. So in this case, GoDaddy would be the one you deal with for A records, CNAMES and the rest of the DNS alphabet soup.
But it’s not always that clear cut.
But just because your domain registrar offers DNS services doesn’t mean you have to use it. For example, you can register the domain with GoDaddy, then have DNS management handled my Amazon Route 53 and then have hosting handled by HostGator.
Why would you do something like that? Depends. Domain registration is fairly silly and simple, but DNS servers are a tad more critical to the whole mix. So many people prefer to have a separation between domain name registration and DNS management.
In the case of Amazon Route 53, Amazon’s DNS servers are globally allocated and highly reliable, and easier to manage. Many domain registrars let you edit DNS zone files, but their user interface is horrible. In contrast, Amazon’s Route 53 interface is painfully easy and robust to use. For some people the small cost of having a separate DNS management service is worth it when dealing with ease of use.