Primary vs Secondary DNS Servers: What’s the Difference?

Primary vs Secondary DNS Servers: What’s the Difference?

Final: Primary vs Secondary DNS Servers: What’s the Difference

In the domain name system (DNS) hierarchy, primary DNS servers store the original and authoritative record of the DNS records, while the secondary DNS servers store a copy of the primary’s DNS records for redundancy and load balancing

In this article, we’ll explore the key differences between primary and secondary DNS servers, shedding light on their unique functions and how they contribute to the robustness of your online presence.


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  • A primary DNS server is the authoritative source for DNS (Domain Name System) records of a domain
  • A secondary DNS server, as the name suggests, operates as a complementary component to the primary DNS server
  • Making an informed decision about your DNS strategy will contribute to a smoother and more secure online experience for your website visitors

Primary vs Secondary DNS: Key Differences

Final: Primary vs Secondary DNS Servers: What’s the Difference

To provide a quick reference for these differences, here’s a summary table:

AspectPrimary DNS ServerSecondary DNS Server
RoleAuthoritative sourceBackup and redundancy
Data SourceDirectly from domain ownerZone transfers from primary
Failover and RedundancyLacks redundancyOffers redundancy and failover
Load DistributionManages initial loadAssists in load distribution
Zone TransfersSupports zone transfersRemains passive
Protection against Data LossMore susceptibleActs as a protective backup
MaintenanceRequires active maintenanceNecessitates less maintenance

Here is a full overview of what primary and secondary DNS servers are and their primary differences.


  • Primary DNS Server: Acts as the authoritative source for DNS records of a domain and directly responds to DNS queries.
  • Secondary DNS Server: Functions as a backup server, replicating DNS data from the primary server to enhance redundancy and reliability.

Data Source:

  • Primary DNS Server: Sources and maintains DNS data directly from the domain owner.
  • Secondary DNS Server: Obtains data from the primary server through zone transfers.

Failover and Redundancy:

  • Primary DNS Server: Typically lacks redundancy or failover capabilities.
  • Secondary DNS Server: Offers redundancy, ensuring continued service availability in case the primary server encounters issues.

Load Distribution:

  • Primary DNS Server: Manages the initial load of DNS queries.
  • Secondary DNS Server: Assists in load distribution by taking over when primary servers are busy or unreachable.

Zone Transfers:

  • Primary DNS Server: Supports zone transfers to secondary servers.
  • Secondary DNS Server: Remains passive and relies on primary servers for zone transfers.

Protection against Data Loss:

  • Primary DNS Server: More susceptible to data loss in case of failure or attacks.
  • Secondary DNS Server: Acts as a protective backup, reducing the risk of data loss.


  • Primary DNS Server: Requires active maintenance, including updates and record changes.
  • Secondary DNS Server: Mainly mirrors data from the primary server and necessitates less maintenance.

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Primary Server Explained

What Is a Primary DNS Server?

A primary DNS server is the authoritative source for DNS records of a domain. It holds the original and authoritative DNS records provided by the internet service provider to the domain owner.

This server plays a pivotal role in the translation of human-friendly domain names, like “,” into machine-readable IP addresses. This translation enables your web content to be located and accessed on the internet.

What Is a Primary Zone in DNS?

A primary DNS zone, also known as a primary zone file, is the database or storage location where the primary DNS server maintains and stores the authoritative DNS records for a specific domain.

This zone is the heart of the domain’s DNS infrastructure, holding essential information such as the domain’s IP address and associated subdomains.

What Is Primary DNS Used For?

Primary DNS servers are essentially responsible for hosting and managing the original and authoritative DNS records for a domain.

They ensure that these records are up-to-date and accurate, guaranteeing that when users enter your domain name into their web browsers, they are directed to the correct web server where your website is hosted.

Secondary Server Explained

Final: Primary vs Secondary DNS Servers: What’s the Difference

What Is a Secondary DNS Server?

A secondary DNS server operates as a complementary component to the primary DNS server. While it doesn’t directly respond to DNS queries, it plays a crucial role in enhancing the reliability and redundancy of the DNS infrastructure.

The secondary server’s primary function is to replicate and store DNS data obtained from the primary server, acting as a backup in case the primary server experiences downtime or issues.

What Is a Secondary Zone in DNS?

A secondary DNS zone, similar to a primary zone, is a database or storage location. But in this case, it contains a copy of DNS records that are synchronized from the primary server. The secondary server periodically updates its data from the primary server, ensuring that it maintains accurate, real-time information about the domain.

What Is Secondary DNS Used For?

Secondary DNS servers serve as vital backup components in the event of primary server failure. If the primary server encounters technical difficulties, the secondary server steps in to provide continuity in DNS services, ensuring that your domain remains accessible to users.

This redundancy is critical to maintaining an uninterrupted online presence, making it an essential element in your domain management strategy.

Primary and Secondary DNS Configuration

Configuring a DNS server as primary or secondary involves setting up the DNS zone files and server roles within your DNS infrastructure.

The actual steps can vary depending on the DNS server you are using (like BIND, Microsoft DNS, PowerDNS, etc.).

However, the process can be generalized:

Configuring a Primary DNS Server

  1. Install DNS Server Software: Begin by installing your chosen DNS server software on your server.
  2. Configure Zone File: Create a zone file for your domain. This file will contain all the DNS records for your domain, such as A records, CNAME records, MX records, etc.
  3. Edit Configuration File: In the server’s configuration file (such as named.conf for BIND), define the zone for your domain and specify the zone file you just created. You will mark this zone as ‘master’, indicating it is a primary DNS server.
  4. Set Up Access Control: Specify which secondary servers are allowed to transfer the zone information from the primary server.
  5. Start DNS Service: After setting up the configuration file and zone file, start the DNS service.
  6. Test Configuration: Check if the DNS server is working properly by using DNS lookup tools like dig or nslookup.

Configuring a Secondary DNS Server

  1. Install DNS Server Software: As with the primary, you will need to install the DNS server software on your secondary server.
  2. Edit Configuration File: In the DNS configuration file on the secondary server, define the zone for your domain as well. However, this time you will mark the zone as ‘slave’ or ‘secondary’, which tells the server that it’s a secondary DNS server.
  3. Specify Primary Server: In the zone definition, specify the IP address of the primary DNS server. The secondary server will use this address to perform zone transfers and keep its records up to date.
  4. Set Up Access Control: If needed, configure access control to ensure that only authorized queries are allowed and to restrict who can request zone transfers.
  5. Start DNS Service: Start the DNS service on the secondary server.
  6. Initiate Zone Transfer: Initially, the secondary server will communicate with the primary server to transfer the zone file. Depending on the configuration, it will periodically check for changes and update its zone file accordingly.
  7. Test Configuration: Verify that the secondary server can successfully serve DNS requests for your domain.

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Top Secondary DNS Strategies

Enhancing the reliability and redundancy of your DNS infrastructure often involves employing secondary DNS strategies. Here are two of the most common approaches:

  1. Primary/Primary Configuration

In a primary/primary configuration, two or more primary DNS servers are set up to host the authoritative DNS records for a domain. This approach provides maximum redundancy and reliability.

Both primary servers actively respond to DNS queries, making them authoritative sources for the domain’s records. When changes are made to the DNS records, all primary servers need to be updated.

Primary/primary configurations are well-suited for high-traffic websites and businesses that require a failsafe DNS setup. They ensure that the domain remains accessible even if one primary server encounters issues.

  1. Hidden Primary Configuration

A hidden primary configuration involves a single primary DNS server that is not publicly listed in the domain’s DNS records. This server manages the authoritative records for the domain and is responsible for updates and changes. However, it doesn’t respond to DNS queries from the public.

In this setup, one or more secondary DNS servers actively respond to DNS queries and provide redundancy. These secondary servers synchronize data from the hidden primary.

The hidden primary approach is useful when maintaining data privacy and security is a concern. It keeps the primary server’s IP address concealed from the public, reducing the risk of direct attacks.

Benefits of Using a Secondary DNS Server

Final: Primary vs Secondary DNS Servers: What’s the Difference

Using a secondary DNS server offers several key advantages, making it an integral component of a robust domain management strategy. These benefits include:

  • Redundancy and Resilience: Secondary DNS servers act as backups, ensuring uninterrupted service availability even if the primary server encounters issues or downtime.
  • Load Balancing: Secondary servers assist in distributing the load of DNS queries, optimizing response times during peak traffic periods and preventing overload on the primary server.
  • Part of a Secure DNS Strategy: Implementing secondary DNS adds an extra layer of security, safeguarding against data loss, DDoS attacks, and other DNS-related vulnerabilities.

Final Word: Making the Right Decision for You

In the realm of domain management, the choice between primary and secondary DNS servers is pivotal. To ensure the resilience and reliability of your online presence, consider your specific needs, including redundancy requirements and security concerns.

Making an informed decision about your DNS strategy will contribute to a smoother and more secure online experience for your website visitors.

Next Steps: What Now?

Now that you’ve gained insights into the world of primary and secondary DNS servers, it’s time to take practical steps to enhance your domain management strategy. Here are some recommended next steps, with links to our relevant content:

  • Register your domain:  Find a reputable domain registrar and secure your domain name.
  • Choose a hosting provider: Find a web hosting provider that aligns with your needs and budget.
  • Master Name Servers in cPanel Hosting: If you’re using cPanel hosting, learn how to work with name servers in the cPanel hosting control panel. Read Now.
  • Configure Custom Name Servers for Windows Hosting: For Windows hosting accounts in Plesk, find out how to configure custom name servers for your domain. Read More.

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Learn More About DNS

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you find primary DNS for Wi-Fi?

You can typically find your primary DNS server in your Wi-Fi router settings. Access your router’s web interface, navigate to the DNS settings, and the primary DNS server’s IP address should be listed there.

How do I know if my DNS is primary or secondary?

Check the DNS server settings in your network configuration. The primary DNS server is the first one listed, and the secondary is the second. If the primary DNS server fails, your device will use the secondary one.

Is a secondary DNS? is often used as a primary DNS server. It’s provided by Cloudflare and is known for its speed and security. However, it can also be used as a secondary DNS server in a redundant setup.

What does using for DNS do?

Using as your DNS server means using Google’s public DNS service. It can provide faster and more reliable DNS resolution, but it’s generally considered a primary DNS server, not a secondary one.

Mary Emasah
Edited By:
Mary Emasah
Hosting Expert
Mary was a developer when PHP was king. She thoroughly enjoyed the tech scene in general and soon started writing reviews on different new technology on the side. That side gig soon became a full time engagement as she found herself more fulfilled in the art of copy and content creation. She would go on to focus on website and cybersecurity related topics.

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