What is the difference between A records and CNAME records?

What is the difference between A records and CNAME records?

When diving into the world of DNS (Domain Name System), it's essential to comprehend the various types of records that help with the translation from the domain names we know and love to the IP addresses used by computers. Two of the foundational DNS record types are A records (Address records) and CNAME records (Canonical Name records). While they both serve critical roles in domain management, they function in distinctly different ways.

A Records (Address Records)

An A Record is the most fundamental type of DNS record. It maps a domain or subdomain to an IPv4 address, which is the numerical label assigned to each device connected to a computer network that uses the Internet Protocol for communication. When a user enters a domain name into their browser, the A Record tells the DNS server which IP address it's associated with, enabling the server to establish the correct route to the site.

Key Features of A Records:

  • Directly links a domain to the physical IP address of a server.
  • Essential for website’s IP resolution.
  • Can only point to an IPv4 address (not a domain name).

Let’s take the example of the domain "example.com." The A Record for "example.com" would directly point to the specific IP address where the website is hosted, like "".

CNAME Records (Canonical Name Records)

On the other hand, a CNAME Record doesn't link directly to an IP address. Instead, it points a domain or subdomain to another hostname (domain name). This is highly useful for aliasing one domain to another; thus, the "canonical" aspect signifies that one domain is an alias for another, the "true" domain.

Key Features of CNAME Records:

  1. Used to alias one domain name to another.
  2. Helpful for pointing multiple domain names to the same server without needing to update IP addresses for each if they change.
  3. Cannot be used for naked domains (domains without a ‘www’ or other subdomain prefix).

For instance, if you have "blog.example.com" and you want it to point to "example.com", you would use a CNAME Record for "blog" that points to "example.com".

Main Differences Between A Records and CNAME Records

Type of Mapping:

  • A Records point to an IP address.
  • CNAME Records point to another domain name (hostname).


  • A Records are used to map a domain directly to the physical IP address of a computer hosting that domain.
  • CNAME Records are used when multiple domain names should resolve to the same server, making management more straightforward.

Root Domain Compatibility:

  • A Records can be used for both root domains (like "example.com") and subdomains (like "store.example.com").
  • CNAME Records can only be used for subdomains.

Performance Considerations:

  • Using a CNAME Record may introduce a slight delay as the server must perform an extra lookup to resolve the alias to the IP address.
  • A Records enable the DNS to respond with the IP address immediately without an additional lookup.

It's important to understand each record's relevance to your domain management and how they influence your site's performance and maintainability. Incorrectly using A Records or CNAME Records can lead to website downtime or other domain resolution issues. When managing DNS records, assess your needs and configure accordingly, knowing the unique functions of both A Records and CNAME Records.

While the above information outlines the fundamental distinctions between A Records and CNAME Records, there are additional nuances and best practices to consider when optimizing your domain name system setup.

Advanced Considerations for A and CNAME Records


Propagation Time

When you update an A Record, the changes can take a variable amount of time to propagate across the internet. This is known as TTL (Time to Live). CNAME Records will have similar TTL settings, but because they are a reference to another domain that could also change, the total update time can sometimes take longer since both records may need to propagate.

Resource Management

If a server's IP address changes frequently, using a CNAME can simplify management. You would only need to update the A Record for the original hostname, while the CNAME automatically follows the updated mapping.

DNS Queries

Since CNAME Records require additional DNS queries (first to find the CNAME, and then to resolve the A Record of the target domain), there is an argument that A Records might be marginally faster in terms of DNS resolution time. However, modern DNS caching techniques typically mitigate this difference for frequent visitors.

Record Configuration Limitation

An important limitation to note is that if you use a CNAME for a subdomain, you cannot have other DNS records (like MX records for emails or TXT records for verification purposes) for that exact subdomain. On the other hand, A Records do not have this limitation.

IPv6 Compatibility

In addition to A Records for IPv4 addresses, there are AAAA Records for mapping domain names to IPv6 addresses. CNAME Records are agnostic to the IP version and can still point to another domain name that could have either an A or an AAAA Record.

Choosing Between A Records and CNAME Records

When deciding which record type to use, consider the following aspects:

  1. If you need to point your root domain (often called the ‘naked domain’), you must use an A Record.
  2. If your server's IP address is static (it doesn’t change often), then A Records are a perfectly good choice.
  3. Use CNAME Records to redirect multiple subdomains to a single hostname, which simplifies management if an IP address change is necessary.
  4. Evaluate the criticality of DNS lookup times for your application or service. For most applications, the difference is negligible, but for high-performance needs, prefer A Records.

Frequently Asked Questions About What is the difference between A records and CNAME records?


An A Record, or Address Record, is a type of DNS entry that maps a domain or subdomain to its corresponding IPv4 address, directing internet traffic to the correct server.

A CNAME, or Canonical Name Record, is a type of DNS entry that maps an alias domain or subdomain to a true canonical domain name, allowing for redirection and easier management.

No, CNAME Records can only be used for subdomains. Root domains (or 'naked domains') must use an A Record or an AAAA Record for IPv6 addresses.

A Records may offer marginally faster DNS resolution since they point directly to an IP address. CNAME Records could introduce a slight delay due to additional DNS lookups.

No, CNAME Records can only point to other domain names, not directly to IP addresses.

Yes, you can have multiple CNAME Records pointing to the same domain name, which is a common practice for aliasing various services (like www, mail, and ftp) to the same host.

Yes, a CNAME Record would be useful in this scenario because it allows you to update the IP address in one place (the A Record for the original hostname), benefiting all referenced CNAME Records.

The CNAME Record is meant to be a singular authoritative source for the alias domain, and having other records like MX or TXT would create conflict and confusion in the DNS resolution process.

CNAME Records are not directly associated with IP addresses; hence they're compatible for aliasing to a domain managed by either A Records (IPv4) or AAAA Records (IPv6).

Yes, you can use a CNAME Record for 'www' (such as 'www.example.com') and an A Record for the root domain ('example.com') without any issues.


A Records and CNAME Records have their purposes and a place in the complex puzzle of DNS configuration. While A Records point directly to the physical address of your server, CNAME Records are more about ease of management and updating your domains. Understanding the core functions of each will allow you to configure your DNS in a way that makes the most sense for your specific use case and reduce the risk of potential misconfigurations. Remember, a well-structured DNS setup is crucial for the reliable performance and accessibility of your websites and services. Choose wisely, and always consider future maintenance and scalability in your setup.

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