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September 15th, 2016

Eliminate www. with Apex Alias

With UltraDNS's DNS extension feature, Apex Alias, you can save your end users from the burden of entering the annoying “www” into your site's URL. Typing in “www.” in the URL has followed the path of rotary phones, Betamax and cassette players. In other words, it’s seen as unnecessary and almost legacy in the world of the Internet – thanks, Millennials. Apex Alias allows end users to simply type the domain name (neustar.biz) into their browser automatically go to your website.

What’s really going on behind the scenes?  Ultimately, Apex Alias provides a way for domain administrators to deliver DNS CNAME functionality at the apex record, or root, of a domain. Users are now able to replace an A record with a CNAME record that resolves to another host name. From the early days of DNS, the use of CNAMES at the apex of a domain has been discouraged and eventually forbidden by the protocol specification. However, modern usage of CDNs and outsourced cloud environments has driven the need for the ability to point the apex record of a domain to resources outside of the domain. Apex Alias addresses this need by introducing a custom record for domain owners to maintain this linkage.

At query and resolution, the UltraDNS resolvers will chase the Apex Alias, in the same way that a recursive resolver would, and return the results of the chase in the answer to the query. Apex Alias functionality supports both IPv4 and IPv6 resolution, returning A and AAAA records as appropriate. 

If your company is a little tech savvy, you can also set up your own host-based web forwarding that will take your domain name and attach “www” to the HTTP request, passing along the message to the "real" webserver. But this requires another set of links and/or a server to maintain the routing for users. If you’ve moved your website to a virtualized cloud, this becomes even more challenging because the host name needs to be added and the domain name will likely need to be directed to your cloud provider.

In addition to adding the host name “www,” the UltraDNS Apex Alias feature actively performs DNS recursive resolutions whether or not the resolver resides within UltraDNS. For each authoritative Apex Alias request coming in, only one authoritative response containing the final IP address is returned. This reduces the number of DNS requests and responses and reduces query latency for the end users.

UltraDNS has also built in support for the edns0-client-subnet (ECS) specification, meaning that caching resolvers that pass in the client IP subnet will be able to take advantage of ECS functionality when querying for the zone apex.  Apex Alias can also be combined with GeoIP /source directional and traffic management capabilities to provide sophisticated local direction to the nearest application server while concurrently distributing sessions across your application servers.

To enable Apex Alias, current UltraDNS users can log-in to the UltraDNS portal today to configure their own alias (no, there’s no added cost to do so).  Simply define the domain apex as you normally would and then add an Apex Alias record that specifies where you want it to point to.  When an end user enters just the domain name and top level domain name in the browser, the Apex Alias record now replaces it.  UltraDNS does the dirty work to translate the user-defined alias so that e.g., www.neustar.biz can now be known as simply neustar.biz.  Good-bye “www”!!

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