Zone File (DNS)

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Definition of Zone File (DNS) in Network Encyclopedia.

What is Zone File?

Zone File is a file on a name server that contains information that defines the zone that the name server manages. The zone file is a text file consisting of a series of resource records that form the Domain Name System (DNS) database of the name server. These records identify which name server is responsible for a given zone, timing parameters for zone transfers between name servers, IP address to hostname mappings for hosts within the domains over which the zone file is authoritative, and so on.

A typical zone file might look something like this:

; Database file for
12 ; serial number
3600 ; refresh
600 ; retry
86400 ; expire
3600 ) ; minimum TTL
; Zone NS records
@ IN NS dns1
@ IN NS dns2
; Zone A records
dns1 IN A
dns2 IN A
proxy1 IN A
fred IN A
wilma IN A
localhost IN A
www IN CNAME fred
ftp IN CNAME wilma


On Microsoft Windows NT–based and Windows 2000–based servers running the DNS Server services (and hence configured to operate as name servers for the network), the names of the zone files are similar to the names of the domains over which they have authority, but they have the .dns extension appended to them. For example, the zone file for the domain would be and would be located in the directory \%SystemRoot%\System32\Dns.

Zone File example
Zone File example

A typical DNS server has at least three zone files:

  • <root_domain>.dns: The forward lookup zone file that is used to resolve hostnames into IP addresses for TCP/IP hosts over which the name server has authority. In the preceding example, the root domain is, so the zone file is 
  • The reverse lookup zone file for the forward lookup zone, which is used to resolve IP addresses into hostnames for TCP/IP hosts over which the name server has authority. In the preceding example, the network ID is, so the reverse lookup zone file is 
  • cache.dns: A standard file that exists on all name servers and contains the hostnames and IP addresses of name servers on the Internet that maintain the root domain of the entire DNS namespace. 


Windows 2000 gives you the option of integrating DNS with Active Directory. This results in zone data being stored in Active Directory, which has advantages over traditional implementations of DNS in which zone data is stored in text files:

  • It provides a more efficient mechanism for zone transfers through the domain replication process of Active Directory. This eliminates the chore of manually configuring zone transfers between primary and secondary DNS servers.
  • It provides additional fault tolerance for the DNS information because all Active Directory integrated zones are primary zones and therefore contain a copy of the zone data.

You should generally use the Windows NT administrative tool called DNS Manager to make changes to zone files on a DNS server running on Windows NT rather than modify these files directly by using a text editor such as Notepad. This will prevent errors from finding their way into the DNS database. Similarly, use the DNS console in Windows 2000 to administer the zone files instead of editing them directly.