DNS Redirects vs. HTTP Redirects: what's the difference and which one should you use?

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DNS and HTTP redirects play a key role in directing internet traffic and ensuring users find the information they seek efficiently. For webmasters, SEO specialists, and IT professionals, grasping the distinctions between these redirects is essential knowledge for optimizing website performance, search engine results ranking and of course user experience.

The Basics of Internet Protocols

At its core, the internet operates on a series of protocols—rules and standards that define how data is exchanged across the web. Two of these foundational technologies, the Domain Name System (DNS) and the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), facilitate our everyday internet use. DNS acts as the internet's phonebook, translating human-friendly domain names into machine-readable IP addresses. HTTP, on the other hand, is the protocol used for transferring web pages from servers to our browsers. Understanding these protocols is the first step in demystifying DNS and HTTP redirects.

What is DNS?

The Domain Name System is a hierarchical and decentralized naming system for computers, services, or other resources connected to the Internet or a private network. It associates various information with domain names assigned to each of the participating entities. Most prominently, it translates more readily memorized domain names to the numerical IP addresses needed for locating and identifying computer services and devices with the underlying network protocols.

DNS Records: A and CNAME

At the heart of DNS operations are DNS records, which include 'A' (Address) records that map a domain name directly to an IP address and 'CNAME' (Canonical Name) records that map a domain name to another domain name. These records play a crucial role in DNS redirection, also known as aliasing, where one domain name is pointed to another domain's DNS information, effectively making it an "alias."

Understanding DNS Redirects (Aliasing)

DNS redirect, or aliasing, occurs when a DNS query for one domain returns the IP address of another domain. This method is commonly used for domain forwarding or when managing multiple domains that lead to the same website. However, it's crucial to note that DNS redirects happen at the DNS level before any connection to the web server is made, and they don't indicate the type of redirection or the HTTP status codes involved in HTTP redirects.

Diving into HTTP and HTTP Redirects

HTTP redirects, in contrast, operate at the application layer. They occur when a web server tells the client (like a browser) that the requested page is available under a different URL, using specific HTTP status codes like 301 (Moved Permanently) or 302 (Found). This type of redirect is vital for SEO as it helps maintain link equity (the value passed through hyperlinks) and informs search engines about the permanent or temporary nature of the redirect.

HTTP Redirects in Action

Consider a website that has moved its domain from example.com to newexample.com. Implementing a 301 redirect from the old domain to the new ensures that users and search engines are directed to the correct address, and the site's search ranking power is preserved. On the other hand, a 302 redirect would be used if the move is temporary, signaling to search engines to keep the original domain in their index.

DNS Redirect vs. HTTP Redirect: Key Differences

The primary difference between DNS and HTTP redirects lies in their operation and impact. DNS redirects occur before the web server connection, simply pointing to another IP address without specifying redirect behavior. HTTP redirects, however, are actioned by the web server and carry detailed instructions for the browser, including whether the redirect is permanent or temporary, significantly affecting SEO and user experience.

Example Scenario

Imagine you've set up a promotional campaign for your website, promo.example.com, which you wish to direct to a specific page on your main site, www.example.com/promo. Using a DNS alias for promo.example.com to point to the IP address of www.example.com would get visitors to the right domain, but not the specific promotional page. An HTTP redirect from promo.example.com to www.example.com/promo, with a 301 status code, would not only direct users precisely but also consolidate search ranking signals to the target URL.

Best Practices for Managing Redirects

Effective management of DNS aliasing and HTTP redirects is key to maintaining a robust online presence. For DNS aliasing, ensure that your domain names are succinctly mapped to your server's IP address, keeping your site accessible via various domain names. When implementing HTTP redirects, use 301 redirects for permanent changes to preserve SEO value, and reserve 302 redirects for temporary changes, minimizing the impact on your site's search engine ranking.

SEO Considerations

When deploying redirects, remember that search engines favor websites with a clear structure and minimal redirect chains. Avoid using excessive redirects, as they can dilute link equity and slow down page load times, negatively impacting user experience and SEO.


Understanding the nuances between DNS and HTTP redirects is essential for anyone involved in web development or digital marketing. While DNS redirects offer a method for domain aliasing at the DNS level, HTTP redirects provide precise control over the redirection process, with significant implications for SEO and user experience. By choosing the appropriate type of redirect based on your specific needs, you can ensure a seamless web presence that supports both your users and your search engine rankings.

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