/etc/hosts started in the old days of DARPA as the resolution file for all the hosts connected to the internet (before DNS existed). It has the maximum priority, meaning this file is preferred ahead of any other name system.1
However, as a single file, it doesn't scale well: the size of the file becomes too big very soon. That is why the DNS system was developed, a hierarchical distributed name system. It allows any host to find the numerical address of some other host efficiently.
The very old concept of the
/etc/hosts file is very simple, just an address and a host name:
for each line. That is a simple list of pairs of address-host.2
Its primary present-day use is to bypass DNS resolution. A match found in the
/etc/hosts file will be used before any DNS entry. In fact, if the name searched (like
localhost) is found in the file, no DNS resolution will be performed at all.
1 Well, the order of name resolution is actually defined in
/etc/nsswitch.conf, which usually has this entry:
hosts: files dns
which means "try files (
/etc/hosts); and if it fails, try DNS."
But that order could be changed or expanded.
2 (in present days) The hosts file contains lines of text consisting of an IP address in the first text field followed by one or more host names. Each field is separated by white space – tabs are often preferred for historical reasons, but spaces are also used. Comment lines may be included; they are indicated by an octothorpe (#) in the first position of such lines. Entirely blank lines in the file are ignored. For example, a typical hosts file may contain the following:
127.0.0.1 localhost loopback
::1 localhost localhost6 ipv6-localhost ipv6-loopback mycomputer.local
This example contains entries for the loopback addresses of the system and their host names, the first line is a typical default content of the hosts file. The second line has several additional (probably only valid in local systems) names. The example illustrates that an IP address may have multiple host names (localhost and loopback), and that a host name may be mapped to both IPv4 and IPv6 IP addresses, as shown on the first and second lines respectively. One name (
mycomputer.lan) may resolve to several addresses (
192.168.0.8 10.0.0.27). However, in that case, which one is used depends on the routes (and their priorities) set for the computer.
Some older OSes had no way to report a list of addresses for a given name.
127.0.0.2 mycouchdb bookmarkdb myothercouchappand
127.0.0.3 myapachi websiteI use these to help me with my development running on my local machine. I have 3 services listening on port 80. I don't want to put them on the DNS, as they are only local.
man 5 hosts?