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Time To Live
Time to live (TTL) is an 8-bit field in the Internet Protocol (IP) header that indicates how many more hops this packet should be allowed to make before being discarded or returned. It is the 9th octet of 20 in the IP header.
TTL's also occur in the Domain Name System (DNS), where they are set by an authoritative nameserver for a particular Resource Record. When a Caching (recursive) nameserver queries the authoritative nameserver for a Resource Record, it will cache that record for the time specified by the TTL. If a stub resolver queries the caching nameserver for the same record before the TTL has expired, the caching server will simply reply with the already cached resource record rather than retrieve it from the authoritative nameserver again. Nameservers also have negative TTL's for negative replies (NXDOMAIN); they are generally short in duration (3 hours at most).
Shorter TTL's can cause heavier loads on an authoritative nameserver, but can be useful when changing the address of critical services like web servers or MX records, and therefore are often lowered by the DNS administrator prior to a service being moved, in order to minimise disruption.
See also: traceroute, ping