The data that describes a zone has four major parts:
All of this data is expressed in the form of RRs, so a zone can be completely described in terms of a set of RRs. Whole zones can be transferred between name servers by transferring the RRs, either carried in a series of messages or by FTPing a master file which is a textual representation.
The authoritative data for a zone is simply all of the RRs attached to all of the nodes from the top node of the zone down to leaf nodes or nodes above cuts around the bottom edge of the zone.
Though logically part of the authoritative data, the RRs that describe the top node of the zone are especially important to the zone's management. These RRs are of two types: name server RRs that list, one per RR, all of the servers for the zone, and a single SOA RR that describes zone management parameters.
The RRs that describe cuts around the bottom of the zone are NS RRs that name the servers for the subzones. Since the cuts are between nodes, these RRs are NOT part of the authoritative data of the zone, and should be exactly the same as the corresponding RRs in the top node of the subzone. Since name servers are always associated with zone boundaries, NS RRs are only found at nodes which are the top node of some zone. In the data that makes up a zone, NS RRs are found at the top node of the zone (and are authoritative) and at cuts around the bottom of the zone (where they are not authoritative), but never in between.
One of the goals of the zone structure is that any zone have all the data required to set up communications with the name servers for any subzones. That is, parent zones have all the information needed to access servers for their children zones. The NS RRs that name the servers for subzones are often not enough for this task since they name the servers, but do not give their addresses. In particular, if the name of the name server is itself in the subzone, we could be faced with the situation where the NS RRs tell us that in order to learn a name server's address, we should contact the server using the address we wish to learn. To fix this problem, a zone contains "glue" RRs which are not part of the authoritative data, and are address RRs for the servers. These RRs are only necessary if the name server's name is "below" the cut, and are only used as part of a referral response.