Instead, named will query the servers in the root hints list in turn, asking them for the NS records for ".".
When an authoritative response is received, the answer is added to cache, and it is the newly primed set of root nameservers that is used, rather than the set from the hints file. All modern and supported versions of are delivered with a built-in zone for "." of type 'hint'. We update it periodically, for example, to add an AAAA for D root a few years ago, and will do so again when the H root address changes on 1st December 2015.
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I find multiple explanations online and none are really clear/ is a zone definition which points to a cache of the root name servers.