What is DNS?
Every webpage has an IP address
—a long string of numbers that computers use to find and identify it. But as humans, we don’t want to memorize long strings of numbers simply to navigate to our favorite internet haunts. We're more likely to remember words of a URL. Facebook.com, Wikipedia.org, Gmail.com.
DNS, or Domain Name System, is a system that matches those word-based URLs you type into your browser’s address bar, with numerical IP addresses, decipherable by computers, and directs you to the right webpage.
Why might you want to use a third-party DNS server?
Whenever you connect to the internet, your ISP assigns you DNS servers. But these default servers might not be the best option for you. Slow DNS servers cause a lag before you load new domains. They can also be hijacked by scammers to misdirect you to the wrong IP address. Additionally, if your ISP’s default DNS servers go down, you’ll be unable to access any webpages.
Here are the reasons why you might use a third-party DNS server instead:
- Faster internet browsing: Using a third-party DNS server rather than your ISP’s default servers can increase your internet connection’s performance. A third-party server may give you faster DNS resolves, meaning you’ll load domains faster the first time you request them. However, the speed of those DNS resolves ultimately depends on how far you are from the third party’s DNS servers. In some cases, your ISP’s default DNS servers will be faster.
- More reliable: Third-party DSN servers can be more reliable than those offered automatically by your ISP, promising close to no downtime.
- Better security: Third-party DNS servers also have more robust security measures. Some keep constantly updated lists of phishing or other malicious websites to automatically block.
- Deflect cyberattacks: Third-party servers are also better equipped to handle and deflect the two types of attacks which corrupt or topple DNS servers: DNS cache poisoning, in which users are redirected to malicious websites, and DoS (Denial-of-Service) attacks, in which the DNS server is flooded and overwhelmed with requests, making web-browsing slow or impossible for users.
- Privacy: Using a third-party DNS also makes it harder for your ISP to monitor and collect data on your internet activities. Some third-party DNS servers promise not to record your activities or to wipe any logs within 24 or 48 hours.
- Filtering: Third-party DNS servers also offer customizable filtering, allowing you to implement parental controls to keep your kids off inappropriate websites or to block advertisements at the DNS level.
What to Consider when Choosing a DNS Server
- default DNS vs third-party DNS: We already ran through this above. You might opt for a third-party DNS if you want more security and protection from cyberattacks, to navigate the web a little faster, or to implement custom filters. But if you want to stick with a default DNS server, check reviews of DNS server performance when you compare internet providers. Sometimes cheap internet plans come with unreliable or slow DNS servers.
- free DNS vs paid DNS: If you opt for a third-party DNS, you have the option between free and paid services. Paid DNS servers have more customization options, enhanced security, better performance metrics, and superior customer service. But of course, you’ll have to pay for all those perks and some users will be perfectly content with the functionality of free options.
- public DNS vs private DNS: A public DNS can be used by the general public. These include both default DNS servers from your ISP and third-party servers, whether free or paid. A private DNS is typically used by companies to give employees access to internal websites.
Best DNS Servers
There are dozens of public third-party DNS servers on the market. We run down the best.
- OpenDNS: The free service offers high speeds and parental control web filtering. It also claims 100% uptime and automatic blocking of phishing sites. OpenDNS's premium service, costing $20 a year, allows you to view your internet history for a year and to restrict internet access to just named websites.
- Cloudflare: Independent testing has found Cloudflare is the fastest DNS server, with the quickest resolves. It’s also fanatical about privacy. Cloudflare pledges to never record your IP address on any disc and to delete any logs within 24 hours. And those aren’t empty promises. Cloudflare has auditors KPMG regularly monitoring its practices, to ensure it’s delivering on those commitments.
- Google Public DNS: The internet giant has its hands in every facet of our digital lives, from email to smartphones, and they haven't overlooked DNS servers. Its free service offers fast resolves and robust privacy safeguards. Its privacy standards don’t quite live up Cloudflare’s but are close. Unfortunately, the server doesn’t allow you to block sites and its setup and customer service are geared to tech wizards.
- Commando Secure DNS: As its name suggests, Commando is big on security. It automatically blocks phishing sites and also alerts you when you try to visit domains infected with malware or spyware. It also claims to detect attempts to visit parked or unused domains and to forward you where you want to go, rather than sending you to a parked domain littered with advertising popups. Testing has found that its query time is slower than some competitors, however. It’s free for up to 300,000 DNS requests a month