By Eric Geier
When you type a web site address into a browser, it must first look up the IP address of the site via a Domain Name System (DNS) server before the Web server is located and the Web pages displayed on your screen. Of course, the DNS process usually happens very quickly and isn’t noticed when surfing around the Web.
DNS is needed because computer networks are designed to talk using their Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. These are four sets of numbers separated by decimal points, such as 22.214.171.124. These aren’t very human friendly.
To better picture DNS, think of your browser having to always use a phone book: You give DNS a name and it must look up the number so you’re your browser can call it.
Why Use a Third-Party DNS
Most DNS servers, probably like the one assigned to you by your ISP, provide only the simple (but yet very important) function of address translation. However, DNS servers have the ability to provide more functionality to users. Fortunately, you aren’t stuck with your ISP’s basic service; you can use a third-party.
Here are additional functions DNS servers can possibly provide:
- Content filtering: This is arguably the most valuable additive feature. Since DNS is involved in nearly all Web browsing and Internet activity, it has the potential to control exactly what the user sees in their browser and what they can transfer to and from the Internet. The DNS server, for example, can block certain sites or allow only a select few. This could be based on a list of URLs, keywords in the URL, or some type of analysis of the websites themselves.
- Traffic reporting: Since DNS servers know where users are browsing, they have the ability to provide logs or reports of Internet activity.
- Security: The DNS standards widely used today are well outdated and many exploits exist. However, a DNS server can help secure users from some of these threats.
- Faster and more reliable browsing: The speed at which a DNS server does its magic affects the browsing speeds experienced by the human users. Furthermore, users can’t even browse the Internet without it. Most third-party DNS servers boast about their fast speeds and high reliability, some of which is support by enhanced features like DNS caching.
- Error page redirection: When you mistype a URL or visit a site that’s temporarily down, you might be shown the old annoying “404 Not Found” error or “Internal Server Error” page. However, a third-party DNS server usually shows custom error pages that are friendlier. Your ISP might already do this as well.
- Host name shortcuts: Some DNS servers give you the ability to create shortcuts that point to a website or IP. For instance, you might want to create the shortcut “mail” that points to your company’s web email. When users on your network enter “mail” into their web browser, they’d be redirected to the email login. That way they don’t have to remember long URLs.
- URL typo correction: Some DNSs might even intelligently detect and automatically correct typos. For example, if you try to visit AOL.cmm, it might autocorrect to AOL.com. It won’t make your day, but can save you a few seconds and a few clicks.
Choose a Third-Party DNS Server
OpenDNS is the most popular and feature-rich third-party DNS out there. It offers all the functions we just discussed in the previous section and then some. The best part is that it offers a free edition that includes most of the features. You can start using its servers (126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52) at any time on your router or computers. You can optionally sign up for an account to configure Web filtering and other features.
DynDNS.com’s Internet Guide offers some of the features we discussed, including Web filtering. The free basic service lets you define one defense plan and up to 30 white-list and black-list sites each, while the premium services let you define more. The great thing about DynDNS’s service is that it also offers dynamic DNS service. This gives your changing Internet IP address a host name so you can easily host servers or remote connections via the Internet. Start using the Internet Guide by creating an account and configuring your router or computers with its servers: 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11.
Google’s Public DNS, Comodo’s Secure DNS, and Neustar’s DNS Advantage are completely free but only feature reliability, speed, and security functionalities. Google’s server addresses are 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124, Comodo’s are 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52, and Neustar’s are 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11. No account is required: Simply point your router or computer to their servers.
How to Use a Third-party DNS
When your modem (whether it’s dialup, DSL, or cable) connects to the Internet, a DNS server is assigned to your Internet connection, whether automatically or manually configured in the router. Whatever the case, all the computers using the Internet connection will by default use the DNS server assigned to the modem.
You can, however, input an address of another DNS server into your router to make computers use it instead. To do this, start by logging into your router: type its IP address (such as 192.168.1.1 or 192.168.0.1) into a Web browser. Then log in and find the Internet connection settings. There you should find the DNS server fields, usually a primary and secondary. Simply type in the IP addresses of your desired third-party DNS and save the changes.
If you only want certain computers to use another DNS, you can alternatively configure select computers with a third-party DNS:
- Using the Control Panel or Network and Sharing Center, bring up the Network Connections window.
- Double-click the connection or adapter that’s connected to the network.
- On the Connection Status dialog, click the Properties button.
- Select Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IP 4) from the list box and click Properties.
- Select Use the following DNS server addresses and input them into the two fields and click OK.
Remember, if you’re using OpenDNS or Internet Guide, you’ll probably want to create an account to set up the Web filtering and other features.