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A Few Good Reasons to Switch Your DNS Server

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You should know that there are some things you can control—and that you likely don't know about—that will affect your personal Internet experience for the better. One change to consider is whether to switch the default DNS service your Internet Service Provider (ISP) uses.

Here's what that means:

  • DNS stands for "Domain Name System." A DNS service/server is a network component that translates the name of the website you want to visit into the IP address that matches that website. That has to happen for the Internet to make the right connection.
  • If (highly) simplified analogies work for you, think of it like this: On your cellphone's call/speed-dial list, you have the names of friends, family and businesses you call often. When you touch/select a name, your phone calls that person or business because there's a number associated with that name, which helps you make the connection.
  • Same thing with your computer and the Internet (which is the world's biggest network): When you click on a link to go to Amazon.com or Disneyland.com or The Wall Street Journal site, your Internet connection runs that information through its associated DNS server. The DNS server automatically matches that name to an IP address—the IP address for that website you want. (Yes! Like you, a website has its own IP addresses.)

For now, you don't really need to know too much about DNS services—how they work and such. You only need to know that you can use a different company's DNS name resolution service...a third-party provider.

And you need to know a few good reasons why you might want to switch DNS servers on your own.

A couple of important notes.

Some of the benefits a third-party DNS service can offer sound and perform much like those of a Virtual Private Network (VPN). However, there are some differences:

  • Unlike a VPN, the DNS function does not provide encryption or hide your IP address.
  • However, it could give you the advantages of a VPN without the potential of slower speeds that supposedly occur sometimes with encryption.

Whereas a VPN service masks your IP address so no one can figure out where you are, a different DNS service fools a website because it "thinks" you're eligible to access their content—in other words, under normal circumstances, they'd likely block your request if they saw that it had come from a DNS server in a restricted region.

With those distinctions out of the way, here is a handful of reasons to use a different DNS service:

    You might get faster service.
    Third-party DNS servers are sometimes faster than an ISP's default DNS servers. That isn't certain though. It will depend on how close the third-party DNS servers are to your home or office...and how slow your ISP's DNS servers are. But it might be worth checking out.

    You might get more reliable service.
    If your Internet Service seems unreliable, switching your DNS service might be an easy way to see if that's the problem. If your ISP is bad at keeping their DNS servers up and running with no hitches, you may experience slow uploads and service while the DNS request gets bogged down. Switching to a more reliable service might solve that: Many DNS alternatives aim to provide the speedy service you want.

    You could block out almost all porn and bad content.
    If you have young children and want to set up Web filtering, there is a variety of different ways you can do it. One of the easiest ways to configure Web filtering is to change your DNS server to a service such as OpenDNS. By changing the DNS server on your router, you'll be able to configure parental control settings on the OpenDNS website, allowing you to block certain categories of websites as well as view the ones that have been accessed from your home network. Better still, if you have a wireless network, you can block content to all devices, including tablets and smartphones, that use the network.

    You can get better protection.
    Some DNS services offer extra filtering to block known phishing sites—websites that lure you in and hook you, compromising your computer or data. If that interests you, be sure to choose a DNS service that promotes that. Not all do.

    You can watch content that's blocked in your region. Or trick censors.
    Similar to a Virtual Private Network, a few special third-party DNS servers will allow you to watch what's called "geo-blocked" content. For example, people in other countries can't access websites such as Netflix, Hulu, and BBC iPlayer. But some fancier DNS servers perform a little trick and will do some network "tunneling," so to speak, to make it look as if you're not in one of the "blocked" regions.

    And because some ISPs or networks in other countries block websites at the DNS level, a third-party DNS service that doesn't block that website will help you get around it.

Want to see a list of public DNS providers and the IP addresses to use? Read More

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