DNS 101 – Part 1: What is DNS? How can I change my DNS at home and why should I?

What is DNS?

DNS, or Domain Name System, is the telephone book behind the scenes, ensuring you get to Google when you type www.google.com into your browser. DNS eliminates the need for us to remember things like IP addresses when we want to get to our favorite websites.

Imagine, you want to visit Engadget. Sure, you can bookmark the website by it's IP address: 106.10.218.150, but you won't be able to load the website by just typing that in your browser, and what if the IP address changes.

It would be like the old days when there were paperback cable guides mailed to our homes each week, except you would need to send a new "Internet IP address directory" every few weeks, if not every month. The amount of time it would take to properly catalog and ID each IP address, and ensure every website loaded from that IP address reliably, then compiling it into a directory, printing and mailing it.... there's more logistics to it than just those few things, as well.

In the early days of the ARPANET, that's actually how it was done! Except, the directory wasn't but a few pages.

 

Expand for a bit of internet history!

Elizabeth "Jake" Feinler developed and maintained the first directory while at The Stanford Research Institute using a basic hosts.txt file. Maintenance, which included assignment and reassignment of these numerical addresses, then called the Assigned Numbers List, was handled by Jon Postel at USC's Information Sciences Institute. Back then, addresses were assigned manually and their hostnames and addresses were added by ringing up Elizabeth Feinler on the phone during business hours. Pretty wild! She later developed a WHOIS directory for better collation of this information. We actually have Elizabeth Feinler and her team to thank for conceptualizing what we call domain names.

Of course, by the early 80s, the ARPANET had grown so quickly, maintaining a centralized hosts file became unwisely. Engineers realized a network of it's own had begun to form around the hosts.txt file and would require a lot of automation to keep up with growth. In 1983, Paul Mockapetris created the Domain Name System.

The Internet Engineering Task Force published the original specifications for DNS in RFC 882 and RFC 883 in November 1983.

Then in 1984, four UC Berkeley students, Douglas Terry, Mark Painter, David Riggle, and Songnian Zhou, wrote the first Unix name server implementation for the "Berkeley Internet Name Domain", aka BIND. Following this, Kevin Dunlap, who was a computer scientist employed by a company called Digital Equipment Corporation (a company that is computer history royalty and later became Compaq, then HP, and really deserves their own blog post) revised the DNS implementations of the day to incorporate this new BIND system. Since then, Mike Karels, Phil Almquist, and Paul Vixie have maintained the BIND system and it has become the most widely used DNS software on the planet.

Why would (or should) I change my DNS?

Part 1 of this article will cover DNS and how you use it at home or in an office environment.

Four reasons why you may want to consider changing the DNS you use at home:

  1. Privacy.
  2. Speed.
  3. Security.
  4. Reliability

Sure, your ISP probably has their own DNS server and you're probably using it because that's the default configuration in the router they give you. Even if you're using your own router, the default setting could be to use the DNS servers assigned by your ISP. But do you really want your ISP knowing everything you lookup on the internet?

Yep, that's right! Your ISP may log every domain your connection resolves (translates from domain to IP address) and retain it for an indefinite period of time. They may even sell the data to advertisers so they can send targeted ads.

Your ISPs DNS servers may also not be reliable or very speedy. Nothing against Comcast, they have improved a lot, but in the past usage of their DNS servers was questionable as they didn't update their caches very frequently, they were slow, and they experienced frequent downtime.

And your location may have something to do with it. If you're in Europe and your router or computer is set to query DNS servers that are in America, the response time will of course be high and this will affect the performance of your internet connection and even gaming.

Well, then what DNS should I use?

If you're after performance alone, there is a great tool you can use to benchmark DNS performance from your location:

Yes, there's Namebench from Google, but it hasn't been updated in a long, long time and some of the DNS Resolvers it uses in testing may not exist anymore.

There's also DNSPerf, a company who does extensive testing and uptime monitoring of various public DNS Resolvers around the world. They have a test tool you can use by clicking here.

If you'd rather an overview of some of my preferred DNS choices, below is a table for your convenience:

Provider Name IPv4 Servers IPv6 Servers Website
Google Public DNS
8.8.8.8 2001:4860:4860::8888
8.8.4.4 2001:4860:4860::8844
OpenDNS
208.67.222.222 2620:119:35::35
208.67.220.220 2620:119:53::53
Quad9 (Unfiltered)
9.9.9.10 2620:fe::10
149.112.112.10 2620:fe::fe:10
Quad9 (Filtered)
9.9.9.9 2620:fe::fe
149.112.112.112 2620:fe::9
Neustar UltraDNS (Unfiltered)
156.154.70.5 2610:a1:1018::5
156.154.71.5 2610:a1:1019::5
Neustar UltraDNS (Filtered for Security Only)
156.154.70.2 2610:a1:1018::2
156.154.71.2 2610:a1:1019::2
Verisign
64.6.64.6 2620:74:1b::1:1
64.6.65.6 2620:74:1c::2:2
Sprint DNS (If you are in USA, Europe, or Asia)
204.117.214.10 2600::1
199.2.252.10 2600::2
Sprint DNS (If you are in Switzerland)
80.93.8.10 2A02:BF8:AAAA::10
217.151.251.10 2A02:BF8:AAAA::11
DNS.sb
185.222.222.222 2a09:0000:0000:0000:0000:0000:0000:0000
185.184.222.222 2a09:0000:0000:0000:0000:0000:0000:0001
UncensoredDNS
91.239.100.100 2001:67c:28a4::
89.233.43.71 2a01:3a0:53:53::

Wait a minute... a major provider of DNS services is missing! Why aren't they on that list?

 

Cloudflare is an innovative company staff by brilliant people, but, their service isn't without it's issues. A huge percentage of the internet runs over Cloudflare's network. Cloudflare boasts on some stats on their website:

More than 27 million Internet properties are on Cloudflare, and our network is growing by tens of thousands each day. Cloudflare powers Internet requests for ~13% of the Fortune 1,000 for more than 1 billion unique IP addresses per day.

Unfortunately, Cloudflare also goes down quasi-frequently. On July 17, a configuration change containing an error made by a human caused a large percentage of the internet to become unreachable. It's not the first time there's been an outage at Cloudflare, and probably won't be the last.

Yes, Cloudflare does offer DNS services for use at home or your small business. They call it "1.1.1.1", which is also 1 of the 2 IPv4 addresses for their service.

Cloudflare (Unfiltered)
1.1.1.1 606:4700:4700::1111
1.0.0.1 2606:4700:4700::1001
Cloudflare (Malware Filtering)
1.1.1.2 2606:4700:4700::1112
1.0.0.2 2606:4700:4700::1002
Cloudflare (Adult and Malware Filtering)
1.1.1.3 2606:4700:4700::1113
1.0.0.3 2606:4700:4700::1003

Cloudflare also has an interesting service that they've been developing for some time now called Warp and Warp+, which is essentially a VPN type connection that routes all of your internet traffic over the Cloudflare network for improved performance. I've not had opportuntiy to test this out yet, but do look forward to the release of the Warp+ client on Windows and Mac!

What's the bottom line about Cloudflare?

Cloudflare makes some great products and their services are relatively reliable. Personally, I have some privacy and security concerns, and I question the reliance so many companies place on Cloudflare's "free" services. Also, I've had REALLY horrible customer service experiences with Cloudflare in the past.

I don't use Cloudflare personally on my network, or for any of my domains.

Are their DNS services fast? Undoubtedly. Give their DNS services a try on your router or personal computer. You may find them to be a great fit for you! 🙂

So, how do I change my DNS servers?

Great question! The answer depends on what device and operating system you're using.

Select your operating system or device from the options below:

Windows 10

  1. Click on the Start menu, then click on Settings.
  2. Click on Network and Internet.
  3. Click on Change Adapter Settings.
  4. Right click on the network you are connected to.
  5. Click Properties.
  6. Select Internet Protocol Version 4.
  7. Click Properties.
  8. Click Use The Following DNS Server Addresses.
  9. Remove any IP addresses that may be already listed and in their place add the DNS service IP addresses.
  10. Click OK.
  11. Go now to Internet Protocol Version 6.
  12. Click Properties
  13. Click Use The Following DNS Server Addresses.
  14. Remove any IP addresses that may be already listed and in their place add the DNS service IP addresses.
  15. Click Close.

You're done!

macOS

  1. Go to System Preferences. (You can find it by pressing Command+Space on your Mac and typing System Preferences, or clicking the Apple logo in the top left corner and selecting System Preferences in the menu)
  2. Click on the icon called Network.
  3. Click Advanced.
  4. Select the DNS tab. Remove any IP addresses that may be already listed and in their place add the DNS server IP addresses you've chosen to use.
  5. Click OK.
  6. Click Apply.

You're done!

Google Wi-Fi

  1. Open the Google Wifi app on your phone.
  2. Click the settings tab, then click on Network & general
  3. Click on Advanced networking then click on DNS
  4. Remove any IP addresses that may be already listed and in their place enter the IP addresses of the DNS service you've chosen.
  5. Click save.

You're done!

PS4

  1. Go to Settings.
  2. Go to Network.
  3. Go to Set Up Internet Connection
  4. Select Wifi or LAN depending on what you use.
  5. Select Custom.
  6. Set IP Address Settings to Automatic.
  7. Set DHCP Host Name to Do Not Specify
  8. Set DNS Settings to Manual
  9. Set Primary DNS to the 1st IPv4 address of your chosen DNS provider.
  10. Set Secondary DNS to the 2nd IPv4 address of your chosen DNS provider.
  11. If you are able to add more DNS servers, you can add the IPv6 addresses of your chosen DNS provider, as well.
  12. Set MTU Settings to Automatic.
  13. Set Proxy Server to Do Not Use.

You're done!

Xbox One

  1. Open the Network screen by pressing the Xbox button (looks like the Xbox logo) and then selecting Settings > Network > Network Settings.
  2. Click Advanced Settings
  3. Click DNS Settings
  4. Choose Manual
  5. Set Primary DNS to the 1st IPv4 IP address of your chosen DNS provider.
  6. Set Secondary DNS to the 2nd IPv4 IP address of your chosen DNS provider.
  7. If you are able to add more DNS servers, you can add the IPv6 addresses of your chosen DNS provider as well.
  8. When you are done, you will be shown a confirmation screen. Press the B button to save.

You're done!

Nintendo

  1. Go to the home menu and choose System Settings (the wrench icon).
  2. Select Internet Settings > Connection Settings.
  3. Select your internet connection and then select Change Settings.
  4. Select Change DNS
  5. Set Auto-Obtain DNS to No.
  6. Click Detailed Setup.
  7. Set Primary DNS to the 1st IPv4 IP address of your chosen DNS provider.
  8. Set Secondary DNS to the 2nd IPv4 IP address of your chosen DNS provider.
  9. If you are able to add more DNS servers, you can add the IPv6 addresses of your chosen DNS provider, as well.
  10. Click Save then OK.

You're done!

If you're trying to configure custom DNS on a device or operating system not listed here, you can use the contact form below to send me a message. I can probably help you out, but please be sure to include as much information as possible on the device you want to configure, such as the manufacturer, operating system, or model number.

Please include the type of device you're trying to configure

Coming Soon!

Coming soon - Part 2 of DNS 101: Where can I host DNS for my domain and what do the various records mean?