Every time you type a website address into the URL bar of your browser, it triggers a complex series of events that connect your computer with the website. Part of the process is for your computer to retrieve the IP address of that website’s server.
This information is given to your computer by a DNS, or domain name system. It’s a “middleman” reminiscent of an operator on old-timey phone exchange. Your computer contacts the DNS and tells it the URL for the website you are trying to reach. The DNS then provides the address of that website and connects you to it.
That structure means the DNS you use can see your browsing habits, deny you access to certain websites and affect performance.
Luckily, there are third-party DNS providers that are free and easy to set up. Keep reading and we’ll go into more detail about the advantages of changing your DNS and how to do so.
How Your DNS Can Affect Performance
Your connection has to go through the DNS almost every time it wants to connect to a website. Though some frequently visited websites can be cached locally for quicker access, whenever you visit a new site or the cache is cleared, the information request must go through the DNS.
That adds a small but noticeable delay in the time it takes for your browser to start loading the website. Changing your DNS to a faster one will make your browser feel much snappier if you’re using a suboptimal one.
To be clear, it will not improve download speeds. It will decrease the amount of time you have to wait before a website loads, though.
Improve Security Using a Better DNS
If you’re a security-minded person, as we all should be in the age of corporate data leaks and cybercrime, changing your DNS is critical. More often than not, your default DNS will be the one that is provided by your internet service provider.
Your ISP can log the queries your computer sends to its DNS server to mine data. Knowing which websites you frequent is valuable to a lot of companies, and they’re willing to pay your ISP top dollar for that data. If you don’t want someone reading your internet history, it’s important to get off your ISP’s DNS. That said, thanks to EU regulations, it is specifically a U.S. problem.
Switching to a different DNS will offer a significant boost to your online privacy, but it’s far from perfect. If you want to become practically untraceable online and ensure that your activity is secure and private, consider getting a virtual private network. Though exploring VPNs is outside the scope of this article, you should check out our what is a VPN article for more information.
Public DNS Can Change the World
Sometimes countries or companies will want to enact a policy of internet censorship. Denying someone access to a certain website can be as easy as leaving the IP information for it off the DNS servers.
For example, in 2014 the Turkish government tried to censor Twitter by ordering ISPs to deny DNS requests for it. At first, that was effective for preventing information from being sent into and out of the country during a period of unrest and made on-the-ground reporting more difficult (read our best VPN for Turkey guide for more on this).
People were quick to catch on, though. A public campaign began to inform people that they could change their DNS to the Google DNS. That got Twitter and other websites back into the hands of people in Turkey.
In some countries, even more elaborate censorship methods are used. Though denial of DNS requests is a small part of the internet censorship in a country like China, getting access to websites can be much more difficult. For that, as well as safety, we urge you to look at getting a VPN. Read our best VPN guide to see which providers will give you the best value.
Best Options for Public DNS
There are many DNS providers out there, so we’ll look at the three best options for most people.
First, there is Google’s public DNS, which has an easy-to-remember address of 18.104.22.168. As of 2014, it is the largest public DNS server in the world, and it has been great at providing a more open internet for many people. It sports solid response times, too.
That said, for the privacy-minded among you, the Google DNS does log and save information. It deletes your IP address off its server within 48 hours, but other information, such as location and ISP, is saved permanently.
If you want the most secure and private DNS, a company called Cloudflare offers 22.214.171.124. It is fast and does not store data. Cloudflare keeps bare-bones logs of DNS requests for 24 hours to help it debug its system if something goes wrong, but after that, all information is purged from its system.
Finally, if you’re simply looking to get awesome performance, there is a free DNS benchmarking software that can tell you what the fastest DNS in your area is. The software is easy to use and provides you with a clear best choice for speed and performance.
How to Change Your DNS
Step 1: Open the start menu and go to the control panel. You can get there by typing it in the start menu once it’s up.
Step 2: In the control panel, select “network and internet.”
Step 3: Click “network and sharing center.”
Step 4: On the left side, select “change adapter settings.”
Step 5: Right-click the connection you want to configure and select “properties.” You will have to be your computer’s administrator to do so.
Step 6: When the properties menu opens, double-click “internet protocol version 4 (TCP/IPv4).”
Step 7: In the next window, switch “obtain DNS server address automatically” to “use the following DNS server address,” then enter the DNS you want to use.
If you plan to use Cloudflare, 126.96.36.199 should be in the preferred server field and 188.8.131.52 should be in the alternate field. For Google, 184.108.40.206 is preferred with 220.127.116.11 is an alternative. That redundancy allows your computer to continue operating normally if one of the servers is down.
Step 8: Press “ok” and return to the properties window. Scroll down to find “internet protocol version 6 (TCP/IPv6).” Double-click it and do the same thing you did for IPv4. Switch “obtain DNS server address automatically” to “use the following DNS server address,” but type in these this time:
Google: 2001:4860:4860::8888 for preferred and 2001:4860:4860::8844 for the alternative.
Cloudflare: 2606:4700:4700::1111 for preferred and 2606:4700:4700::1001 for the alternative.
Mobile (Android and iOS)
On Android and iOS, changing your DNS must be done on a by-network and, sometimes, by-app basis. The method varies from version to version, as well, especially with Android. It is time-consuming and makes writing a guide impractical because of the variations and requirements.
Luckily, Cloudflare offers an app for Android and iOS. We suggest using it because it’s easy to install and only requires one press of a button to get working. Plus, it prevents things from slipping through the cracks.
If you’re looking for a more private, faster, or more open way to access the internet, changing your DNS can go a long way. It’s easy to do and takes just a few minutes. It’s free, too.
That said, changing your DNS does not make your connection to the internet more secure. If you’re looking for the most secure and private connection possible, we urge you to check out our VPN reviews. Getting started with a free VPN is a great way to see if it’s for you.
Have you changed your DNS? Let us know how it went in the comments below. Thanks for reading.