Using an external DNS

Yeah, I know. This sounds techie right from the title. But it won’t be, I promise.

Very simply, DNS (Domain Name Service) is a translator. Let’s look at an example to illustrate what is being translated.

If you wanted to go to the New York Times website, you would normally type http://www.nytimes.com. This works fine for you because, as a human you prefer alphanumeric characters. They are easier to remember and easier to associate with the site you want to visit.

The Internet, however, prefers numbers. To the Internet, the New York Times website looks like this: http://170.149.168.130. The number 170.149.168.130 is called the IP address of the Times website (in case you collect useless trivia to have available when conversation at your next party lags, IP stands for Internet Protocol).

The DNS server simply translates the www.nytimes.com that you typed into your browser to 170.149.168.130 so the Internet can use it to find the Times website for you.

This is all well and good, but so what? Here is so what:

It turns out the server that handles the DNS translation has a big effect on your Internet experience. For example, a slow DNS server can slow the time it takes for each website to appear in your browser. This is because the website you are trying to see won’t send you a copy until it gets your request, and every request must go through the DNS. If the DNS is overloaded, your website will take longer to load.

And the DNS is often overloaded. That’s because your ISP, where your DNS usually resides, has little incentive to speed it up. It’s an invisible part of the  web-surfing process and users have no way to tell if the delay they are experiencing occurs at the DNS, at the website itself, or anyplace in between.

The easy solution to this is to use an external DNS. While it’s not widely publicized outside of corporate IT circles, there are several external DNS services that do a much better job at delivering your website quickly.

The external DNS services provide another benefit: They use a blacklist that flags sites known to contain malware (viruses, etc.) and prevents those sites from loading if you request one. While some ISP DNSs do this also, the external DNS services do a considerably better job.

Best of all, at least for individual users, these services are free.

There are a number of these services available, including one from Google. But the one that is most attuned to individual users with limited technical experience is OpenDNS (http://www.opendns.com). They lead you through the process of using OpenDNS instead of your ISP’s DNS.

Give it a try. Odds are websites will pop up faster using an external DNS. And yes, you can go back to your ISP’s DNS if for any reason you don’t like or don’t feel comfortable with the external DNS.

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