Helping people with computers... one answer at a time.

Google has begun offering DNS services. I'll look at what that is, why that is, and whether or not it's worth your looking into.

Google now offers a free DNS service. Will it affect my wireless home system?

Since Google DNS is something you have to choose to use, it won't affect you if you don't use it. I know that's obvious to some, but Google's quite big and mysterious to many people so I just wanted to make that clear up front.

And for most people I actually expect that you won't elect to use Google DNS, and that's just fine.

If you do use it, it has nothing to do with your "wireless" system or not - it's a service that would affect any computers on which you choose to enable it, or on all computers that connect to the internet through your Google DNS enabled router.

I'll review what it is, how it compares to the other replacement DNS service "Open DNS", and why you might want to use it. I'll also touch on how to make the switch if you decide that you want to do so.

"DNS" is short for "Domain Name System" or "Domain Name Service". That's the service that takes a domain name that you can read and remember - like "ask-leo.com" - and turns it into the IP address - like 72.32.63.173 - that's actually used when computers communicate with each other on the internet.

It's a big deal because as you browse the internet every single one of those domain names that you might look at needs to be looked up. And while when you view a page such as this one you might see only one domain name - the ask-leo.com at the top - in reality there may be dozens of additional domain names used to fetch all of the content you see on the page, each of those requiring a DNS lookup.

"... in reality there may be dozens of additional domain names used to fetch all of the content you see on the page ..."

Normally when you connect to the internet your ISP provides, as part of setting up the connection, the IP address of a DNS server to use. Essentially the ISP is telling your computer or router "when you need to perform a DNS look-up, ask the DNS server at this IP address". (Typically, it actually provides two or three servers for redundancy.)

The Google DNS service is simply a replacement for your ISP's provided DNS service.

Why would you want to us it?

In a nutshell: speed and reliability.

DNS servers are something that ISPs have always had to provide, but because it's not a huge selling point or "sexy" feature, they're occasionally some of the least looked after services around. I've heard (admittedly questionable) stories of ISPs with lots of great hardware for web services and internet connectivity who provide DNS for all their customers with a single old neglected PC sitting on a shelf somewhere.

In short, sometimes ISP provided DNS services have problems.

Google, having a massive and massively distributed technological infrastructure, is in a perfect position to provide exceptionally high quality DNS services around the globe.

We can't talk about alternate DNS services without mentioning OpenDNS. OpenDNS has been doing exactly the same thing as Google is now offering for some time. OpenDNS provides a set of DNS servers that you can use instead of those of your ISP. They've also placed incredible emphasis on reliability and speed.

There's one important difference between Google's offering and that of OpenDNS.

At the technical level, OpenDNS never fails a DNS lookup. If you attempt to go to a URL that doesn't exist you will instead get an OpenDNS page that explains that the URL doesn't exist, and includes search results on the terms.

Google will fail the lookup of a non-existent domain.

Many people feel that OpenDNS's approach is highly improper. I won't get into the social / business / whatever implications, but I will touch on one specific situation that I run into all the time.

ping some-nonexistent-domain

Using OpenDNS:

Pinging some-nonexistent-domain.com [208.67.216.132] with 32 bytes of data:

Reply from 208.67.216.132: bytes=32 time=12ms TTL=58
...

The DNS lookup succeeded - but the IP address is that of the OpenDNS server that - were this a web page request - would display the information about the domain not being found.

Using Google DNS:

Ping request could not find host some-nonexistent-domain.com. Please check the name and try again.

Depending on your needs this can be an important distinction, and to many people Google's doing it "right".

So how do you use Google's DNS?

Rather than duplicating the information here, Google has a page detailing the steps required here: Using Google Public DNS (also available there as a PDF download).

Here are some important notes and cautions about the process:

  • Write down your old DNS settings before you enter the Google DNS settings. The instructions will take you to the specific places where you'll find them, but the key here is to remember what they were, so that should you ever need to undo the switch, you can.

  • If you're behind a router, you can make the change on the router. This affects all machines connected to that router with a single change.

  • You can change individual machines, necessary if you're not behind a router. This change takes place in the Network TCP/IP settings for the network interface you're using.

But as I said, the Google provided instructions go into this in more detail.

Bottom line: should you use Google DNS?

Unless you have a reason or an interest: probably not. For most people it's clearly a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".

On the other hand, if you do experience DNS issues with the services provided by your ISP, or you have other reasons to believe that the service is slower than it needs to be, then it's definitely worth giving it a try.

As I am, right now.

Article C3948 - December 12, 2009 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

19 Comments
Mark
December 13, 2009 7:13 AM

With my current dns whenever I mistype a URL I get a page asking me if I want to buy that URL. Is that page a result of my dns routing? If so I'll consider changing to Google DNS as I really hate that.

Maybe. It's certainly something that can be done, but more common is that someone actually bought and registered the typo domain so it actually exists - as a page offering to sell it. In this later case DNS has nothing to do with it.
Leo
14-Dec-2009

Clifford
December 13, 2009 8:25 AM

The day Google DNS was out, I switched. Probably the placebo effect, but I thought page responses were faster. By the third day, I separated 3 hours to deal with a decidedly slower PC, and I am talking about a 4MB cable system, Win 7 Ultimate,8GB RAM, etc.
Found Namebench here http://code.google.com/p/namebench/
It checks your existing DNS and others to let you know the fastest ones. Changed the values in the router and done. You can find instructions here, JIC: http://www.opendns.com/support/category/2

Hope this helps someone with a Molasses PC.

Turns out my ISP was fastest and then it list 2 more. My PC is flying. Response rates are the best I have ever seen.

For those inclined, suggest you invest @ 20 minutes. It was worth my time.

Mark
December 13, 2009 9:47 AM

I just answered my own question. Those ads that offer to sell the url come when you type in a URL registered to s squatter who buys lots of urls in hopes some migh turn out to be of value to a company later.

Dennis Arter
December 15, 2009 8:48 AM

Steve Gibson (the Spin Rite guy) has a wonderful little 175K stand-alone program to perform DNS benchmarks: http://www.grc.com/dns/benchmark.htm

It is extremely easy to use and offers advice on how to get a secure and fast connection.

Tom Clark
December 15, 2009 9:53 AM

Open DNS works just great for me performance wise, and especially security wise. It easily allows blocking of specific categories of web sites, blocking of specific web sites, as well as enabling of specific web sites when the category has been blocked.

I have found their categorization of web sites to be useful and correct - so it relieves some security concerns.

AND if I had youngsters at home, this could easily be another tool for "parent managed" access - all by selecting different options in the Open DNS Dashboard.

Open DNS rocks

Clifford
December 15, 2009 10:38 AM

Dennis, big fan of GRC, so tried DNS Benchmark. Turns out one of the name servers was NOT working. Name Bench didn't point that out.

Thanks.

Joakim Lauridsen
December 15, 2009 12:10 PM

I'm pretty sure OpenDNS has the option to turn off the feature Leo describes about not failing a lookup. I havn't done it, because I find it helpfull while browsing

Rich Deem
December 15, 2009 3:54 PM

I use OpenDNS servers for my router, coupled with my account settings, which blocks out all the nasty stuff (obviously optional - you are free to keep it if you like).

mrogi
December 15, 2009 4:46 PM

OpenDNS enjoys the best DNS servers alive, dead or yet to be born. They do chicken right.

Johnny
December 15, 2009 9:49 PM

After read of Open DNS ......
JUST CONFUSED !
so many trams which I really don't know about,
I really don't know what's talking about....
Sorry..

Ravi Agrawal
December 15, 2009 10:03 PM

Slightly offtopic, but installing a DNS server on your own PC does help a lot. It saves you the process of looking up the same DNS query again and again.

Try Treewalker DNS : http://ntcanuck.com/

Ravi.

John Castle
December 20, 2009 12:53 PM

I'm living in a room where I work. My internet connection goes thru my employer's intranet access. I'm blocked from an awful lot of site for whatever reason, such as "social networking" sites. If I used the Google DNS, would that bypass the blocks on my employers intranet?

Thanks.

jc

Probably not. There are many ways to block content - DNS is just one, and not even the most common. But you can give it a try.
Leo
21-Dec-2009
Charles Tilley
December 27, 2009 3:25 PM

Personally, I don't know about the service that Google is offering, but I wouldn't have it if it was given to me. Google spies on people, on forums where you feel safe to express your opinion, your responses often end up as web page links. How many of you know that? I didn't for a long, long time. I was asked on a forum if I posted THIS, THIS and THIS (all underlined). I clicked onto the links and sure enough, they were my posts. I asked the person who was following me around. He posted a link for me, saying this was his friend. The link was GOOGLE. I'll never knowingly use any Google product again, after they posted my (what I thought was) confidential posts for the world to see.

gurpreet singh
February 26, 2010 9:41 AM

what difference makes configuring DNS server with stattic ip address rather than DHCP server.
Thanks
Rinks

Brittany Brown
June 26, 2010 5:43 AM

Not related to the original topic, but I do want to reply to Charles Tilley and say that whatever you post on a publicly visible forum is always going to show up on a search engine that crawls that site, whether you like it or not. If you can VIEW the forum without signing in, so can Google. That is not private information.

Now if it were a private forum and Google crawled it, the most they can see is a few key words in the search result, if that.

But fact of the matter is, Google's search engine does what it's intended to do. It crawls the web looking for all the text in all of the websites for quick key word reference whenever you do a web search. That's just a fact of life, and I'm sure you'll find out that Bing, Yahoo! and Ask.com ALL do the same thing. They're not following you, but know that anything you post online is permanent and someone somewhere knows about it. Always. There is no such thing as online privacy.

Thu Win
March 25, 2012 7:52 AM

Another DNS service is Norton DNS (http://www.nortondns.com)

megan
August 10, 2012 8:49 AM

To Brittany Brown:

I suppose Gmail advertising flights to Britain moments after I send an email to a student about applying to Oxford is okay too? And you'll say, "That was in the (ever-changing) privacy policy." When is a privacy policy (or any other policy) not a policy? When it changes without notice to one of the parties...but is said to be binding nonetheless. I'm sure Leo knows all about this, having worked at MS. Shouldn't the users also be allowed to create flexible policies? Rats.

tj
September 18, 2012 12:21 PM

Hey Megan,

If you're so concerned about Gmail's advertisements, perhaps it's time you pay for email service. Ads generate revenue and well, Gmail isn't free for Google to provide.

Mitch
October 26, 2012 2:26 AM

Perfect!
Are you getting commission from these arrogant Google Monopoly drivers?

Otherwise, what makes you say; "Since Google is something you have to use"???

Good grief, there is so much other stuff out there, I don't need to use this shit Google at all, no matter how hard they push to control the entire universe? Google can go to hell and all it's supportes can go with it!

I didn't say you have to use Google. What I said was that you have to CHOOSE to use it. If you don't want to use it, don't make that choice.
Leo
26-Oct-2012

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