Speed Up Your Web Browsing In A Few Clicks: A Brief Introduction To DNS

Every millisecond counts when you're browsing the web, and if you'd like to eke a bit more speed out of your internet connection, you can change your DNS server to make those pages load a bit faster. Here's a brief introduction to what DNS is, how it affects your connection speed, and how you can easily change your computer's settings to use the fastest DNS possible.

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What Is DNS and How Does It Influence My Internet Speed?

Computers use IP addresses to connect to one another. IP addresses are a series of numbers that act as digital addresses that allow computers to send information back and forth. Those long strings of numbers are easy for computers to remember, but human beings aren't made to store long strings of digits. We are, however, really good at remembering names. That's where DNS comes in.

When you type a web address in your browser, your computer routes that the domain address through what's called a Domain Name System (DNS) and turns, for example, the human-friendly web address http://www.lifehacker.com.au into a computer-friendly IP address, like 111.118.164.82. Essentially, DNS is what allows you to use easy-to-remember site URLs — like "lifehacker.com.au" — rather than memorise a bunch of IP address.

Every internet service provider usually has their own DNS server, but it's not always be the fastest. Often, the fastest DNS server is the one that's physically closest to your location. If you switch to a faster one, that means it looks up those IP addresses and gets you where you want to go faster than before. It may not seem like a lot, but when a page has to load things from a handful of different sources — like, say, advertisements or videos — it can add up.

Third-party DNS servers can also have other perks, like content filtering. We've talked about alternate DNS servers before, like OpenDNS and Google Public DNS, but if you want to find out which one's right for you, you can do so with a simple program.

How to Determine and Set Up the Fastest DNS Server for Your Connection

On Windows: You can change Windows' DNS settings deep in the Control Panel, but the free DNS Jumper makes it a lot easier:

  1. Download DNS Jumper, and extract it to any location on your hard drive. It's a portable application, so there's no need to install it — just start it up.
  2. If you know what DNS server you want to use, pick it from the drop-down menu or type it in the boxes at the bottom. If not, hit the "Fastest DNS" button on the left. It'll check a number of different servers to find out which one is the fastest for you.
  3. When it's done, click the "Apply DNS Servers" button to use the fastest server.

Sometimes, your ISP's default DNS server really is the fastest, but other times, it could be something else, so even if it ends up being the ones you already use, it was still worth running the test to find out. When you're done, you can delete the app or file it away for future use.

On OS X: If you're on a Mac, you can try a utility like previously mentioned Namebench. It isn't quite as fast as the Windows alternative, and you'll still have to apply your DNS settings manually, but it works:

  1. Download Namebench and start it up. Again, you don't need to install, just double click on it to run it.
  2. Make sure the top two checkboxes are checked, and choose your location from the "Your Location" dropdown menu. Then, hit the "Start" button to run the test.
  3. Once Namebench returns a result, mark down the IP addresses it lists and head to System Preferences > Network. Choose your network connection from the left (AirPort if you use Wi-Fi, Ethernet if you use Ethernet), and hit Advanced. Go to the DNS tab.
  4. If the IP addresses in the left pane are different than the ones Namebench found, select them and hit the minus sign below them. Then, click the plus sign to add new servers. Use the two IP addresses that Namebench came up with, and then close System Preferences.

Again, you may find thatyou're already using the fastest DNS server, but if you're not, this can give your web browsing a minor speed boost.

This process won't make your internet twice as fast or anything, of course. If your internet's slow as molasses, it'll probably still be pretty slow after this, but it should shave a small bit of time when loading pages—and us internet junkies know, a few milliseconds can make a difference.


Comments

    But the cost of alternate DNS servers is using more of your quota quicker.

    Most Australian ISPs have a Freezone or equivalent, where some content is not counted to your caps.

    If you don't use their DNS server then not only is some data counted instead of being free, in many cases you can't access the special content which is the reason many people choose a specific ISP.

      This is pretty irrelevant, at least for me, since i dont use any of my ISP's unmetered stuff except for my linux box's repo mirror, which doesnt require the use of their DNS servers to be unmetered anyway.

    What about using a browser that intelligently precaches DNS lookups in the background? Chrome does this very effectively, essentially eliminating all foreground delays when clicking between pages.

    Seems like a small thing, but makes a huge difference to the user experience.

    Also using services such as OpenDNS and GoogleDNS can bork some location aware services such as Akami (who provide the services of youtube). Akami may think your location is in a different country and provide you with an efficient server for that country but not your own. You saved a millisecond on the DNS lookup but lost seconds with a slower regional server.

      That may be true, however it may allow you access to content which is limited in your Location.

    Is there an iOS utility that has this functionality?

    Ive been using OpenDNS for a long time now, used namebench to benchmark it on my Linux box. Changing your DNS can make a big difference to your DNS lookups and requests, but not only that, it can also mean you dont have to deal with downtime from your ISP's DNS servers, such as telstra's, which are well known for being rubbish.

    I switched from telstra's servers to opendns and saw a 130ms reduction in request time and thats per request, which adds up a lot if you use the net as much as i do each day.

    Also, note to the author of the post, namebench is for Linux as well.

    I can also recommend Steve Gibson's (GRC) DNS Benchmark for some solid DNS testing https://www.grc.com/dns/benchmark.htm

    what effect does this have on ps3 gaming?

    So does this mean changing my website's nameserver will boost it's loading time?

    Instantly quicker pages, download speed slashed. Ouch. Thanks.

    Sorry but a lot of tests have been done on this since Open DNS and Google DNS got a but of notice a while ago. Everyone got excited until someone actually bothered to test the difference between their ISP DNS servers and external DNS servers. Everyone went back to their ISP DNS because in all but very rare occasions, all failed the test over the local ISP DNS servers.

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