DNS Server Explained and How to Customize Yours For Better Internet

Cloudflare's public DNS server's address is quite easy to remember.
Cloudflare’s public DNS server’s address is quite easy to remember.

Domain name system, or DNS, is the gateway to the Internet. It’s so essential that Internet giants want you to use their DNS servers, for free.

For years Google has been offering the popular 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4 addresses. In April 2018, Cloudflare joined the game with a new public server that promises faster speed, better security, and is even easier to remember at 1.1.1.1.

DNS Explained

A DNS server is like a public directory of the Internet. Here’s a typical example of the role it plays:

Whenever you access a website, such as dongknows.com — which, by the way, is a domain name — the browser, like Chrome or Firefox, first query your DNS server.

This server then translates the website’s domain name (a.k.a. web address or URL) into an IP address — a string of seemingly random numbers — and gives that back to the browser. The browser then follows that IP address to load the website.

This process is necessary because computers only understand numbers while humans are pretty bad at remembering them. It’s similar to a telephone directory service where you only need to remember a person’s name and not their phone number.

That said, the faster a DNS server is, the less time you need to wait to reach a website, resulting in a “faster” Internet experience. Most importantly, as you can imagine, the server owner, among other things, can easily have a log of what websites you visit, block you from accessing specific sites, and so on.

In short, a DNS server can impact the speed, privacy, and security of your online life.

By default, your DNS is that of your Internet provider, which gets the job done but not necessarily the best. Changing DNS settings allow you a bit more control over your Internet access and can even free you from censorship.

That’s true! While traveling to certain countries, I’ve been able to access what wasn’t available at the local area just by using a different DNS server.

Considering how vital DNS is, make sure you use servers from trustworthy parties.

How to change your DNS

You can change the DNS server settings at a device level (such as a computer) or the router level.

The former works well for mobile users since the DNS settings remain the same no matter where the user is. The latter is useful for the entire network hosted by the router: all devices, by default, will automatically share the DNS settings of the router.

Pro tip: You should only change the DNS at the device level when Internet access is all you care about, which is the case in most homes. If you use a special local network, such as one with a domain controller, you should leave the DNS of the device to be managed by the network’s DNS server or the router — modifying them manually might cause certain local services to stop working.

Below are the steps to change DNS server settings.

READ NOW:  Trend Micro Home Network Security Review: Get an Asus Router!

Steps to change DNS server settings in Windows 10

Steps to change DNS server settings on a Windows computer. (Click for GIF).
Steps to change DNS server settings on a Windows computer. (Click for GIF).
  1. Click on the Start button (lower-left corner) then type in ncpa.cpl in the search field then press Enter. The Network Connections window will appear.
  2. Pick the network connection you’re using — if you’re on a laptop it’s likely the Wi-Fi connection — and right-click on it, then choose Properties.
  3. In the Properties window, double click on Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4)
  4. In the next window, check the Use the following DNS server addresses box and enter the addresses for the Preferred DNS server (you can use 1.1.1.1 here) and Alternate DNS Server (you can use 8.8.8.8 here).
  5. Repeat step 3, but this time double click Internet Protocol Version 6 (TCP/IPv6) if you have that information, (if not you can skip this step). Then click on OK to close the windows and apply the changes.

Steps to change DNS server settings on a Mac

Steps to change the DNS server settings on a Mac. (Click for GIF).
Steps to change the DNS server settings on a Mac. (Click for GIF).
  1. Click on the Apple icon (top left corner), then on System Preferences, and then on the Network icon.
  2. Select the current network connection (it’s likely the Wi-Fi connection if you’re using a notebook) then click on Advanced…
  3. Click on the DNS tab
  4. Use the plus (+) button under DNS Servers to enter the addresses of your liking. For example, you can use 1.1.1.1 for the first server and 8.8.8.8 for the second one.

Steps to change DNS server settings on a router

Use the step below to change the DNS servers of the routers’ Internet connection, which is different from those used for the local network.

(You should change the latter — generally found in the LAN section of the interface — when you want the router to dictate which DNS server all connected device to use. That’s applicable only when you have a special network, such as one with a domain controller or one with a separate DNS server.)

Steps to change DNS servers on an Asus router.
Steps to change the Internet-related DNS servers on an Asus router.
  1. Log in to the router’s web interface.
  2. Navigate to the WAN (or Internet) section of the interface; every router has this section.
  3. Choose to enter DNS server addresses manually (basically, you want to disable the default value that lets the router automatically pick the service provider’s DNS servers).
  4. Enter the DNS addresses of your liking, such as 1.1.1.1 for the primary server and 8.8.8.8 for the secondary (backup) server.
  5. Apply the changes.

The takeway

Considering the significant role of your DNS servers, again, make sure you pick one you can trust when you change the values manually. When in doubt, leave the setting as Auto, and the system will use the default, which generally is that of your Internet provider.

Changing the DNS setting is also a popular way to “hack” a system. In this case, the bad guys capture your DNS requests to send you to phony destinations or services. That said, make sure you’re aware of your DNS settings, especially at the router’s level.

Leave a comment below. (Subject to approval. No spam or profanity, please!)