Best DNS Server 2021
A Domain Name System (DNS) is like the Yellow Pages for the internet. When you type a website address into your web browser, the DNS searches for the IP address so that you can visit your favourite sites in a matter of milliseconds. We hardly ever think about what’s going on behind the scenes when we’re online, but it’s the DNS servers that are doing the heavy lifting so that we can enjoy the perks of the internet.
DNS servers are machines that answer DNS queries, converting web addresses into numbers to retrieve information quickly. In this review, we will look at speed, user experience, privacy and features, and tell you what the best DNS servers on the market in 2021 are! The best thing is: they’re all free!
What's on This Page
What is a DNS server?
When you own a website you register your domain name with a hosting company before you can start building your pages. Once you do this, your domain name has to be translated into something readable and technologically friendly. Enter DNS servers – A DNS server matches domain names with IP addresses. This means when you type www.google.com, a DNS server works to find the numerical code associated with that domain, so that you can access the information. Who knew so much was going on behind the scenes?!
How does a DNS server work?
Every single device connected to the internet has its own IP address. DNS servers sort through a directory of IP addresses and domain names to inform how the domain names portray the IP addresses. The DNS directory though isn’t all located in one place, the directory is distributed worldwide via DNS servers which all communicate with each other to update and identify redundancies.
When you type in a web address, your computer makes a request to a recursive DNS server, aka a recursive resolver. The recursive resolver is usually run by an internet service provider that then contacts the DNS servers required to identify the name of a site. The servers that store the needed information are called authoritative DNS servers.
Why us a DNS server?
While DNS servers are working behind the scenes to ensure the internet is working the way it’s supposed to, DNS servers can also help you in your day-to-day digital activities. These servers allow you to block access to sites on your home or work network. This can be used to add parental controls at home or restrict inappropriate content at work. DNS servers can also help you avoid censorship.
Government censorship is often carried out by blocking sites through your internet provider’s DNS, so if you change the DNS server that you use, you may be able to access restricted content. As people and organizations become more concerned about their online security, DNS servers also offer added controls. By ensuring that all queries use a specific DNS server, organizations are better able to protect themselves against cyber-attacks.
Top 5 Rated DNS Servers
Best for Privacy and Performance
Cloudflare’s free app DNS service is called 220.127.116.11 and boasts a passion for privacy, performance and community.
Cloudflare’s 18.104.22.168’s objective is to make your internet safer and more secure. “22.214.171.124 with WARP replaces the connection between your device and the Internet with a modern, optimized, protocol,” the site says. With privacy and community at its core, this server hopes to help you take more control of your internet activity.
This company promises to never use your browsing data to inform ads and it says that your IP address will never be written to disk. It also promises that any information stored will be deleted within 24 hours.
By having regular security audits done by KPMG, with the results being published publicly, the company wants you to know how committed they are to privacy and data governance. On their website they say, “we believe privacy is a right. We won’t sell your data, ever.”
Cloudflare regularly outperforms its competitors and has been called one of the fastest public DNS servers around. So if you want to increase your internet speed and never wait for a page to load again, this could be the right option for you.
Visual Analytics and Customization Options
The platform allows you to visualize analytics, DNS, firewall, speed, network and traffic and allows some customization. The analytics come with very detailed reports that cover cache effectiveness, bandwidth usage and threats blocked.
This product gives you a lot of bang for your buck! It’s also pretty easy to use. If you need help getting it set up there are easy to follow tutorials on the website, making it palatable for less technically savvy customers. If you find you’re still having issues, Cloudflare has a community forum where users can learn from each other and ask questions.
Google Public DNS
Best for experienced users
Google warns on its support site that this product is for “users who are proficient with configuring operating system settings[…],” so beginners beware!
The main benefit with this product is the name behind it, Google. They are a massive company, so that they can commit resources to ensuring that their DNS servers are fast, stable and reliable.
When you use a Google product, you are using a product with a massive number of resources behind it and can expect a certain level of quality. Google’s public DNS server has many privacy features and a brand going for it – but it’s not meant for beginners!
Google’s public DNS stores information about your operations and could be shared with a third party. That said, the security is decent, but doesn’t quite standup to Cloundflare. The system keeps a log of IP address information from the querying device (your device) for up to two days for troubleshooting. They say that permanent logs don’t store personal identifiable information and location details are not specific.
No Site Blocking or Filtering
Google has admitted that their public DNS does not block or filter, as a matter of fact, it doesn’t even block malware sites – so if that’s a security feature that’s important to you, you’ll have to give this one a skip.
Performance Unaffected by High Traffic
Google can support a high volume of traffic and uses large caches and load balances to make sure that it can resolve queries quickly and efficiently. It will also never redirect ads to you if an URL you type in doesn’t exist.
Future Proof Servers – IPv6 Address Support
Another perk of using a DNS Server by a massive brand like Google, their server is future proof and can handle queries from IPv6-only networks even if your destination is IPv4-only.
To start using this DNS server, all you have to do is replace your default DNS with their primary and secondary servers: 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52.
Best for blocking ads
AdGuard DNS is known for blocking annoying ads in games, videos, apps and web pages. While they’re known for this feature, it doesn’t stop there – they also block malware and phishing websites; and like Google, support IPv6.
Whether you’re looking for a DNS server to block ads or add family protection features to your network, AdGuard DNS has you covered.
Easy to Set Up and Use
The free server is easy to use and set up and will block ads throughout your entire system. The filters update regularly to ensure that most, if not all, ads are blocked.
Strong Blocking Feature
The server doesn’t only block ads, but it also blocks inappropriate content for minors and malware and phishing websites to ensure that your online experience is uninterrupted and that your data is protected.
When you use AdGuard DNS, any ad requests sent to your device gets met with an empty response. This is a version of ghosting we could get behind!
Best for a growing business
OpenDNS is one of the oldest names in the game! The DNS server is owned by Cisco and has gained notoriety in the DNS server space.
Like Google, OpenDNS has its name to fall back on, but continues to deliver a solid product that offers blocking of phishing sites, high speeds and access controls for your network.
While there are free DNS servers available, OpenDNS also offers a paid home package that provides stats and analytics for $19.95/ year.
They also have OpenDNS Umbrella Prosumer (OUP), a product for people who want to protect their devices while roaming outside of their home network. This costs $20/user and will cover up to 5 users with 3 devices each.
Site Blocking Feature
This DNS server lets you rest assured that your family is protected by allowing you to block adult content. This particular feature is pre-configured, but the filter can be customized once you sign up for the OpenDNS Home plan, which is also free.
Data and Analytics for Paid Plans
If you’re into stats and data, the server gives you an in-depth look at your browsing, blocked content and threats on the VIP and OUP plans.
The server supports DNS-over-HTTPs (DoH) which is a protocol that encrypts DNS traffic by passing queries through a Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure encrypted session, essentially hiding queries.
This is a relatively easy DNS server to navigate, and the dashboard is simple to follow. The more advanced OUP version is designed for small businesses who want more control over their devices while they are roaming outside of their home network.
Best for Censorship Free
DNS.WATCH is passionate about transparency and freedom. They describe their purpose as making the internet safe, accessible and secure for everyone.
No Data Logging
This company is focused on transparency and guarantees that none of your personal information will be stored on their servers, and none of your data will be logged on their resolvers.
They offer live statistics on their DNS servers so that you can check up on their progress regularly.
The company is after a more accessible and open internet, and so this server offers DNS neutrality, meaning it does not censor content.
On the flip side, if you’re concerned about phishing, malware or cyber attacks, this DNS server doesn’t protect against any of these, so you’ll want to find another platform or get a secondary software to address these concerns.
Our Rating Process
We looked at the DNS servers on the market, and evaluated them based on speed, user experience, features and privacy. We scored them each out of 5 points to help you in your decision process.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Changing your DNS server might be slightly different, depending on your device and operating system. To find out how to change your DNS server, search the exact instructions for your device and OS. An example of how to change your DNS server on Windows 10 is below:
- Access Control Panel
- Click Network and Internet > Network and Sharing Center > Change adapter settings
- Select the connection you want to configure your DNS to
- Click Networking tab
- Click Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) or Internet Protocol Version 6
- Click Properties
- Click Advanced
- Select DNS tab, remove IP addresses (write them down for future reference)
- Click OK
- Click Use the following DNS server addresses (write down addresses in there for future reference)
- Replace DNS addresses
Changing your DNS server can increase speed when it comes to the amount of time that it takes to resolve a domain name. This can affect how long it takes a webpage to load or respond. However, a DNS server will not speed up your internet connection, meaning your upload and download speed will remain the same.
Depending on your computer and operating system, the process to clear your DNS cache will be slightly different. Here is an example on how to perform the task on Microsoft Windows:
- Click Start
- Click Run
- Type cmd
- Press Enter
- When you see the command prompt type ipconfig/flushdns