- Google’s public DNS is a great choice for users on a budget.
- DNS servers — or Domain Name Systems — act as a means of routing traffic.
- Not all DNS servers are the same, with some being more specifically geared towards safety and protection than others.
- Some DNS servers allow for faster access to resources on the Web.
DNS providers are abundant in the modern landscape, but there are some different features to note between each. The aim of each DNS provider isn’t geared toward providing the same level of service. As such, before you embark on a subscription plan, you need to determine your own needs.
Now, not all users are going to need an external DNS provider. If you’re a safety-conscious user, you could very easily just work with your ISP’s DNS and go about your usual browsing activities as normal. However, DNS providers offer up services that go beyond just simple connection and allocation. Let’s take a look at the top-rated DNS servers!
- Best for Free Users: Google Public DNS
- Best for Security: Cloudflare 22.214.171.124
- Best for Family and School Filtering: CleanBrowsing
- Best for Stopping Phishing: OpenDNS
- Best for Speed: Quad9
- Best for Gaming: NextDNS
What Is a DNS Server?
So, before diving into the myriad of providers covered over the course of this guide, there is probably one burning question. What exactly is a DNS server? DNS is short for a Domain Name System, and there are multiple functions one can serve on a network.
One of the most common uses is to take a website’s external IP address and translate it to a more user-friendly URL.
For consumer usage, a DNS server acts as a means of routing traffic. You’ll see varied results depending on the DNS server used, but you can have filtered web traffic, clearer connections, and a whole slew of other great features.
Most common network interfaces are going to rely on a DNS to actually connect to an external network. Your internet service provider has one, as an example.
The home router serving as your bridge to the outside world has one it uses for all the devices on your network. It is a crucial component of computer networking, so it does help to at least be aware of them.
Best for Free Users: Google Public DNS
Google Public DNS is completely free to use. If you have a particularly congested DNS when accessing the internet, Google’s DNS is a great option. Using it is fairly simple; you don’t even really need an external subscription or utility.
It’s one of the best DNS servers around and has been tested by users and businesses alike for years now. All you need to do is enter the publically provided DNS addresses to your network adapter’s advanced settings.
How you access this can vary between operating systems, but the general aim is the same. Public DNS doesn’t offer any security functionality, like filtering.
However, if you are privacy-minded, it is a great way to do away with potential intrusions into your network traffic. It is a more advanced option, but very much worth implementing.
Check out Google Public DNS here.
Best for Security: Cloudflare 126.96.36.199
Cloudflare 188.8.131.52 has been associated with security and safety thanks to its vaunted CDN. However, recent developments have led to 184.108.40.206 being made available to the public. 220.127.116.11 is a free product, much like Google’s Public DNS, but is far more beginner-friendly.
Users can opt for entering details on their device’s network settings or downloading a simple app to guide them through the process. 18.104.22.168 is available for iPhone, Mac, Windows, Linux, Android, and multiple other platforms.
The service is free and easy to use, which makes 22.214.171.124 one of the best DNS servers you can use for personal use.
Cloudflare has implemented something called WARP into 126.96.36.199 which is meant to shield your browsing and traffic from your network service provider. This makes it a great alternative to the more expensive VPNs in common usage for privacy needs.
Take a look at Cloudflare 188.8.131.52 here.
Best for Family and School Filtering: CleanBrowsing
CleanBrowsing is the first of the premium DNS services covered in this guide. It is a little more restrictive in terms of filtering malicious domains — a service that isn’t offered by Cloudflare or Google. However, you are limited to the total number of requests per day.
CleanBrowsing is a great choice for schools and families, as it allows for custom-defined filters to prohibit access to malicious or unwanted sites. Users looking to safely restrict the content their children are exposed to without using parental block software could be well served with a subscription.
Parental blocking software can often be bypassed, especially by savvier kids. However, if implemented at a network level, CleanBrowsing is much harder to get around. If you’re after a more secure option for your kids, then CleanBrowsing is one of the best DNS servers to use.
Check out CleanBrowsing here.
Best for Stopping Phishing: OpenDNS
OpenDNS is one of the oldest providers of DNS services around today and one of the best for stopping phishing attacks. There are multiple levels of service available for users. You can opt for the free service, which can readily bypass common malicious and phishing domains.
There is also the Prosumer plan, which protects a personal laptop anywhere it goes. OpenDNS also offers a Home VIP subscription, which offers a wider breadth of service and security. You also get access to usage statistics and custom whitelists when using the Home VIP service.
The flexibility and openness of the platform lead to the service being one of the best DNS servers available.
Check out OpenDNS here.
Best for Speed: Quad9
Quad9 is another solid option for one of the best DNS servers you can use, primarily because of its speed, security, and privacy. Transparency of how it implements security isn’t at the top of Quad9’s perks. However, when you look at the overall speed of how it handles queries, it performs quite well.
Quad9 does lag a bit behind the likes of 184.108.40.206 from Cloudflare but is a great option for users looking for speed and reliability. While it would be nice to know how they’re implementing security measures, you really can’t argue with the results.
Check out Quad9 here.
Best for Gaming: NextDNS
The final provider on the list, and one of the best DNS servers for gaming, is NextDNS, which offers more than just speed. NextDNS is a wider solution for a variety of network issues. You can configure specific blocks for apps, websites, and other materials you don’t want your kids accessing.
It is also supported by all major platforms and works with any web browser you’ll throw at it. As such, NextDNS is a great solution if you’re looking for something that combines security with speed for gaming purposes.
NextDNS offers free and paid tiers in terms of its services. The free component is restricted to 300,000 queries a month. That said, it does offer unlimited devices and whitelists for your network. The paid options are relatively affordable, starting at $1.99 a month for home usage.
The paid component allows for unlimited queries while also allowing you to retain the same flexibility of configuring your DNS.
Take a look at NextDNS here.
How to Choose the Right DNS for You
Most DNS providers are going to be more functionally secure than your ISP’s default option. In some cases, you’ll note an increase in speed. There are a few considerations to keep in mind when looking at a DNS server for your home or business, however.
If you still want to take full advantage of your internet plan’s quoted speed, then it’s important to make sure you pick a DNS server with nimble response times to queries. Cloudflare’s 220.127.116.11 and Quad9 are great options for this.
In many cases, an external DNS server is going to be faster than what your ISP provides. However, you might notice a marked decrease in overall network bandwidth depending on your choice.
Make sure to run speed tests before and after configuring an external DNS to ensure you’re still getting optimal connection strength.
Privacy is one of the chief concerns as to why many users pursue external DNS servers or contract a VPN service. The overall aim is the same, you’re entitled to the privacy of your network traffic.
When you consider the vast amounts of data transmitted through the likes of emails, banking apps, and other sensitive areas, it makes sense to make sure prying eyes don’t have access.
The good news is all of the DNS servers covered over the course of this article are likely more secure than your ISP’s default DNS provider. If you value your privacy, then it really benefits you to use another DNS service.
This is another of the great benefits of using an external DNS server. Blocklists help to mitigate network intrusions and unauthorized access. This can be great for kids, as it can help prevent access to malicious or inappropriate content. As a DNS is at the network level, it can be much harder for a child to bypass.
Network blacklisting and whitelisting are also great for business use, as they can prevent employees from accidentally accessing malicious materials. A common method of phishing relies on convincing a user to click on a link, often disguised as a familiar website.
If you’re using a DNS with custom-configured blocklists, this isn’t as much of a concern. More robust options also allow you to configure access on a machine-by-machine basis, so you’ve got greater granular control over your users.
This operates in a similar fashion to whitelisting and blacklisting on a network level. However, it can be set up without the need for a trained network engineer.
Using a DNS: What It’s Like
Using an external DNS server isn’t any different than most ways you’ll access the web. Functionally, you’re changing the access point of how data is transmitted. This shouldn’t have any bearing on the actual end-user experience, however.
Many users will note improved network response times, as some external DNS servers allow for faster access to resources on the web.
A good DNS server will make it so you don’t even know there is something working in the background to safeguard your data and optimize your query times.
So, should you use an external DNS server? In all honesty, there are only benefits when it comes to using DNS servers. You get more secure access, better query times, and can dictate the flow of traffic.
As such, it is definitely worth at least testing the Google Public DNS or Cloudflare’s 18.104.22.168 to see how they work for you.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©Mopic/Shutterstock.com.