Google now offers a free DNS service. Will it affect my wireless home
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
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 126.96.36.199 – 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.
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.
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:
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.