The Best Free DNS Servers For a Faster 2020
In 2020, it’s more important than ever to have speedy, reliable internet on all of your devices. Unfortunately, plenty of internet service providers don’t allow you to upgrade your internet speed without jumping through some major hoops. Even if you manage to raise your speeds, you’ll often find yourself paying an arm and a leg for what should be considered standard internet speeds. While many countries around the world supply customers with gigabit internet speeds, plenty of urban, suburban, and rural communities in North America are stuck with sub-10 megabit download connections.
If you’re looking to turbocharge your internet use throughout 2020 and beyond, one of the best ways to speed up your internet without relying on your ISP is by changing your DNS server. By modifying your DNS, or Domain Name System, servers, you can make sure your internet connection is set to be the fastest in the neighborhood. Your DNS server may be at fault for causing slow internet speeds and terrible response time when attempting to load a web page, so it’s important to make sure you’re using the best system available in order to achieve the fastest speeds on the web today. For a quick explainer on DNS servers, along with our top picks for the best free DNS options available on the web today, read on. We’ll make sure your browsing is at its fastest everyday throughout the next decade.
DNS Servers Explained
Before we dive into what you should look for in the best free DNS server, it’s important to know what they’re used for and what is and isn’t a quality free DNS server. After all, you don’t want to go out of your way to upgrade your DNS server when it isn’t going to help improve your speeds, and if you don’t know what to look for, you’ll be stuck with a terrible—or even unsafe—server tracking your information. If you’re unfamiliar with a DNS server, it refers to the Domain Name Service that essentially powers the internet, working like a phone book for the entirety of public web pages, allowing you to go from on location on the web to another when typing in an address. Your DNS server links an IP address with a domain name, so that instead of typing in a basic server address, which consists of a series of two or three digit numbers in a row, you can simply type in a web address like “techjunkie.com” in order to arrive in the proper location in your browser.
Of course, when translating the information from written word over to a standard IP address that your computer and your browser can understand, a slow DNS server can cause your browser to take additional seconds to load the information. If you’ve ever noticed a small message in your browser alerting you to the fact that your page is waiting for the server to load your information, that means your DNS server is having difficulty connecting to the information it needs to translate the page into a form that your browser can read. Most ISPs use their own DNS servers to load your information, but the quality and speed of these can vary greatly when it comes to loading your information. The good news, of course, is that there are a ton of public DNS servers not owned by your ISP, but rather, by other giant entities like Google, OpenDNS, DNSWatch, and other companies and organizations trying to make sure that your internet speed is as fast as possible.
There are three main qualities which influence how fast a DNS server is during everyday use:
- The speed and location of the server itself. This can vary by your geographic distance to and from the server, as the farther data has to travel to go to and from a server, the slower it will be to load on your phone, tablet, or computer.
- The business and reliability of your DNS server. If you think of the internet like a highway system—it’s called the information highway for a reason—then you can imagine that a server can get bogged down with traffic during the busiest times of the day. Your server is like a business, and during “rush hour” when everyone is attempting to get to and from that “business,” you’ll find that retrieving data from that server is overall slower than it otherwise would be. This is a problem with every DNS server, and it doesn’t end with the DNS server provided by your ISP. The major problem comes when you find your connection is always under load, always in a hypothetical “rush hour.” Basically, your DNS server shouldn’t be Los Angeles—and if it is, it’s time you move.
- Whether your domain has been cached by the server or not. Basically, if the site you’re trying to visit is constantly visited by other users, there’s a good chance that the site loads faster than an average website. That said, if your favorite websites haven’t been cached by your server, then you may run into trouble when trying to load those web pages frequently.
The speed of your DNS server, along with the distance and how clustered the server is at any given moment, influences how quickly it can find the matching IP address for your web address. As with any server, a busy DNS server will take far longer to process your request, creating a feeling of unreliability and frustration when browsing the web daily. That’s why using a publicly available DNS server can improve your surfing experience.
How public DNS improves your surfing experience
When you plug your modem and router into your home internet connection, your device automatically connects to a default DNS server in order to ensure you can browse the internet as you see fit. Of course, since you’re plugging your device into your ISP’s internet connection, your router chooses the DNS server offered by your ISP, which can often be unreliable. Using a public DNS server doesn’t quite hide your internet activity from your ISP—you’ll need to use a VPN for that—but it can make your browsing experience a little more enjoyable when using the web.
Unlike private DNS servers owned by your ISP, public DNS servers are purpose-built to perform a single job: matching domain names with IP addresses, in order to return your information from the web as fast as possible. Companies like Google are capable of hosting large server farms dedicated to offering nothing but DNS services. Other public DNS organizations, like OpenDNS and SmartViper, are capable of holding similar setups on their own server farms, all designed to give you the fastest possible surfing experience daily.
And of course, using public DNS also increases your own security when browsing. DNS servers are susceptible to attacks like denial of service (or DDOS) and cache poisoning, making it possible for your internet service to be brought down with just a few attacks on your server from rogue forces around the world. Public DNS servers, meanwhile, while also being susceptible to the same types of attacks, can often use filters and other blocks to avoid these assaults on their servers, offering the user another protection while online.
This is a significant benefit when you consider the increased sophistication and power of such attacks, and it makes using publicly available DNS servers a no-brainer over the servers supplied by your ISP. Finally, if you live somewhere with online internet monitoring (which takes place in much of the world, to a certain extent), using a public DNS server can, in some cases, circumvent aspects of those privacy concerns. Certain countries control DNS servers in order to restrict what citizens can see online. Changing DNS servers may allow you to avoid such restrictions, though since your ISP may still be able to see the web address you visited, it may not allow you to get away with it without any problems.
So, with that explainer out of the way, let’s take a look at what public DNS servers you should and shouldn’t use. These are our favorite public options on the web today, known for supplying impressive speeds and solid reliability. Changing your DNS server depends on you logging into your router or modem settings, finding the DNS server entry field, and editing the IPv4 addresses in order to access the newer options. It’s a fairly simple procedure, so you’ll definitely want to look into changing our your DNS server with one of the options listed below. This is our top five list for the best public DNS servers on the web today, to make your browsing speed increase for the rest of this year and well into next.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Google’s public DNS offering happens to be one of our favorite alternatives on the market today. As a completely free option available to users around the globe, it’s backed by some of the best in technology today, with Google handling the back-end of the technology as brilliantly as ever. First launched in 2009, Google advertises their own DNS service as a way to make the web faster and more secure for users around the world, and so far, they’re doing a damn great job. With more than 400 billion requests per day in 2014 alone—and certainly more since then—Google happens to host the largest and most capable DNS server online today by far.
For example, Google can’t use temporary or permanent information from their DNS server in correlation with information from your Google searches to sell advertisements, making it one of Google’s most secure platform offerings. As far as circumventing any blocks in your country, Google made national news years ago when their DNS server was blocked in Turkey, following citizens using the platform to access Twitter in their country.
What about speed, you ask? Great question. The truth is that Google’s DNS servers happen to be faster than any other of the servers we tested, and it’s largely due to the amount of money Google has to put behind building large server farms to focus on DNS alone. Seriously, you have to try Google’s servers to see the speed increase—we were noticing several seconds faster loading time in some cases, specifically during heavy traffic days. This was an impressive service, especially for free, and it makes it our top pick among other servers. Google has published loads of data and scientific findings about their increased speed and efficiency when it comes to their DNS service, so if you’re interested in the nitty-gritty of technical capabilities, check that out here.
Google’s IPv4 addresses for their service is 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11; changing the IPv4 addresses on your router or modem to those options will allow your device to connect to Google’s servers rather than your ISP. It’s easy enough to try out and switch back from, and Google’s own page of information on the product makes it pretty clear how easy it is to switch DNS servers back and forth. In fact, their full guide on the subject will also make it easy for users to experiment changing their DNS server overall, and you can even test out IPv6 servers using Google’s full guide on the site. If you’re new to DNS servers and you want to try just one, don’t sleep on Google’s global DNS server. It’s our favorite of the five by far.
If you aren’t willing to give your information up to Google just to gain some slight speed increases on your browsing, that’s understandable. Not everyone is into using Google because of privacy concerns, especially when it comes to giving up your private browsing information. That makes sense, and it’s certainly not an exclusive point of view for many individuals. Though we found Google’s DNS service to be our favorite selection, privacy concerns—especially when it come to Google—make a lot of sense, and that’s why we’ve selected OpenDNS as our runner-up, free public DNS server. In our testing, OpenDNS is fast, reliable, and secure. It’s one of the older platforms on the market, first launched in 2005, making it trusted by thousands of users daily.
First things first. Though launched 12 years ago, OpenDNS was bought by Cisco in 2015, which means that anyone unsure of who may be behind the servers you’re using for your DNS on your router can be sure that the same level of security provided by Cisco in most cases can be found here as well. OpenDNS is primarily built for businesses, as is the case with most Cisco products, so any users looking to add an extra level of security for their businesses against things like cyber attacks, DDoS attacks, and other toxic content on the internet will be happy with what OpenDNS offers. In fact, it’s so trusted that some ISPs, including Comcast, one of the biggest internet providers in the United States, rely on OpenDNS for their own servers at this point in time.
Unlike Google’s own public DNS service, OpenDNS doesn’t seem to advertise any sorts of speed bumps with its own IP addresses. Instead, OpenDNS is almost all about security when browsing the web, for both personal and business clients. We mostly looked at the personal options for OpenDNS, which has three different security tiers: Family Shield, which allows you to protect against all “adult content” on your network; Home, which is a fairly standard version of any DNS service, allowing for both custom and standard filtering and identity theft protection; finally, Home VIP allows you to support a white-list mode on your local network for specific sites and a full list of usage stats for your internet browsing. The latter plan isn’t free however, running users a full $19.99 per year.
All three of these plans are great, featuring fully customizable filtering, though we wish whitelists weren’t hidden behind a paywall. Previously, prior to the Cisco buyout, OpenDNS was ad-supported, with users seeing ads displayed in appropriate places while advertising. That said, the ad support was removed from the platform in 2014, as the company prepared to focus solely on security for their platform. If you want to give it a shot, OpenDNS uses 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124 for their home customers, in that order on your modem or router. Make sure to set up an account online before continuing with the process, in order to properly choose your plan from the company.
Since we originally looked at the app in 2018, Cloudflare has updated the app with Warp, a brand-new VPN included for free within the app that reroutes your data to make sure you can stay secure online. Unlike most VPNs, Cloudflare’s Warp service won’t change your location, instead just working to further increase your speeds and privacy. This won’t be a full dedicated VPN replacement for those looking for that, but as a free VPN (with the ability to upgrade to Warp+ for better speeds and Cloudflare’s Argo technology, for a price to be determined), it’s a solid offering in addition to their DNS service.
Overall, there’s plenty to like about 126.96.36.199. Cloudflare is a large enough company that we have no real reason to doubt their claims about not selling user data or using it to target ads, largely because their business is built on this claim. If this ends up being untrue, it could result in the end of their business. In general, we liked that the app was simple and easy to use, and that is seemed to speed up our internet browsing speeds enough that it would make a difference in our day-to-day browsing. We just wished it was offered on desktop platforms too.
DNS.Watch is more like Google’s Public DNS service than Norton or OpenDNS, and it’s obvious from the second you visit their website. Unlike all three platforms, however, DNS.Watch is entirely independent, not owned by a large corporation like Google, Norton, or Cisco, and it makes using DNS.Watch over other platforms a no-brainer for anyone concerned with their privacy, data or otherwise. DNS.Watch also puts a value not just on security, but on speed, promising to make your internet faster through browsing.
More than the other companies on this list, DNS.Watch makes it obvious what they do and don’t support when it comes to tracking your information through their DNS server. On their “Why? explainer page for why you should use DNS.Watch over their competitors, the group makes it obvious what they do best: they keep things moving fast and reliably, they don’t log a single query when you’re using the system, they promise not to sell your data in any sort of shady deal, and perhaps best of all for some users, they promise to ensure that their DNS servers won’t be blocked by big-time DNS services like Google. Because they’re a smaller, more independent public DNS provider, the company can focus on ensuring their product is better than anything else on the market, which makes it a great option for anyone looking for a secure offering in the DNS space.
Unfortunately, we should mention to users looking for something along the lines of OpenDNS or Norton that DNS.Watch isn’t quite as available for locking down your home internet as something like those previously mentioned companies. If you’re looking to make sure your child doesn’t go around looking at inappropriate content online, whether they be on their phone, tablet, laptop, or something else altogether, DNS.Watch may not be the best service for you. Since the developers make it clear they’re trying to provide as lightweight a DNS server as possible, it’s not always ideal to rely on them for blocks or whitelisting applications.
Still, DNS.Watch makes our list for its mix of a focus on both speed and security. Using this platform is not only a great idea for those concerned with security, but for those concerned with speed as well. Next to Google’s public offering, DNS.Watch was the fastest DNS system we used during our testing for this guide, and combined with the lack of any sort of information tracking or shady advertisement deals, we have no qualms in recommending this to other users. DNS.Watch uses 188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206 for IPv4 addresses, and you can find the other IPv6 addresses on their site linked above.
Our final recommendation for 2020, CenturyLink DNS (formerly Level3 DNS) is another great public DNS provider that offers excellent speeds and security protection when browsing on the web. Though their website design may not be as good as what we’ve seen from the likes of Google or DNS.Watch, CenturyLink is still a great offering that helps provide users with an easy to use DNS system that happens to be reliable as well. In fact, CenturyLink’s infrastructure happens to be some of the best in the game that isn’t named Google, going as far to even provide backbone access to ISPs to offer fast and reliable internet while simultaneously upping your security factor on the backend.
CenturyLink has quite the history on the web as a DNS platform, with their 220.127.116.11 service having quite a reputation before it for its reliability as one of the oldest third-party DNS server addresses available. In order to use the site, you’ll have to create a CenturyLink account, a disappointing fact considering how many other platforms you can use without creating an account or downloading software. Still, CenturyLink’s own account service seems to have positive reception, and this certainly creates some easier support systems when using the DNS addresses.
In our testing, CenturyLink’s speeds were incredibly close to what we saw from the likes of Google and DNS.Watch, making it a great bet when it comes to testing out on your router or modem. If you’re a gamer or a constant media streamer, you’ll really like what you can find here. With some solid performance on the backend, we were seeing slightly improved speeds overall when visiting random and frequently visited sites online. On top of that, CenturyLink is constantly protecting your network against DDoS attacks and more, making it relatively secure. Unfortunately, outside of this testing, it was also difficult to determine just what CenturyLink was protecting against. While the company comes with fairly glowing rave reviews across multiple sites, CenturyLink’s own website was fairly lacking in terms of information on what the service provides users beyond faster speeds and improved connectivity options. It’s also worth noting that CenturyLink’s DNS provider may require you to pay for access to some of their servers.
Overall, CenturyLink is perfect for business consumers, but in practicality, consumers who are just diving into the DNS market may find it lacking or difficult to use. Their website doesn’t provide a whole lot of information or support on how to set up the product, though once you do use their server information, you’re bound to see your speeds improve overtime. CenturyLink makes this list in 2020 because their speeds and their reputation both supersede theme, but we hope to see an improved user interface on their site sometime soon. CenturyLink DNS uses 18.104.22.168 and 22.214.171.124, as well as on 126.96.36.199, 188.8.131.52, 184.108.40.206 and 220.127.116.11.