Faster, Safer Surfing with OpenDNS
Faster, Safer Surfing with OpenDNS
Scott Nesbitt – Sunday, February 28, 2009
Even with a high-speed Internet connection, you might find that getting to certain Web sites takes a lot longer than you want it to. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of the bottlenecks is the DNS server your Internet service provider runs.
You can get around this bottleneck, though, by using a Web-based service called OpenDNS.
DNS: A little background
Internet service providers run DNS servers (also called name servers
, which assigns a human-readable domain name to the string of numbers that represents an address on the Internet. When you type the URL of a Web site into your browser, an inquiry is sent to the DNS server and based on the information that’s stored on that server, you’re directed to the site in question.
While using your Internet service provider’s DNS server is fine, you have to remember that everyone else who subscribes to that provider will be hitting the same server (or set of servers). That slows your surfing down.
maintains a network of DNS servers, which are distributed in various locations
, including New York, Chicago, Seattle, and London. Your request to the OpenDNS servers are routed to the server nearest you. That generally means you don’t have to wait as long as you would with your Internet server provider’s often busy DNS server.
On top of that, OpenDNS has options for different kinds of networks – home, school, small or medium business, or larger companies. The basic features – like phishing protection and content filters – are the same, but there are also features specific to each kind of network.
Like what? For example, a school using OpenDNS has the option to counter anonymizers
, while a small business can take advantage of a reliable network that supposedly has no network downtime.
Setting up OpenDNS is fairly simple. If you’re a home user (which this TechTip is going to focus on), you can set OpenDNS for a desktop computer or a laptop computer or a router.
The process involves three steps:
1. Changing the DNS settings on your computer or on your router
2. Create an account with OpenDNS (this step is free)
3. Tweak your settings at the OpenDNS Web site
How you change the DNS settings on your computer varies by the operating system that you’re using. You can get the instructions for the operating system that OpenDNS supports here
. And, as you probably guessed, the instructions also vary by the brand of router that you’re using. If your router isn’t in the list
, there are generic
instructions that you can try.
Other useful features
Once you’ve changed the DNS settings for your computer or router, you can take advantage of some of the useful features that OpenDNS offers by logging into your OpenDNS account and clicking Settings.
What settings are you likely to tweak? The one that you’ll probably use most is content filtering. This enables you to block access to over 50 different types of content – ranging from adult Web sites to phishing
and adware sites to ones that promote hate and discrimination. OpenDNS offers four preset filtering levels, ranging from high (blocks access to all seamy sites) to minimal (only protects against phishing attacks). You can also opt to pick and choose the filtering options that you want.
You can also block or allow access to specific Web sites which may not fall into any of the content filtering categories.
On the Settings page, you can click Advanced Settings to take advantage of some of the more interesting features of OpenDNS. Two that I’ve found useful are enabling network shortcuts and typo correction.
Network shortcuts enables you to assign a short name to a Web site. For example, you can configure the shortcut LL to take you to www.LivingLifeBoomerStyle.com
. Once you set up the shortcut, all you have to do is type the shortcut in your Web browser’s address bar.
Typo correction fixes any URLs that you may incorrectly type. For example, if you type LivingLifeBoomerStyle.cmo or LivingLifeBoomerStyle.ocm OpenDNS will automatically change the URL to LivingLifeBoomerStyle.com. However, sometimes this doesn’t work and can be a bit of an annoyance as I’ll discuss in a moment.
Drawbacks of OpenDNS
There are a few. Most of those drawbacks are minor, and here are the main ones.
As with any Web-based application, you’re at the mercy of the application itself. While OpenDNS has impressive uptime, there’s always a chance that the service could go down for an extended period of time.
Remember when I talked about the typo correction? Let’s say you really butcher a URL – say, www.BoomerStyle
. instead of www.LivingLifeBoomerStyle.com
. OpenDNS does something that many Internet service providers do. It redirects you to a search page, which may or may not have relevant results. On top of that, there are ads on the search page, which not everyone appreciates.
After using OpenDNS for a while, you might find that some or all of the sites that you frequent don’t load as fast as they did when you started using the service. This is because your computer saves DNS information in a cache. It uses the cached information whenever you try to hit one of those sites. The easy way around this is to clear your computer’s DNS cache. How?
To do that, open a command prompt. In Windows, type the command ipconfig /flushdns and press Enter. In MacOS 10.5, type dscacheutil -flushcache and press Enter. In Linux, /etc/rc.d/init.d/nscd restart (you may have to do this as root).
OpenDNS is an interesting and potentially very useful service, especially if you want faster, smoother access to your favorite Web sites. You might not always get a huge increase in speed, but in many cases you’ll notice a difference.
Best of all, it’s easy to set up, well documented (the knowledgebase
at the OpenDNS site is quite good), and it’s free. Your best bet is to give OpenDNS a try. You’ll probably find that it makes your surfing a lot faster and safer.