Best free and public DNS servers of 2020
DNS (Domain Name System) is a system which translates the domain names you enter in a browser to the IP addresses required to access those sites.
Your ISP will assign you DNS servers whenever you connect to the internet, but these may not always be the best choice. Slow DNS servers can cause a lag before websites start to load, and if your server sometimes goes down, you may not be able to access any sites at all.
Switching to a free public DNS server can make a real difference, with more responsive browsing and lengthy 100% uptime records meaning there’s much less chance of technical problems.
Some services can also block access to phishing or infected sites, and a few offer content filtering to keep your kids away from the worst of the web.
You need to choose your service with care – not all providers will necessarily be better than your ISP – but to help point you in the right direction, this article will highlight six of the best free DNS servers around.
What is DNS?
DNS, which stands for domain name system, is an Internet service that translates domains names into IP addresses. For example, when you visit errorhat.com it must look up the corresponding IP address to that hostname behind the scenes. This query is performed by a Domain Name Server (DNS server) or servers nearby that have been assigned responsibility for that hostname. You can think of a DNS server as a phone book for the internet. A DNS server maintains a directory of domain names and translates them to IPs.
Best free and public DNS servers of 2020
Free DNS – In Summary
As you can see, there are many excellent free DNS hosting providers out there with a variety of different features. Don’t wait until disaster strikes, think about implementing a multiple DNS server setups for additional redundancy and to help mitigate and prevent DDoS attacks.
Do you have a free DNS hosting provider you use that we missed? Feel free to comment below and let us know what your experience has been.
- Primary DNS: 18.104.22.168
- Secondary DNS: 22.214.171.124
IPv6 addresses are also available:
- Primary DNS: 2620:119:35::35
- Secondary DNS: 2620:119:53::53
Founded in 2005 and now owned by Cisco, OpenDNS is one of the biggest names in public DNS.
The free service offers plenty of benefits: high speeds, 100% uptime, phishing sites blocked by default, optional parental controls-type web filtering to block websites by content type, along with free email support if anything goes wrong.
Commercial plans enable viewing a history of your internet activity for up to the last year, and can optionally lock down your system by allowing access to specific websites only. These aren’t going to be must-have features for the average user, but if you’re interested, they can be yours for around $20 (£14.30) a year.
If you’re an old hand at swapping DNS, you can get started immediately by reconfiguring your device to use the OpenDNS nameservers.
If you’re a newbie, that’s okay too, as OpenDNS has setup instructions for PCs, Macs, mobile devices, routers and much, much more.
Cloudflare built 126.96.36.199 to be the “fastest DNS service in the world” and will never log your IP address, never sell your data, and never use your data to target ads.
- Primary DNS: 188.8.131.52
- Secondary DNS: 184.108.40.206
They also have IPv6 public DNS servers:
- Primary DNS: 2606:4700:4700::1111
- Secondary DNS: 2606:4700:4700::1001
- Primary DNS: 220.127.116.11
- Secondary DNS: 18.104.22.168
Google also offers IPv6 versions:
- Primary DNS: 2001:4860:4860::8888
- Secondary DNS: 2001:4860:4860::8844
Google has its fingers in most web-related pies, and DNS is no exception: it’s free Public DNS is a simple and effective replacement for your own ISP’s nameservers.
Privacy can’t quite match the ‘we don’t keep anything’ promises of Cloudflare, but it’s not bad. The service logs the full IP address information of the querying device for around 24 to 48 hours for troubleshooting and diagnostic purposes. ‘Permanent’ logs drop any personally identifiable information and reduce location details to the city level, and all but a small random sample of these are deleted after two weeks.
Google’s support site offers only very basic guidance targeted at experienced users, warning that “only users who are proficient with configuring operating system settings [should] make these changes.” If you’re unsure what you’re doing, check the tutorials from a provider such as OpenDNS, remembering to replace its nameservers with Google’s: 22.214.171.124 and 126.96.36.199.
- Primary DNS: 188.8.131.52
- Secondary DNS: 184.108.40.206
Comodo Group is the power behind a host of excellent security products, so it’s no surprise that the company also offers its own public DNS service.
Just as you’d expect, Comodo Secure DNS has a strong focus on safety. It doesn’t just block phishing sites, but also warns if you try to visit sites with malware, spyware, even parked domains which might overload you with advertising (pop-ups, pop-unders and more). Furthermore, you can try out the Comodo Dome Shield service, which adds additional features to Comodo Secure DNS.
Comodo claims its service is smarter than average, too, detecting attempts to visit parked or ‘not in use’ domains and automatically forwarding you to where you really want to go.
Performance is key, of course, and the company suggests its worldwide network of servers and smart routing technology give it an advantage. DNSPerf’s Comodo stats are less impressive, unfortunately. As we write, DNSPerf reports its average query time as around 72ms.
That said, Comodo may still be interesting if you’re looking for an extra layer of web filtering, and the support website has some short but useful instructions on setting the service up on Windows PCs, Macs, routers and Chromebooks.
- Primary DNS: 220.127.116.11
- Secondary DNS: 18.104.22.168
There are also Quad 9 IPv6 DNS servers:
- Primary DNS: 2620:fe::fe
- Secondary DNS: 2620:fe::9
Quad9 is a young DNS outfit which has been providing a fast and free DNS service since August 2016.
The company sells itself on its ability to block malicious domains by collecting intelligence from ‘a variety of public and private sources.’ It’s not clear what these sources are, but the website says Quad9 used 18+ ‘threat intelligence providers’ as of December 2018.
That’s a little too vague for us, and we’re not convinced that using a large number of threat intelligence providers will necessarily help – the quality of the intelligence is generally more important than the quantity.
There’s no arguing about Quad9’s performance, though. DNSPerf currently rates it seven out of ten for average worldwide query times, lagging behind Cloudflare and OpenDNS, but effortlessly outpacing contenders like Comodo.
Drilling down into the detail reveals some variations in speed – Quad9 is on the sixth place for North American queries – but overall the service still delivers better performance than most.
Setup guidance is a little limited, with tutorials for the latest versions of Windows and macOS only. They’re well presented, though, and it’s not difficult to figure out what you need to do.
- Primary DNS: 22.214.171.124
- Secondary DNS: 126.96.36.199
Verisign offers IPv6 public DNS servers as well:
- Primary DNS: 2620:74:1b::1:1
- Secondary DNS: 2620:74:1c::2:2.
Verisign was founded in 1995 and through the years offered various services, including several security services, like managed DNS.
Verisign DNS service is free to use and the company highlights the three features they deem the most important and those are stability, security, and privacy. The service definitely delivers on that account, especially for the security and stability. As for the privacy, while you can never be 100% sure when it comes to the company claims, there weren’t any issues and the company assures you that your public DNS data will not be sold to third parties.
Performance, however, wasn’t that great when compared to some other providers. Still, it’s decent and depending on your needs, you might not be bothered by this. At the moment, DNSPerf.com ranks the service at tenth place, worldwide.
On their website, you can find tutorials on how to set up their public DNS. Tutorials are available for Windows 7 and 10, Mac, Linux, and mobile devices. There is also a tutorial on how to configure DNS server settings on your router.
All in all, Verisign offers a good alternative to some other DNS providers, plus it’s free so it’s worth checking out.
Best free and public DNS servers of 2020
Why might DNS matter to me?
DNS servers can vary hugely in speed, particularly in areas which don’t always have the best internet coverage (Africa, South America, Oceania.) To take an example of a single day when we tested, DNSPerf.com reported Cloudflare achieved an average 4.43ms query time for Oceania, while Yandex was left trailing at 350.24ms. That’s potentially more than a third of a second in extra waiting time before your browser is able to access any new website.
This is an extreme example, to be fair. European or US lookups may see less than 30ms variation between most DNS services, and as your device or router will probably cache the address for reuse later, even this delay will only occur very occasionally. Still, a sluggish DNS server can noticeably slow down your browsing in some situations, and trying an alternative – especially as the best options are all free – is generally a good idea.
There’s a second possible benefit in terms of uptime. If your ISP DNS server fails, you might not be able to access some or all of your favorite sites. Big-name providers such as OpenDNS claim they’ve had 100% uptime going back years.