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A DNS, or Domain Name Server, is what helps translate human-friendly URLs into computer-friendly IP addresses. This is what enables your devices to connect to the internet and access the content you want to see.
When people change their DNS, it’s usually to enhance either performance or security. (Or both!) And while there are many paid options to do it, we’re always fans of freebies. Below, we’ll take a look at what to consider when switching your DNS and the 14 best free DNS servers to do it with.
What to consider when switching a DNS
A few things to note before we dive in:
- Default DNS vs. third-party DNS – When you have internet service, your internet service provider (ISP) has a default DNS which your network uses to connect to the web. ISPs can collect data on customers and their internet activity. A third-party DNS can do the same, though it becomes more difficult to attribute the connection to specific individuals or households.
- Free DNS vs. paid DNS – Beyond the obvious financial difference between a free and paid DNS, free options typically have fewer features. A paid DNS will have more advanced security and performance functionality, as well as better customer support and more customization options. Generally speaking, a free DNS will work for most purposes.
- Public DNS vs. private DNS – A public DNS is available to the general population and it typically comes from your internet service provider or a dedicated DNS provider. A private DNS is typically used by companies to give employees easier access to internal-only websites/IP addresses. Typically, you’re on a public DNS at home and either a private or public one at work.
Best free DNS servers of 2020
Owned by Cisco, OpenDNS has two free options: Family Shield and Home. Family Shield is good for parents who want to make sure their kids can’t access inappropriate content. Home focuses on internet safety and performance.
The “fastest DNS resolver on Earth,” Cloudflare’s free DNS service has:
- Unmetered mitigation of DDoS
- Global CDN
- Shared SSL certificate
- Three-page rules
- Unlimited bandwidth
A Cloudflare subproduct, 188.8.131.52 with Warp is designed for mobile devices. When you download the app on your smartphone or tablet, it “replaces the connection between your phone and the internet with a modern, optimized, protocol.” They also pledge to never sell your data.
Google’s own DNS product is also free. It focuses on “speed, security, and validity of results.” It only offers DNS resolution and caching — there is no site-blocking with Public DNS.
Comodo Secure DNS’s cloud-based Dome Shield Gold package is free (up to 300,000 monthly DNS requests). This gets you:
- Protection against malicious domain requests and IP responses
- Security from advanced threats like phishing, malware, malicious sites, botnets, C&C callback events, spyware, drive-by-downloads, XXS-injected sites, cookie stealing, anonymizers, TOR encrypted files and web attacks
- Multi-location, multi-user and the ability to control network protection remotely
- Block pages and domain filtering
- Mobile apps
- Off-network protection
Quad9 emphasizes security, privacy and performance — the company was founded on the goal to make the internet safer for everyone. It blocks malicious domains, phishing and malware while maintaining your anonymity. Quad9 is constantly expanding to new regions. Right now, it comes in at No. 6 on the DNS Performance Analytics and Comparison ratings.
Verisign touts its superior stability and security features, plus the fact that they don’t sell user data to any third-party companies or for selling/targeting ads.
At its core, OpenNIC is an attempt to combat censorship. Volunteer-run, this free DNS server makes the entire web accessible to everyone. They also prevent “DNS hijacking” which is when an ISP takes over commonly mistyped URLs.
Completely run and funded by founder Thomas Steen Rasmussen, UncensoredDNS is based in Denmark. It’s a great option for those local to FreeDNS, complete with security features, performance enhancement and reliability.
Both free and paid versions of CleanBrowsing are available. The free DNS server focuses on privacy, especially for households with children. It comes with three free filters and blocks most adult content.
This Russia-based option has a whole list of features:
- Performance – Gets you faster access to the web
- Protection – Blocks malware and bots
- Content filtering – Prohibits access to adult content
Neustar’s UltraRecursive DNS is also a well-rounded option. It offers performance enhancement with quick query resolution and a reliable infrastructure. It also blocks malware, malicious websites, phishing, spyware and bots (plus DDoS protection). It’ll also block inappropriate or adult content.
Sick of seeing so many ads online? Alternate DNS is the solution for you. They maintain a database of known ad-serving domains and send a null response to block ads before they connect to your network.
AdGuard DNS also focuses on ad blocking. It also blocks counters, malicious websites, and adult content.
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The best free DNS server for you depends on what you want to get out of switching your DNS and where you’re located. If you’re a bit tech-savvy, check out this tool to compare each DNS provider for your location.