Best free and public DNS servers in 2021

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Best IP address tools of 2021

The best free and public DNS servers offer an alternative way to connect safely online.

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 DNS server choice around. 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 DNS servers around.

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Why paid DNS is better than free

As with every service, you get what you pay for and it’s no different here. Free DNS can be good but it’s nothing compared to a Premium paid version. Granted, not everyone wants to pay and depending on their needs they might not need to, but paid DNS is always a better choice. Apart from the increased website performance and security, you also get additional features.

For instance, Dynamic DNS and Secondary DNS are a staple of the premium DNS service. The Dynamic DNS works with dynamic IP addresses and it allows users to access their home computer from anywhere in the world. The Secondary DNS works as a backup of sorts which is always a plus. This is just a small fraction of what a premium DNS can do and the exact number of features will depend on the service provider.

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Cloudflare

(Image credit: Cloudflare)

1. Cloudflare

Primary, secondary DNS servers: 1.1.1.1 and 1.0.0.1

Reasons to buy

+Impressive performance+Tight privacy levels+Community forum for support

Best known for its top-rated content delivery network, Cloudflare has extended its range to include a new public DNS service, the catchily-named 1.1.1.1.

Cloudflare has focused much more on the fundamentals. These start with performance, and independent testing from sites like DNSPerf shows Cloudflare is the fastest public DNS service around.

Privacy is another major highlight. Cloudflare doesn’t just promise that it won’t use your browsing data to serve ads; it commits that it will never write the querying IP address (yours) to disk. Any logs that do exist will be deleted within 24 hours. And these claims aren’t just reassuring words on a website. Cloudflare has retained KPMG to audit its practices annually and produce a public report to confirm the company is delivering on its promises.

The 1.1.1.1 website has some setup guidance, with simple tutorials covering Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, Linux and routers. These are very generic – you get one set of instructions for all versions of Windows, for instance – but there are some pluses (IPv6 as well as IPv4 details) and you should be able to figure it out. Additionally, mobile users can use WARP which secures all of the phone’s internet traffic.

The product doesn’t offer ad-blocking or attempt to monitor what you can access, and what you can’t. The one caveat is that Cloudflare has introduced content filtering for malware and adult content blocking, with their 1.1.1.2/1.0.0.2 and 1.1.1.3/1.0.0.3 services respectively, but this is an option a user can choose rather than have forced on them.

If you have any problems, Cloudflare offers a community forum where you can ask questions or see what others are doing, a nice extra touch which we’d like to see followed by other providers.

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Google Public DNS

(Image credit: Google Public DNS)

2. Google Public DNS

Primary, secondary DNS servers: 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4

Reasons to buy

+Solid on the privacy front+Commendable transparency

Reasons to avoid

Meant for experienced users

Google 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.

There’s a further benefit for experienced users in Google’s detailed description of the service. If you’d like to be able to assess the significance of Google’s privacy policy, for instance, you can read up on absolutely everything the service logs contain to find out for yourself.

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: 8.8.8.8 and 8.8.4.4.

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Quad9

(Image credit: Quad9)

3. Quad9

Primary, secondary DNS servers: 9.9.9.9 and 149.112.112.112

Reasons to buy

+Speedy performance levels+Blocks malicious domains

Reasons to avoid

Limited help in terms of setup

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 in eighth 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.

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OpenDNS

(Image credit: OpenDNS)

4. OpenDNS

Primary, secondary DNS servers: 208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220

Reasons to buy

+Veteran operator+Phishing sites blocked by default+Optional web filtering

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 a modest fee.

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.

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Comodo Secure DNS

(Image credit: Comodo)

5. Comodo Secure DNS

Primary, secondary DNS servers: 8.26.56.26 and 8.20.247.20

Reasons to buy

+Focus on security+Smart handling of parked domains

Reasons to avoid

Performance might not be so hot

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. Unfortunately, Comodo stats weren’t that impressive, and in our tests, we got an average query time of 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.

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