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You open your browser, type pcmag.com in the Address Bar, and get pages and pages of useful reviews and information. That’s how it works, right? Oh, you may understand that you get that information because your browser requests it from a web host server. But there’s another player involved in the flow of traffic between your browser and that server, and that’s the Domain Name System, or DNS. Understanding DNS can help you protect your online security and privacy, and even speed your web surfing.
The servers that route your internet requests don’t understand domain names like pcmag.com. They only understand numeric IP addresses like 126.96.36.199, or the longer numeric addresses from the modern IPv6 system. (By longer, I mean a lot longer. Here’s a sample IPv6 address: 2606:4700:0000:0000:0000:0000:6811:8e63. To be fair, that would typically be shortened to 2606:4700::6811:8e63, but still…)
What Do DNS Servers Do?
So, the machines only speak numbers, but the people want to use memorable domain names like girlgeniusonline.com or zombo.com. To resolve this impasse, the Domain Name System handles translating friendly domain names to numeric IP addresses.
Your home network typically relies on a DNS Server supplied by your ISP. After your browser sends the server a domain name, the server goes through a moderately complex interaction with other servers to return the corresponding IP address, thoroughly vetted and verified. If it’s a much-used domain, the DNS Server may have that information cached, for speedier access. Now that the interaction is down to numbers, the machines can handle getting the pages you want to see.
As you can see, the Domain Name System is essential to all your internet activities. Any problems with the system can have cascading effects on your experience.
For starters, if the ISP-supplied DNS servers are slow, or not properly configured for caching, they can effectively slow your connection. This is especially true when you load a page that draws content from many different domains, such as advertisers and affiliates. Switching to DNS servers optimized for efficiency can speed up your surfing, whether in a home or business setting.
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