OpenDNS, a great free way to speed up the interwebs

Last night I was doing some research and went to pull up the Ruby On Rails site. Unfortunately when I did I could not connect. My DNS server wasn't resolving it properly. Assuming it was Verizon's problem I embarked on a long and ultimately fruitless attempt to find out why was not resolving. While doing this I tweeted about it and suddenly got responses from people explaining that there were some problems with that domain name. It wasn't the Verizon DNS server after all.

So Twitter helped me out, but that wasn't the end of the assistance. Chad Hohner (@hohner) told me about using OpenDNS, something that will help improve network performance (at least as it relates to name resolution). I figured it was worth a try and changed the DNS on my Mac Pro to using OpenDNS's servers. The performance improvement for me was dramatic, so much so that I changed back to the Verizon servers, flushed my DNS cache and started testing different sites. I then switched back to OpenDNS, flushed my DNS cache again and timed page loads.

The difference was stunning. On some sites I saw little or no improvement, especially on the very popular sites like Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc. It was when I started visiting lessor sites that I saw a performance improvement of up to 28%. This was a dramatic improvement, takes seconds to do and costs nothing.

Do it now, watch the difference
You can try it out quite easily on a Mac right now; nothing to sign up for, just update your DNS settings to use OpenDNS's servers. Fire up System Preferences / Network and select your primary ethernet device.

Click on Advanced, then add these two servers into the DNS section:

Once they are added in, close it out and open a terminal prompt and flush your DNS cache. I believe System Preferences does this automatically but just to be sure you can enter this in a terminal prompt:

dscacheutil -flushcache

At that point you are using the OpenDNS servers. If the performance looks good then you can also set up your router to hand out those DNS settings to all of your machines. OpenDNS has pretty detailed instructions for how to handle it. I did that to my Verizon router and now all of the machines in the house are operating much more quickly.

OpenDNS Services
There's more to OpenDNS than just offering a free DNS service. They also offer content filtering and parental controls, which will allow you to set high level filters on the types of sites that your machines can access as well as specific categories that will limit access.

This is handled by signing up for an account (again, free) and optionally installing a small menu bar application that will maintain your IP address with OpenDNS. I installed this little notifier in a couple of minutes on my primary Mac Pro since it's always connected to this network.

Is it really free?
I was curious about how OpenDNS was able to provide these services for free and did a little research. It turns out that they make their revenue on ads that are displayed if you enter a domain name that is incorrect. If you never fat-finger a domain name then you'll likely never see the ads, but enough people do that it generates the revenue needed to power this service.

There are two things I really got out of this little experience:

1) OpenDNS is very cool and I highly recommend that you try it out

2) Twitter continues to provide a really valuable resource for getting information quickly and easily. Thanks again Chad!

Got a tip for speeding up your network connection? Please drop a note in the comments! And as always, you can follow me on Twitter.


Anonymous said...

I do have one concern with services like that, as well the OpenID, Gravatar etc type services. That is that every web request you make is now being run past their servers. The non-DNS services don't get to see every web request, but they do get to insert themselves into a variety of different sites that you may visit. There are definite privacy issues to with their ability to track your online behaviour.

David Alison said...

@Anon: Yes, that is a concern. It's where you have to read through the privacy policies and determine if it's worth it to you. In the case of DNS servers you really don't have much of an option short of running your own. The DNS servers that your ISP provides can be monitored and tracked just as easily and their privacy policies are designed to cover lots of different services.

Anonymous said...

Yup. Tracking by the ISP is something hard to get away from (see Phorm in the UK). If you lead a more mobile existence, at least you'll be connecting from different sources, so you can dilute your trail a little. That is, unless you then centralise yourself again via DNS, etc...
There's money to be made by people monitoring your online behaviour.

The Chad said...

You are quite welcome Dave. Your blog is always fun to read, even though I'm back on a Windows PC. ;)

KC said...

I've used OpenDNS since one of their people were interviewed on MacNightOwl's podcast a couple years ago.

William said...

I have been using OpenDNS For almost a year now.

eric said...

Opendns is very good for those of us living outside the usa in that you can connect to sites like despite its filter which protects the site from non-usa users (for copyright reasons).

Personally I stopped using opendns because when i would do a Google search from my search field in my browser I wound up at an opendns site instead of google. Is that still the case?

David Alison said...

@Eric: When you used OpenDNS your Google searches (through the toolbar) resulted in OpenDNS search results? I would think that would have caused a huge uproar. My toolbar searches in Firefox and Safari (on Mac) route directly to Google as they should.

DanielC said...

Glad you have found OpenDNS. It is a great service.

Nicholas Tolson said...

I hate the page OpenDNS serves when you enter in a URL incorrectly, since FF now thinks that's a real page and thus suggests the wrong URL every time you start typing it, but other than that I've been a happy OpenDNS user for years.

AJ said...

Thanks for the info David! I've been curious about OpenDNS for awhile now.

After making the changes through my router, all my macs switched over as you said they would, but...

My main system is running Little Snitch and now Crash Report is attempting to contact Apple with information regarding openDNS. Do you know what this is or why it's happening? I've been denying access (only because I'm not sure exactly whats being shared), but it's starting to get annoying.

Any feedback would be appreciated!

David Alison said...

@AJ: I don't run Little Snitch so I'm not sure how to solve that. A couple of good places to try though are:

OpenDNS ForumsOpenDNS SupportHope that helps! If you find the solution please do me a favor and drop it in here as a comment. If other people have the same issue (lots of Mac readers) it helps others.