OpenDNS Smart Caching Displays Websites Even When They're Down

 
Introduction

DNS stands for Domain Name System (explained here). Basically, your DNS provider is responsible for translating the URL strings you see in the address bar into the numerical IP addresses used by the World Wide Web. By default, this chore is normally handled by your own Internet Service Providers (ISP). However, a range of alternative free DNS providers are available, some of which are likely to provide superior performance and security. This article very briefly outlines some potential advantages of some main free DNS players: OpenDNS (Basic) and DNS Advantage.

 
Discussion

In early 2009, OpenDNS announced a smartcaching service that lets you see the contents of website pages even when the site is temporarily not working. At that time, OpenDNS was widely recommended as the leading alternative DNS provider. Since then, the protection from malware sites previously provided by the free version of OpenDNS has been cut. However, a similar malware blocking feature is currently freely available with DNS Advantage - a highly recommended free DNS option at least from the security standpoint.

NB: Other free DNS options, including Google DNS and Comodo Secure DNS, are discussed in forum threads here and here.

 

Advantages of switching to DNS Advantage or OpenDNS:
  • Security - OpenDNS Basic is strongly recommended by Steve Hargreaves - editor of Gizmo's Best Free Adware / Spyware / Scumware Remover - as an effective proactive defense against Internet baddies. By default, the free version of OpenDNS (ie Basic) blocks phishing sites and also corrects common url typos in your address bar. DNS Advantage blocks malware as well as phishing sites, but doesn't yet comprehensively correct url typos.
  • Speed - Servers such as DNS Advantage or OpenDNS may reduce the time it takes for web pages to open, especially during peak hours. For indications on how to conduct speed comparisons between different DNS servers in your geographic area, see this TechTreat article. If rapidity is your top priority, you might prefer to select a different free DNS server based on your local speed tests.
  • Child safety - OpenDNS also wins Gizmo's top pick Best Free Parental Filter - for this service, you'll need to register for a free account ("dashboard").

 

How to switch to DNS Advantage or OpenDNS:

If you're a private user, you don't have to be particularly tech-savvy to switch to an alternative DNS server. Tutorials for activating DNS Advantage are available here. The basic procedure is the same with other DNS services, such as Open DNS Basic (details here)* - you just need to insert the appropriate IP addresses for your chosen DNS server. Other free DNS options include Google DNS (discussed here) and Comodo Secure DNS (discussed here).

Before you start, do jot down your current DNS server addresses/settings as a backup in case you wish to revert to your ISP's server. It could also be a good idea to create a system restore point (or backup your registry) just in case you get lost.

*(Note that OpenDNS now invites you to take out free registration, even if you do not require content filtering.)

 
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