CloudFlare had a great April Fools Day joke, they were creating two new public DNS servers. Except it wasn’t a joke, they have really created them, with highly memorable addresses:
Ok, so IPV6 addresses aren’t as memorable…
CloudFlare claim that they are faster than both Google’s DNS service and OpenDNS (which are likely both faster than the DNS service provided by your ISP).
What is DNS?
DNS stands for Domain Naming System. Often described as the phone book for the internet. If you type 184.108.40.206 into you browser address bar, it will take you to google.com. Which is easier to remember?
DNS will look up what the address of google.com is and tell you that it is 220.127.116.11.
To make this transparent, you internet service provider has a DNS server for your router to use. These are often slow and don’t know all addresses, so have to ask another higher level DNS server for the address.
Why Should I Care?
Firstly, using a public DNS service like Google or CloudFlare will make your internet browsing faster.
Second, DNS is usually the easy way for governments to block parts of the internet. When Turkey blocked Twitter through their DNS servers in 2014, people got around it by using Google’s public DNS service (18.104.22.168 & 22.214.171.124). Free and unrestricted DNS is essential to making the most out of the internet.
Third, anyone running a DNS server can tell quite a lot about your browsing habits, depending how much they log. CloudFlare is touting privacy as a big selling point of theirs.
Why would they be free?
It is a good idea to think about why anything would be free. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Some general reasons:
- To gather data on you (the Facebook and Google model)
- To get people into a eco system where they have to buy things (Apple and Microsoft do this a lot)
- As part of a wider service
- As part of a freemium model
Your ISP provides a DNS server as part of your internet for the same reason they normally provide a router, to make the setup as simple as possible (see 3). They probably aren’t monetising your browsing data, but depending on where you live the government might require them to log what websites you visit. (Although this can be done in other ways, if this is the case you should consider a VPN).
Large companies with huge networks and lots of different services will probably have their own DNS services anyway, because at those scales it can be easier to do stuff your self. So that is kind of reason 3, but why is it public and not just an internal service. Well in Googles case it is probably a little of 1 and a little of 5. In CloudFlares case they say it is just 5.
Do I believe them? Yes.
Google relies on lots of data to sell ads and to make their search algorithms better. They have a reason to log DNS data, even if it is anonymised. CloudFlare sell products to make money so their incentive to log data is much lower.
Finally, company image is important. Companies like CloudFlare and Stack Overflow have a very open and honest image and probably don’t want to risk it. Everyone know Google and Facebook harvest all the data they can find and are mostly ok with it as a trade for free services.
So which one should I use?
I rambled on longer than indented when I started writing. Use either Google, CloudFlare or OpenDNS, but if you are going to change it then you may as well go for CloudFlare’s option for the added speed and privacy benefits. So long as you don’t use your ISPs default, as they can cause problems.
For example, I just spend a week in a lovely cottage in the middle of no where, which had questionable internet. My laptop and various Android devices worked find, but my sisters laptop did not. My laptop was using CloudFlare’s DNS service and Android devices default to Google’s one. Once I configured her laptop to use the 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52 DNS servers it worked fine!