Speed up your Web access with namebench

June 5th, 2010

Here’s a quick trick that could significantly speed up your Web surfing. Download and run the open source namebench on your computer. It does a thorough test of your current DNS servers and some other popular global and regional alternatives, produces a good report and recommends which ones you should use.

Here is how namebench describes what it does:

“namebench looks for the fastest DNS (Domain Name System) servers accessible to your computer. You can think of a DNS server as a phone book: When you want to dial a company on the phone, you may have to flip through a phone book by name to find their phone number. On the Internet, when you want to visit “www.google.com”, a DNS server needs to looks up the correct IP Address for you.

Over the course of loading a single web page, your computer may need to look up a dozen of these addresses. While your Internet provider usually automatically assigns you one of their servers to handle looking up these addresses, there may be others that are significantly faster. namebench finds them.”

Namebench also points out which DNS servers do DNS hijacking — typically by intercepting the error message produced by entering a mistyped URL (e.g., http://umbc.edo/) and redirecting you to a page full of ads and “helpful” search results. Some name severs, like OpenDNS, will also automatically correct some mistyped URLS, e.g., guessing that then you typed http://umbc.edi/ you meant to type http://umbc.edu/. (Shades of DWIM!) It’s not dangerous and is a way private DNS services, like OpenDNS, get revenue to support the service and make a profit.

I have been using OpenDNS because it’s the fastest (for me) and don’t mind their NXDOMAIN hijacking. But I learned from namebench that OpenDNS reroutes www.google.com to google.navigation.opendns.com. That site redirects HTTP GET requests to and then from there onto http://www.google.de/. And Google itself redirects HTTP GET requests for http://google.com/ to http://www.google.com/. I’ll admit I am a bit confused by this. I imagine they do this to capture queries sent to Google, which provide very useful information even in the aggregate. OpenDNS says that they are doing this to correct a problem with Google-specific software installed on Dell computers. They do not seem to be doing this for Microsoft’s Bing search engine, which does lend some credence the claim. I plan on digging into this more to fully understand what is going on and why.

Namebench runs on Macs, Windows and UNIX, and has both a command line and graphical user interface. See the namebench FAQ for more information.