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Domain Name System (DNS) Definition & Meaning

1. Short for Domain Name System, DNS is an Internet service that translates domain names to IP addresses. Domain names are alphabetic and therefore easy to remember, but the Internet is based on numeric IP addresses, so a DNS server is required for computers to communicate with one another. For example, the domain www.example.com might resolve (translate) to

The DNS is, in fact, its own network. If one DNS server doesn't know how to translate a particular domain name, it asks another, and so on, until the correct IP address is returned or the request times out. Each operating system has its own steps for finding the DNS servers a device uses, but generally DNS information is accessible from the network settings.

Should I use a private DNS?

Almost every Internet Service Provider (ISP) has their own DNS servers. However, there is always a privacy risk that comes with using these traditional DNS servers—anyone with access to a server can also access the plain text record of domain requests coming from any connected device. A private DNS server or Smart DNS (or, more accurately, DNS over TLS or DNS over HTTPS) obviously requires more configuration than a traditional DNS server and often incurs an additional cost, but the benefit of privacy means all translations are encrypted.

Private DNS vs. VPN

Of course, this begs the question: how are VPNs and private DNS servers different, and which is better for Internet privacy? Although both private DNS servers and virtual private networks (VPNs) allow users to access content that is geo-blocked and add a layer of protection to Internet browsing, there are a few distinct differences:

Private DNS


Usually less expensive

Usually more expensive

Does not provide secure encryption

Uses complex tunneling protocols for point-to-point encryption (OpenVPN, WireGuard, IPSec, PPTP, etc.)

Does not hide IP address, so still traceable by ISPs

Fully protects browsing data from ISPs, governments, and hackers

Easier to configure

Better for advanced users

Minimal impact on connection speeds

Can potentially slow down connection

Short for digital nervous system, DNS is also a term coined by Bill Gates to describe a network of personal computers that make it easier to obtain and understand information.

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