Benchmark your Mac's DNS settings for zinging Internet speeds

25 February 2016, 10:05



Virtually every bit of Internet data requested by a computer starts with a DNS lookup. The human-readable address (www.mackungfu.org, for example) is converted to the numeric IP address for use on the Internet (69.163.145.205, for example).

DNS lookups take milliseconds but in our impatient world this can add-up to a noticeable delay. For many years people have been switching to much faster public DNS servers, such as those provided by Google or OpenDNS. However, the superb (and free!) Namebench utility for Mac – created by a Google engineer – can help find the very fastest public DNS for you in your particular geographic location. Put simply, it benchmarks your current DNS along with several public services in order to find the fastest.

Running tests
Using the app is easy. Install it by dragging it to your Applications list, then right-click the app icon and select Open. Then choose to open the app. Namebench will fill in most details automatically but, unless you’re a Google Chrome user, I suggest selecting Top 2,000 Websites (Alexa) from the Query Data Source dropdown list.

Additionally, if your ISP censors your connection – if it blocks access to access certain torrent sites, for example – then you can put a check in the Include Censorship Checks box to further filter the results.

Once done, click the Start button. Namebench takes a long time to complete – just leave it running in the background.

Interpreting results
When Namebench has finished it’ll open a web page showing the results. A lot of info is provided but all you really need is at the top right of the page, where suggested primary, secondary and tertiary DNS server addresses are listed as numeric IP addresses. Make a note of these.

Changing your DNS settings
Taking the information you made a note of above, open System Preferences, select the Network icon, then click the Advanced button. Click the DNS tab, and then the plus button at the bottom left of the list. Type or paste-in the first DNS address, hit Enter, then click the plus button again to enter the second. Doing this will overtype any default entries in the list, so there’s no need to manually delete them.

Add the tertiary (third) address if needed, although there’s not really any need – a primary and secondary are fine for most situations.

Note that if you use two or more different types of Internet connection – Wi-Fi along with Ethernet for example – then you’ll need to do this for each connection by selecting it at the left after you click the Network icon in System Preferences.

If your router allows it, you might also change the DNS settings within its configuration pages, which will mean that all devices in your household benefit from faster DNS lookups.

Try to run Namebench once a month to ensure you keep up with the fastest possible servers.

If you use public wi-fi services while out and about then you might need to temporarily delete your new DNS settings because they can interfere with the captive portal technology these services use. Just add them again when you return home. Alternatively you can create alternate network locations for home and public wi-fi.


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Leave a comment...

namebench is a very useful utility, after having used the command line version of it for a very long time I still have two issues with it.

First I that it has been abandoned and not updated since 2010. Its scary to use software that has no active support because you could be inviting trouble for which you have no defense against.

Secondly, it has no facility to test IPV6 DNS server address and since its has been abandoned, it looks like it never will. This makes it useless for the future because we have already run out of IPV4 addresses and have started deploying IPV6 addresses for quite some time now.

In using namebench I found that you can easily wind up with different results every day that you use it. Its unclear if the DNS servers are experiencing congestion, or the network is experiencing congestion or of the software is somehow flawed.

Downloading the GUI version seems impossible, its takes forever then the connection is broken and I have to start again. I have been trying since last year and have yet to have gotten it to download once. The command line version does download and does work fine (within the above caveats).

Since the GUI version dates back to 2010, it probably is not signed by Google (just guessing here), if so then you’ll get an error when trying to launch it. You could select it and click on Open in the Finder, which bypasses OS X’s built-in Gatekeeper security which then launches the app, however you have no idea if that abandoned software has been hacked and you might have just installed a trojan horse or virus into your machine. If you cannot get it to launch with a smile double-click on its icon, I would simply delete it and not bother at all. The difference it makes is small, in most cases you cannot tell any difference at all.

This software real is only useful if all your webpages take a long time to resolve and you are tired of waiting for them. Then it could verify for you that your DNS service from your ISP is faulty and needs attention. I would call your ISP and have them fix it. If yo have an uncooperative ISP that doesn’t support you then I would consider simply using the OpenDNS DNS servers (I don’t trust Google and neither should you, don’t use their DNS servers) and see if you notice a big difference with the OpenDNS servers if you do then stay with them, if you don’t then its something else that needs troubleshooting.

Dr Bob · Feb 25, 10:38 AM · #

Name bench won’t complete the operation. It gets to 4313 of 4315 checks (so close!), and then just won’t finish.

Ideas? Solutions?

thanks!

Patrick Lafferty · Aug 11, 06:14 AM · #

 
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