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DNS, VPN and Smart DNS: Which is right for you?

Web content isn't always the same when you travel the world. Most countries have specific restrictions that can disrupt streaming when you travel. However there are DNS, VPN, and Smart DNS tools that help you enjoy your favorite series abroad. Here's how they work.

Paul Black

Paul Black

Jun 10, 2019 · 3 min read

DNS, VPN and Smart DNS: Which is right for you?

What is DNS?

Domain Name Systems (or DNS) are like the address books of the internet. You access websites via domain names (like, but these domain names are translated into the IP addresses that computers use by DNS. Then your browser can process the URL address and connect you to a website.

DNS servers store these IP addresses so you don’t have to memorize them. There are millions of them, so without DNS, the internet would be a wild and complicated mess.

Our article about DNS hijacking attacks has more info about how DNS works.

What is Smart DNS?

Smart DNS service replaces the DNS address provided by your ISP with one for a different server. The location depends on the server infrastructure of the provider. This lets you access geo-blocked content because the website thinks that you are in a different location. It’s important to note that this doesn’t give you a new IP address – it just changes how a website sees your IP address.

The best DNS to use

Normally, your devices use DNS servers provided by your ISP, which is convenient but allows your ISP to track what you do. You can choose a different DNS provider, but you should always take into account the following aspects when choosing one:

  1. Privacy. Be sure that the DNS does not log your IP address or track your browsing data. Also, make sure that the DNS company does not sell it’s users data to third parties.
  2. Speed. Always check that the speed the DNS service offers suits your needs.
  3. Server infrastructure. Make sure that service has enough servers nearby to provide you with a stable connection and the best speed.
  4. Protection. Some DNS servers offer protection against phishing sites or malware attacks.
  5. Great customer care.

However, it is difficult to find a service that provides all of these benefits.

Smart DNS vs. VPN

Even though some of the functions of Smart DNS and VPNs (virtual private networks) overlap, they are quite different.


Smart DNS


  • Lightweight and fast as does it not use complicated encryption protocols like VPNs do;
  • Usually a cheaper option than a VPN;
  • Can be used to access geo-blocked content.


  • Does not provide secure encryption;
  • Cannot hide your IP, so you can still be tracked by your service provider;
  • More complicated to set up for non-experienced users;
  • Quality DNS services can cost as much as or more than a VPN but won't provide as many benefits. Hackers can also launch a DNS spoofing attack and redirect you to fake websites.

If you want a Smart DNS service, consider getting NordVPN. Our VPN comes with a Smart DNS service built-in. If you're using other VPN providers, take a DNS leak test to see if your VPN is not leaking.

Online security starts with a click.

Stay safe with the world’s leading VPN



  • Fully protects your traffic by encrypting your data so that hackers, surveillance agencies and ISPs can’t see it;
  • Grants anonymity by changing your IP so you can’t be tracked;
  • Can be used to access geo-blocked content;
  • Premium VPNs are very easy to set up;
  • VPN providers offer lots of additional functions, including malware protection, automatic kill switches, etc.


  • More expensive;
  • Marginally slower as it provides full encryption and IP change.

When comparing DNS and VPN services, you should consider the following:

  • Online video streaming. DNS is a better option due to its lightweight nature. It does not use encryption so you can enjoy the full speed of your standard internet connection. However, keep in mind that VPNs don't always slow down your connection;
  • Working in a government-restricted environment. Only VPNs can grant you full protection and anonymity. Smart DNS also cannot bypass firewalls;
  • Handling sensitive data. Unlike DNS, VPNs encrypt your traffic, making it safe from man-in-the-middle attacks.

Online security starts with a click.

Try NordVPN’s SmartPlay!