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

While custom DNS, SmartDNS, and VPN have overlapping functionalities, they use various technologies and offer different services. A VPN is designed to improve online privacy and security, while DNS and SmartDNS services are for user convenience. Let’s examine how DNS, SmartDNS, and VPNs work and their main differences.

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

What is DNS?

What is a DNS server?

A DNS server is a computer system that translates domain names (like www.example.com) into IP addresses (like 192.0.2.1). When a user enters a domain name into their browser, the browser sends a request to a DNS server, asking to give an IP address that can be used to connect to the web server hosting the website.

DNS servers play an important role in allowing people to access online content. Without DNS servers, users would have to type in long and difficult-to-memorize IP addresses to access websites, which wouldn’t be user friendly.

By default, devices use your internet service provider’s (ISP) DNS servers by default. However, some users may change their DNS for better connection speeds and more content freedom.

You’ll find several third-party custom DNS providers that can replace the DNS services your ISP provides. A good, reliable DNS provider should offer the following:

  • Privacy. A DNS provider shouldn’t log your IP address or track browsing data. Also, the DNS company should not sell user data to third parties.
  • Server infrastructure. The DNS service should have enough servers in your region to provide a stable connection and the best speed.
  • Protection. Some DNS servers offer protection against phishing sites and encrypt your DNS queries. Look for a company that gives you this level of protection.

What is Smart DNS?

SmartDNS is a specialized DNS technology allowing users to access otherwise unavailable content on their devices.

When you type an address to access a website or service, SmartDNS redirects certain DNS queries based on the predefined region. By doing so, SmartDNS makes it look like you’re accessing the website from that region.

You can access the content you want from anywhere, even abroad. However, it’s important to note that SmartDNS focuses on content access rather than giving you online security and privacy features like a VPN. You don’t get a new IP address — SmartDNS simply changes how a website sees your IP address.

Users can purchase SmartDNS services independently or as part of a broader service, like a VPN. NordVPN offers SmartDNS services to help you quickly and securely access your favorite content. You can set up SmartDNS on your TV and other devices.

Here are some helpful guides to help you get started with NordVPN’s SmartDNS feature:

DNS vs. VPN vs. SmartDNS

Even though some of the functions of custom DNS, SmartDNS, and VPNs overlap, they are different. Let’s look at how DNS, SmartDNS, and VPN providers compare and what benefits they offer.

Custom DNSSmartDNSVPN
Main function
Translating domain names to IP addresses that computers can understand.Redirecting certain DNS queries to let users access otherwise unavailable content.Increasing the user’s online privacy, security, and freedom.
PrivacyDNS services don’t provide privacy protection. Your DNS queries are visible to your ISP or DNS provider.SmartDNS services don’t provide privacy protection. Your DNS queries are visible to your ISP or DNS provider.A VPN replaces your IP address, preventing snoopers, governments, and ISPs from monitoring your online activity.
SecuritySome DNS providers may use encryption to prevent cybercriminals from intercepting your DNS queries. However, they don’t encrypt all your traffic.Some SmartDNS providers may use encryption to prevent cybercriminals from intercepting your DNS queries. However, they don’t encrypt all your traffic.A VPN encrypts your internet traffic to increase internet security and prevent cybercriminals from accessing your digital data.
Data loggingSome DNS providers may log or sell your data to third parties.Some SmartDNS providers may log or sell your data to third parties.A reliable VPN service will not log or sell your online data to third parties.
PriceDNS services are relatively inexpensive or free.SmartDNS services are relatively inexpensive or free.A reliable VPN provider is typically more expensive than a DNS or SmartDNS service.
SpeedUsing a custom DNS service may improve your internet speed.SmartDNS may have better speeds than a VPN because it doesn’t offer additional privacy and security benefits.Because a VPN is designed to protect your digital privacy and improve security, the connection can sometimes be slower.

As you can see, DNS, SmartDNS, and VPN offer different benefits and levels of online protection.

In summary, a DNS helps resolve the website or the service you’re trying to access. The main feature is that instead of the user having to search for the correct address, the Domain Name System will do it automatically.

When a SmartDNS is used, the DNS address provided by your ISP will be overridden with a new one.

A VPN, however, will encrypt your data and online activity. While it may be slower than a DNS, the VPN will come packaged with a plethora of privacy protections.

DNS, SmartDNS, or VPN: Which is right for you?

Whether you choose a third-party DNS provider, a SmartDNS service, or a VPN will depend on your needs.

Using a third-party DNS provider may help improve browsing speed or give you an easier way to update parental controls on your home network. However, using a third-party DNS provider won’t provide advanced online security and privacy benefits.

The same could be said about SmartDNS. While both SmartDNS and VPN services can help you unlock more content, VPNs offer security and privacy benefits SmartDNS lacks.

A VPN encrypts your internet connection and changes your IP address, giving you more control over your online privacy and security. You can go online knowing no one can eavesdrop on your connection because it is encrypted and safe.

SmartDNS doesn’t provide these cybersecurity benefits — it simply makes it look like you’re accessing a website from another location. As a result, you can watch or read your favorite content while traveling, but as you do that, your data and online activity aren’t protected from cybercriminals.

If you’re looking for a lightweight solution for accessing content, using a SmartDNS-only service may work. However, a VPN is a better choice if you want to protect your online privacy and improve your digital security. Plus, many VPN providers offer a SmartDNS feature, allowing you to enjoy the benefits of SmartDNS on any device securely.

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