Tips for speeding up your internet experience

Even though Internet speeds are getting better and better, any nerd knows that we’re always looking for things to make our online experience faster. First, a quick primer about how your computer communicates with any other computer (local or on the Internet)…

iStock_000019531179XSmallWhenever you do anything involving communicating with another system, your computer has to look up the “location” of the destination server – it will begin by looking to see if it has a reference to the destination in its own, local “hosts” file – think of the hosts file as your personal address book. If it doesn’t see a reference to your requested destination there then it will query whatever DNS server(s) – the “public yellow pages,” to carry through the analogy – are specified in your network configuration.

Here are two things you can do (one for each of the afore-mentioned steps) to improve the responsiveness of your online experience:

Customize your local hosts file

Typically, your hosts file only has a small handful of key entries, but you can add to it to cover a huge array of scenarios. Fortunately, there’s a website out there that offers a frequently-updated template you can simply drop on to your system – their own description outlines its usefulness perfectly:

“This is an easy and effective way to protect you from many types of spyware, reduces bandwidth use, blocks certain pop-up traps, prevents user tracking by way of “web bugs” embedded in spam, provides partial protection to IE from certain web-based exploits and blocks most advertising you would otherwise be subjected to on the internet.”

Follow their OS-specific instructions to update your own hosts file and be sure to revisit every once in a while to get updated listings.

Find a faster public DNS server

DNS servers are, as mentioned earlier, sort of the “public Yellow Pages” of the Internet, bridging the gap between what you request and how your computer finds that destination. Unfortunately, not all DNS servers are equal, as some provide faster responses than others.

The good news is that there’s a free utility out there called namebench that will benchmark the response time for many publicly-accessible DNS servers (you can also add your own in to the mix, say, the DNS servers provided by your ISP). Once you find out which service is the fastest, configure your network settings to refer to those DNS servers and enjoy faster response times!

Hint: In my experience, OpenDNS winds up having the fastest DNS servers every time – faster than even Google’s public DNS servers…

Download namebench here.

BONUS TIP!

Besides the DNS-related tune-ups mentioned above, I’m also a big fan of the AdBlock Plus browser plug-in. Available for all major browsers, AdBlock watches the code of web pages you visit and proactively strips out the advertisements before the page is rendered on your screen. This has dual benefits:

  1. First and foremost it removes all of the “noise” on a web page, enabling you to more easily focus on actual content.
  2. It (theoretically) reduces page load time, as you no longer have to wait for ad images to download to your computer.

AdBlock is available for all major browsers here.

 

15.08.20 update
I just had an epiphany: “What if one could add all of the “bad” domains listed on someonewhocares.org directly in to your OpenDNS-hosted account? Well, it turns out it can be done via the “Manage individual domains” function but a) you can only add one domain at a time and b) according to this forum posting, you can only add 25 or 50 entries depending on your OpenDNS account. Boooooo!

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