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Throes of DNS woes? Fix a “stuck” website with custom DNS servers.

For several months, I had issues with my current ISP and DNS propagation issues. I would do something like transfer a domain or install an SSL certificate, and even after waiting the regular allotted time for DNS propagation, and doing the usual refresh the local cache to show updates, I still would not see the “changes” on my home office computers. This started to become a major issue. I had domains “stuck” for a week or more. This meant I had to go down to the local coffee shop and work on those websites, which started to get pretty old. Finally, I realized that I can just bypass my ISP’s nameservers and use alternate ones, fixing my troubles. The following is a quick and dirty guide to doing exactly that.

DNS Propagation is not browser content caching.

If you are reading this because you are working on a website and your changes aren’t showing up, you might simply be dealing with your browser cache. This is a much more common reason for not seeing website updates and is not what I’m talking about here. What browser caching does is store bits of websites like images and code locally on your computer, so that when you visit that website again, you load your local content and thus speed up your page load time. Then if your browser refuses to load the new content from the server, you won’t see your edits. To learn how to clear your browser cache read this.

DNS – The Switchboards of the internet.

My Grandmother was once a telephone switchboard operator. What switchboard operators did was take your call and manually plug you in to the right phone circuits so that your signal could be connected to the phone of the person you were trying to call. Of course, this soon became automated.

Well, DNS or Domain Name Servers do basically the same thing. They are like switchboard operators for the internet. They take your request to load that picture of a cat on and say, “Ok, its that way!” and point you further down the internet towards the host server for Reddit (Actually, on a cloud CDN for Reddit, so the closest available cloud host) which then grumbles for a picosecond and sends the cat image back your way.

When changes are made to domains like a domain transfer, change in nameservers or assignment to a static IP address, it’s the job of the domain server to update with this fresh information, so that you get to the right destination. My problem was this was not happening. I called my ISP who will not be named, *cough*Qwest/CenturyLink*cough*, several times trying to resolve the issue. They were not much help and actually dropped my calls after long waits, twice. When I told them they had to flush / update their DNS server cache, they just ignored me and put me through the regular support script. Thanks CenturyLink!

Luckily, I finally realized that you don’t have to use your assigned DNS servers with your ISP. You can specify static DNS addresses and go through whoever you wish.

Who should  I Use for DNS Servers?

Find a fast public DNS server with Namebench
My Namebench results

Good question. There has to be a lot of choices right? I found an open source free tool that took the guessing out of the equation. It’s called NameBench, and you can download it here. On some advice I read, I ran it with 5000 queries for a more accurate result. It took about an hour to run. Wouldn’t you know it, Google runs a DNS service, and they came out on top at 12.6% faster than my current ISP DNS server. Results may vary due to your location, especially in other countries, but Google is a pretty safe bet, if you want to skip this step. Go ahead and read up on Google’s DNS server here if you want.

Changing your settings.

Example Router settings.
Example router settings.

The required info is straightforward. Just 2 IP addresses. In the case of Google’s service, they are and In my situation, I decided to update my router’s settings instead of on my computer. This way, I would not have to also update my laptop, or any other computers on my network. Either way should work though. On a PC, you would be assigning DNS servers in that same network settings are that you would assign a static or dynamic IP for your IP V4 TCP/IP properties area. For me, now back to my router, I found my router’s appropriate settings under “Advanced Setup” then “WAN Settings”.  Your experience will vary, according to your router. Basically you want to find the setting that allow you to change your DNS type from dynamic to static, then enter the Google DNS server IP numbers, and If you are new to mucking around in a router, you can often find the login by typing or sometimes just “home” in to your browsers address bar. Determine your router’s exact make and model and look it up for more info.

Now, you should do a couple more steps to clear your local DNS cache on your computer. I’m not sure how essential this step is, but I did them and it’s easy. First, open a command prompt by going to “start” then typing “cmd” in the search bar. This opens the good old dos command prompt. Now type “ipconfig /flushdns”. No quotes. You should see a message, “Windows IP Configuration. Successfully Flushed the DNS Resolver Cache”. Good!

Clear your browser cache
Clear your browser cache

Finally, simply clear your browser cache. I know I said it’s not related earlier, but now we want to clear out any locally stored DNS related information, which talk around the campfire says Firefox may store. Chrome apparently does not have this issue. You can apparently get a Firefox add on for this, or, just dump everything the old fashioned way by going to “Tools –> Clear Recent History –> Clear Now”.

Now punch in the URL of that stuck site and whammo, you should see it some up all freshened up with your most recent domain level changes.

Good luck!

Tobias Carrier

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Tobias Carrier is lead designer and owner here at Rogue EasyWeb. He has been a freelance web designer / developer for over 12 years now, serving the communities of Lake Tahoe, Bend Oregon, Ashland Oregon and beyond. If Tobias isn't behind the computer you can find him out on a mountain bike, a snowboard or out shooting photos.