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Is OpenNIC a reliable DNS service? -

A computer networking DNS questionI was asked the question, "Is OpenNIC a reliable DNS service?" As a systems administrator on a private network, being able to create and customize a DNS server adds some management features that would not apply to the average home based web surfer. But this question was asked with the reason for using OpenNIC is was to add an extra layer of privacy to your web browsing.

First let's take a quick look at the definition of DNS (Domain Naming Service)

  • DNS is a distributed database of Domain Names and their corresponding IP Addresses.
  • DNS makes it possible to attach hard to remember IP addresses to easy to remember domain names
  • DNS translates between meaningful host names and IP addresses. It is a hierarchical naming system used to give each server on the Internet a unique name.
  • DNS keeps a complete listing of all FQDNs (Fully qualified domain names) and their associated IP address.

What is OpenNIC?

OpenNIC, an open source DNS provider, an organization of hobbyists who run an alternative DNS network.

Is OpenNIC a reliable DNS service?

A quick look at some data found in the links below tell me that OpenNIC, an open source DNS provider, does not appear to be as efficient as other DNS providers.

Comparing the performance of popular public DNS providers -|- Recommended Public DNS Servers

Based on the data in those two articles, and my personal experiences with open source, I would ask, why bother to use OpenNIC?

I have volunteered my time and have been an advocate of open source solutions for more than 20 years. I am happy to use and test open source solutions if I see a benefit in using them. If I felt the need to pursue an alternative DNS solution I would do more research, but based on what I see here, I just don't see a compelling reason to jump on the OpenNIC bandwagon.

If you want to start playing around with alternative DNS solutions you need to understand the risks as well as the benefits.

The importance of DNS

As an IT professional I have often used the analogy that talking to business managers about maintaining a computer network is like talking about the plumbing. Many cost cutting managers see technology infrastructure as an expense to be reduced, rather than a resource to be managed. The need to replace the pipes is not something that gets discussed. That is, until the morning when there is no water coming from the pipes, and no one can flush the toilets, then it becomes mission critical.

Computer network services such as DNS are like the plumbing below the surface, as long as it is running and everything is working, no one gives it much thought. That is until you type in the name of a website into your browser, and you get the message: dns_unresolved_hostname The requested site could not be found in DNS.

This article puts DNS into perspective: Plan to transition Internet management sparks censorship fears

Quoting from that article:  *"The importance of DNS cannot be overstated. It is the Internet’s phonebook, connecting bizarre-looking IP addresses to the domain names with which all Internet users are familiar. When someone types **Google* (* into their browser, their request goes through a DNS server, which understands that the user is looking for one of Google‘s many servers, including If that routing information were compromised or corrupted, whether intentionally or accidentally, it could severely disrupt the basic flow of traffic over the Web."*

Digging deeper with DNS

Sounds simple on the surface, but when you look at DNS as a tool to deceive and mis-direct people, it gets a little deeper.

Over the years I've written quite a bit about internet laws and proposed legislation. In 2011 the world was up in arms about PIPA (Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act.) The well meaning and good intentions of the US Congress was to shut down rogue websites and reduce the sale of counterfeit goods.

One of the provisions of the proposed law PIPA was allowing the government to remove rogue websites from the Domain Name System (DNS). Of course the internet purists were screaming about too much government control of the internet. (Ironically these same groups are now screaming for more government control of the internet with net neutrality regulations.)

Digging through some old notes I found this article explaining PIPA:  DNS filtering: absolutely the wrong way to defend copyrights

I have digressed a bit from the context of the original question, but I wanted to try to explain why the question might matter to someone beyond the simple answer, and why changing your DNS server is not something to be taken lightly.


Home computer networks explained Wi-Fi and wireless access points -

Wireless home computer networking from WAPs to Wi-Fi Setting up your home network can get confusing as street slang dominates many forums and internet discussions.  Just about any plastic box with wires coming out of it is often called a modem or a router, in reality it may be neither.

Here at the Guru42 Universe we will do out best to sort through all the geek speak.  It is important to have a basic understanding of all the buzzwords when you are setting up your home computer network.  Depending on your Internet Service Provider and the service you are buying, the device they supply will vary and what you need to connect is not a one size fits all answer.

Your ISP (Internet Service Provider) may provide you with a "residential gateway" that allows you to connect to the internet. You then purchase an internet appliance that is often called a "wireless router" to attach it.  People get confused because many small technology appliances made for home use are actually several devices in one.  One of my pet peeves on is when people use the term "wireless router" to describe a variety of devices. Typically what most people call a wireless router is a combination of a router, a wireless access point, and a network switch.

Do I need a modem to access the Internet?

A modem is a MOdulator-DEModulator, as in a modulator which creates an analog signal such as the type needed in POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service), and a demodulator which converts the modulated carrier back to something that can be used in a digital circuit. Most modern communications use digital lines so the need to convert (MOdulate-DEModulate) is no longer necessary.

Often the word modem is used as a generic word for any device that connects your home network to an internet service providers network. Typically in modern home computing when someone uses the term modem they are talking about a  "residential gateway" provided to them by their ISP.

What confuses matters even more is that the device supplied by the ISP could be a multi-function technology appliance that contains a router, an Ethernet switch, and a WAP (wireless access point), and possibly other functions related to a home networks such as a firewall.

What is a wireless access point?

A Wireless Access Point (WAP) is a networking hardware device which, as the name describes, gives you wireless access to your LAN (local area network).  You have a wired connection, an ethernet 8P8C (8 position 8 contact) modular connectors port in your wall, that is wired access. You want to convert that to a wireless access point.

A Wireless Access Point has nothing to do with routing or switching.In a very small home network the WAP could be part of one appliance that has multiple features.  What many people call a router in their home may actually be a router, and a switch, and a wireless access point.

The terms "wireless access point" and "Wi-Fi" are not synonyms.

In online forums people often use the terms  "wireless access point"  and "Wi-Fi" to mean a hotspot, as in any type of public internet access.

A Wireless Access Point (WAP) is a device that offers, as the name suggests, wireless access to a wireless local area network (WLAN).  While cell phone technology is often discussed as a form of wireless networking, it is not the same as the wireless local area network (WLAN) technology discussed here.   In computer networking you would use the term Wireless Access Point (WAP) to identify the device being used, and the term Wi-Fi to identify the specific technology. rather than Wi-Fi access point.

Specifically the term "Wi-Fi" is a trademark of a trade association known as the Wi-Fi Alliance. The marketing company Interbrand, known for creating brand names, was hired to create a brand name to market the new technology, and the name Wi-Fi was chosen. The term "Wi-Fi" with the dash, is a trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

From a technical perspective WLAN technology is defined by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). IEEE 802 refers to a family of IEEE standards dealing with networks carrying variable size packets, which makes it different from cell phone based networks,  802.11 is a subset of the family specific to WLAN technology. Victor "Vic" Hayes was the first chair of the IEEE 802.11 group which finalized the wireless standard in 1997.

How are wireless access points used?

In the business world Wireless Access Points (WAP) are fairly common. On a business network your desktop computers (workstations) are connected via wire, but you probably have several WAPs (Wireless Access Points) for your laptop users.

If you are a visitor to a business network you may notice WAPs set up for office staff as well as visitors. This is becoming very common. You see this in government locations, perhaps even where you get your car serviced you can take your notebook into a lounge where you can use a "guest network" to connect to the internet.

Let's say you have a large home, and it is wired for data, as in it has ethernet ports through out your home. You want to convert that to a wireless access point. It has nothing to do with routing or switching. In wireless communications the "media" is a type of radio wave that communicates from your wireless adapter to the Wireless Access Point.

If your home office is in the basement, and that is the location of your current connection device (router, switch, wireless access point) where everything plugs in.  On the second floor of your house you have an ethernet port in your bedroom, but you want to use a tablet to surf the web, or perhaps use some internet appliance with your bedroom television.  The signal from the wireless access point in your basement is too weak.  You don't need to purchase another device that is a router and switch and WAP, all you need is the WAP (wireless access point).  So you simply buy a device that is ONLY a WAP, and plug it into your ethernet connection.

What is a wireless adapter?

Comparing a wireless network to a wired one, in a wired network your computer workstation has a NIC (Network Interface Card) which in a typical Ethernet network has an 8P8C (Eight Position, Eight Contact) modular jack on it where the network cable plugs into your computer.  From your computer the other end of the network cable plugs into some other type of device such as a switch or router, where traffic on your network is managed and distributed. On a wireless network the wireless adapter takes the place of the NIC.

How do I use ad hoc on a wireless network?

Ad hoc networks refer to networks created for a particular purpose. They are often created on-the-fly and for one-time or temporary use. If you don’t have a crossover cable to connect two notebooks or netbooks you can use their wireless capabilities to exchange files between without the need for any other than the computer itself. Instead of configuring your wireless adapter to connect to a wireless access point or router, you configure your wireless adapter to connect to another computer.

In the wireless world an ad hoc network is the equivalent of a peer to peer network.  In very small home networks, you may have two or three computers where you share resources between them, and to do so you set up a "peer to peer" network. Much like peer to peer networks in the wired world, ad hoc networks have management and security issues beyond that of the typical infrastructure network.

If your computer never leaves your house, having it set up to share files with another computer in your home may not be an issue you have to worry about.  On the other hand, if you travel with your computer, having ad hoc set up on your portable computer could create issues. Wireless devices in ad hoc mode offer minimal security against unwanted incoming connections, and there is a large security risk in using an ad hoc connection to an unknown computer, as you are exposing your computer to file sharing with strangers.

In some cases computers in public are purposely set up to look for and connect to other computers in ad hoc mode in order to steal information from them.  When using your computer in public hotspots you typically will be looking for a Wireless Network Connection, and ignore an attempt to connect with a strange computer using an ad hoc connection.

Learn more

If you are not sure what is the best technology choice for you, and you need some ideas, or if you want to keep up to date on hot topics in technology, check out the Guru 42 small business and technology blog  where we share our views and comments on the technology news of the day.



The evolution of the Internet and the birth of TCP/IP -

During the 1970s Bob Kahn and Vinton Cerf would collaborate as key members of a team to create the building blocks of the modern internet TCP/IP.The creation of the protocol suite TCP/IP as the basic set of rules for computers to communicate was one of the last major phases in the development of this global network we now call the Internet.

The internet was not something born of a single idea, but rather a gradual evolution, and the work of many people over many years.

The idea started with a vision to create a decentralized computer network, whereby every computer was connected to each other, but if one member of the systems was hit, the others would remain unaffected.

From the initial idea of a decentralized computer network came the concept of packet switching. During the 1960s Paul Baran developed the concept of packet switching networks while conducting research at the historic RAND organization.

What is a Protocol?

Once the concept of packet switching was developed the next stage in the evolution was to create a language that would be understood by all computer systems.

The network concept of protocols would establish a standard set of rules that would enable different types of computers, with different hardware and software platforms, to communicate in spite of their differences. Protocols describe both the format that a message must take as well as the way in which messages are exchanged between computers.

During the 1970s Bob Kahn and Vinton Cerf would collaborate as key members of a team to create TCP/IP, Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP), the building blocks of the modern internet.

In 1972, Robert E. Kahn joined the DARPA Information Processing Technology Office, where he worked on both satellite packet networks and ground-based radio packet networks, and recognized the value of being able to communicate across both. In the spring of 1973, Vinton Cerf, the developer of the existing ARPANET Network Control Program (NCP) protocol, joined Kahn to work on open-architecture interconnection models with the goal of designing the next protocol generation for the ARPANET.

What is an RFC?

The concept of Request for Comments (RFC) documents was started by Steve Crocker in 1969 to help record unofficial notes on the development of ARPANET. RFCs have since become official documents of Internet specifications.

In computer network engineering, a Request for Comments (RFC) is a formal document published by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), and the global community of computer network researchers, to establish Internet standards.

TCP/IP RFC History

The creation of TCP/IP as the basic set of rules for computers to communicate was one of the last major phases in the development of this global network we now call the Internet. Many additional members of the TCP/IP family of protocols continue to be developed, expanding of the basic principals established by Bob Kahn and Vinton Cerf back in the 1970s.

In 1981 the TCP/IP standards were published as RFCs 791, 792 and 793 and adopted for use. On January 1, 1983, TCP/IP protocols became the only approved protocol on the ARPANET, the predecessor to today's internet.

Links to learn more:

Check out our site Geek History where we discuss the evolution of the ARPANET and TCP/IP

Why was the internet created: 1957 Sputnik launches ARPA

When was internet invented: J.C.R. Licklider guides 1960s ARPA Vision

In the 1960s Paul Baran developed packet switching

The 1980s internet protocols become universal language of computers



CES gadgets I would actually buy

Tech - -

With more than 4,000 companies at the 2018 CES, it’s difficult to share only a handful of memorable products, but here are some columnist Marc Saltzman would really like to get his hands on when they debut.



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