Server Setup

Choose the right DNS Nameservers for faster website performance

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Once you’ve chosen the proper VPS or dedicated server for your website, it’s time to think of the DNS hosting. You have to decide which DNS nameservers would you use.

What you want from DNS nameservers is primarily two things: reliability and DNS lookups speed. The former will make sure your website is up and accessible in the first place. The latter will make sure that DNS information (and thus, website access) is fast to the website visitors.

Do you stay with your domain registrar’s DNS nameservers?
Should you switch to the DNS nameservers provided by VPS company?
Or you would use something different.

Recommended DNS nameservers

Short and quick answers for our lazy readers:

  • Use the free DNS service provided by Hurricane Electric for fastest DNS lookups
  • If you’re ready to sacrifice some budget for the ultimate DNS service, make use of DNSMadeEasy offerings. Besides matching Hurricane Electric in speed, it has a stack of additional services like DNS IP failover.

Long answers follow. To get the proper answers we need proper tools to measure DNS performance.

  • IntoDNS checks the health and configuration and provides DNS report and mail servers report. It would help us to identify the substantial issues with configuration of DNS nameservers
  • We will use DNS Speed Test provided by UltraTools

Use VPS or dedicated server company nameservers? No.

As part of our GetPageSpeed propaganda here, we advice you to abandon shared hosting and use VPS or dedicated servers. Our provider of choice is Vultr. It’s best in performance and pricing. We will use it as reference model to all DNS nameservers provided by server hosting companies.

The DNS management within your hosting environment surely sounds convenient for these reasons:

  • You can manage your DNS entries from within Vultr management panel and don’t have to leave for another site if you decide to change something.
  • Specifically Vultr’s DNS management provides free-form TTL setting for each DNS entry. This is good for performance. You can set the TTL to a really high value and reduce the number of DNS lookups in that way.

But this is where the benefits end. We found that DNS management by Vultr is unreliable.

  • You add an DNS entry and it never goes live. Things may simply not work. On one of the servers, we’ve added a couple DNS A entries, and they never propagated even after 24 hrs. Changing or removing the entries made no change to situation, which lead us to conclusion that something is inherently wrong with the nameservers.
  • The number of nameservers provided by Vultr at the time of this writing is just 2. This provides for some redundancy and reliability. But this is bare minimum for DNS service anyway.

You don’t have to trust our words on all of this. We run a test on a domain which was using Vultr nameservers and we got the following warnings in IntoDNS checks:

  • WARNING: Not all of your nameservers are in different subnets
  • WARNING: Single point of failure
  • Your SOA serial number is: 1456491480. This can be ok if you know what you are doing.

We measured the speed of lookups for further reference and comparison to other DNS nameservers:

Vultr DNS lookups speed
Vultr DNS lookups speed

This just about confirms one thing that is common to all VPS providers. DNS management is just a minor selling point for them. They are not best with DNS. It’s just not their thing. They wouldn’t bother with perfecting it. It will be in “more or less working” state and that’s it.

Let’s try our next option.

Use domain registrar’s DNS nameservers? No.

The domain registrars vary greatly in the DNS management level that they offer. Same to VPS companies, the DNS management is not their major selling point and they would rather invest in making sure you buy the domain with them in the first place. The speed and reliability of their nameservers is not priority for each of them. So it differs from one registrar to another.

If any nameservers we would advise to use from those, is the ones provided by Namecheap. It doesn’t provide much speed to your DNS lookups, but it’s worth considering for the number of features.

You can either transfer your domain to them (and most likely have cheaper cost for your domain). Or use their Free DNS service by simply pointing to their nameservers at your current registrar.

The specific benefits of NameCheap as a DNS registrar and their nameservers include:

  • WhoisGuard feature will allow you to hide your personal information from WHOIS lookups that people might run against the domain that you own
  • Support of DNSSEC

The speed is not at its best though:

NameCheap DNS lookups speed
NameCheap DNS lookups speed

We have not run into any configuration errors of NameCheap servers while testing with IntoDNS.

Meet free Hurricane Electric DNS

Yes, it’s free and it’s one of the best in speed, reliability and DNS management level.

Hurricane Electric DNS lookups speed
Hurricane Electric DNS lookups speed

Fast, reliable due to 5 geographically dispersed nameservers. And no configuration errrors reported by IntoDNS.

Not much to say about a free service which is nearly flawless. Just Recommended.

Update from 13 Nov 2017 I have stumbled many times on severe initial trouble with Hurricane Electric. The DNS delegation to their nameservers is not without downtime. They do not create zone on their servers until delegation is found. And since they are caching delegation check results, situation worsens further! Be aware of this when you switch your DNS to it and look into CloudFlare as no-downtime alternative.

CloudFlare

CloudFlare is very easy to setup. They will scan your DNS records so this remove extra hassle of re-adding those. Note that not all DNS records are automatically found by CloudFlare. They scan for the most common ones, so double check that they’ve picked up everything and add missing ones manually.

CloudFlare gives not the best results for MX entries for some reason. However, resolution of A records is on par with Hurricane Electric. So it can be advised as a no-downtime switch alternative:

CloudFlare DNS Speed
CloudFlare DNS Speed

Meet DNSMadeEasy

If you want the speed of Hurricane Electric charged with many additional DNS features and have extra money in your pocket, we advise on using DNSMadeEasy. While it’s not free, it will make sure that ultimate feeling of compliteness for using the notorious DNS service which made their nameservers work more reliable than any others.

No issues reported with IntoDNS. Speed test:

DNSMadeEasy DNS lookup speeds
DNSMadeEasy DNS lookup speeds

One of the major services they provide is DNS IP failover. It is more targeted for mission critical web apps.

The service will detect if your website is down and switch its DNS A record automatically to the IP of your “backup” server. That implies you have the budget for having 2 servers running in perfect sync at the same time, ideally using different hosting companies for each server.

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