Sick and tired of the internet being slow? 1.1.1.1 makes it faster

April Fools day is normally filled with internet pranks, creative advertising and implausible stories. And so, when we saw that CloudFlare and APNIC had put together some marketing on a new DNS service, we thought it must be just another April Fools prank. It’s anything but.

What is DNS?

DNS is the way the internet finds things using “domain names”. It translates human readable addresses (like rwts.com.au) into “IP Addresses” in either IPv4 or IPv6 format. Every time you visit a website, or send an email, your computer asks a DNS server for the address of the website you are visiting, so that it can work out how to get there. DNS addresses have a mechanism to “expire” the address, so a computer can cache the answer for a period of time.

We, like every other ISP, host our own DNS servers for our customers. Our DNS servers handle a large volume of queries, and handle the important job of working out who to ask for the correct DNS address for a website. There are a number of public DNS servers, such as Google’s Anycast 8.8.8.8 DNS servers and OpenDNS.

In the days of streaming content, rich media applications, and SSL everywhere DNS is becoming more and more important, and increasingly a bottleneck to website performance.

Why does DNS make things slow?

It’s basic maths. Every time you go to visit a website, you need to find the address of that site if you don’t know it. Websites use things like “Content Delivery Networks” (CDNs) to serve static images, CSS (the styling that makes web pages look good), JavaScript (which adds functionality to websites) and Video content. These often use unique addresses to allow the content creators to “spread out” the load for website queries across multiple places. Each time your computer needs to look up a new DNS server address, it adds several milliseconds to the query. One or two of these might not be a big deal — but 10 queries that take 70ms quickly adds up to 0.7s, which is easily noticeable on a fast internet conneciton.

So what is 1.1.1.1?

CloudFlare, in partnership with APNIC, have launched a new Public DNS service that is much faster than many other DNS systems. It also claims a strong privacy position, not storing any details or data about DNS queries. In our tests, it seems around 2x faster than our own DNS systems and up to 50x faster than Google’s 8.8.8.8.

We’ve tested a number of common websites that are behind CDNs (such as facebook.com, apple.com, smh.com.au) and have observed that the addresses being resolved closely match the ones our internal servers use — which means that you should still continue to receive the best content choices if you switch your browser to use these sites instead of our local resolvers.

Should I swap to using this instead of Real World or Oxygen’s resolvers?

This is a great question. We certainly don’t see any down sides at the moment, and we are certainly very happy with performance in our tests.

One of the more interesting things about this announcement is that APNIC has initially provided the address space to CloudFlare for a 5 year period, and at the end of 5 years will consider an application from CloudFlare to allow them to continue to run the program.

So, as long as CloudFlare keeps providing this service you’ll have at least 5 years to use it.

So how do I use it?

You can use the new DNS resolvers by changing your computer or router’s DNS settings to use 1.1.1.1 and 1.0.0.1 for IPv4 queries and 2606:4700:4700::1111 and 2606:4700:4007::1001 for IPv6 queries. For more details on how to do this, you can visit https://1.1.1.1/.

If you are in a business network, it’s important you do not change your computer DNS resolver details without first checking with your network administrator, as doing so will likely break your access to network shares, corporate websites and result in your computer being unable to log in.

Is it secure?

CloudFlare claims it is so. They are using this project to help combat internet censorship, and claim that they will never sell user data to a third party.

How fast is it?

We did a sample of 10 websites and compared Real World’s Recursive DNS servers, CloudFlare’s 1.1.1.1 and Google’s 8.8.8.8 on a Real World NBN connection. The websites we tested were pool.ntp.org, smh.com.au, apple.com, facebook.com, twitter.com, reddit.com, microsoft.com, google.com, and telstra.com.

Real World’s 114.141.99.2 scored an average of 45ms across the 9 tests. Cloudflare scored an average of 21ms across the 9 tests. Google scored an average of 126ms. Perhaps more telling is the standard deviation, which is 70ms for Real World, 126ms for Google and only 4ms for CloudFlare!

What do we take from this? Well, CloudFlare’s DNS servers are fast. Really fast.

I can’t access 1.1.1.1 — what’s going on?

We know that there are definitely going to be instances of people not being able to use this service. Some popular captive portal software and internet gateways use the address 1.1.1.1 for internal addresses. This has been against internet best practice for at least 10 years, but still persists in some hardware and network setups. Your Network Manager, infrastructure provider or hardware vendor may be able to adjust settings or help you define a technology pathway to upgrade to resolve this for you.

2 thoughts on “Sick and tired of the internet being slow? 1.1.1.1 makes it faster

  1. I set my router to use 1.1.1.1, but found my streaming TV service (Sling) dropping from HD to SD really often. I would get a second of HD, few seconds of SD, second of HD, and so on. Switching back to ISP-defined DNS servers and it mostly stopped.

    It might be faster than a few other services, but still too slow for some uses.,

    1. Hi Nukolls – absolutely true. DNS is used in selecting the best servers for streaming content.

      Many content providers and ISPs work together to optimise the best choice for their content to ensure that you get it from the fastest mirrors, and so if you are seeing worse performance particularly on streaming applications it’s likely that the CloudFlare DNS mirrors aren’t aware of the “better” path to the content. It will definitely be interesting to see how they deal with this in the medium to long term.

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