Registrar can’t do DNS for you? Need your domain name information hosted? Prefer free lunch? All my domains (around 10+) have been hosted on free DNS servers over the years, and most of them are very reliable. I will be sharing some of these free DNS hosting in this article.
If you are on shared hosting, domain name hosting is usually part of the deal. You ask your registrar to change the name servers to your host’s, and they’ll start giving out authoritative replies. There is no much you need to worry about.
However, if you are having your own dedicated server or virtual private server, you pretty much have to roll your own, unless your registrar can host the DNS for you. It gets trickier as most, if not all, registrars require at least two DNS servers per domain/zone. That means you cannot just have your dedicated server or VPS running a DNS server — you also need to find another host to run the “secondary NS” to provide redundancy. Moreover, it is not recommended to run DNS on the same physical/virtual server as your websites, but I will leave that discussion for the future.
Personally I found the most reliable method is having DNS hosted elsewhere — by a different company/organisation, on a different server, in a different network, or even located at a different continent. You want your DNS to stay up, even at the event when your dedicated servers burst to flames.
There are many DNS hosting companies that charge $ per domain per year hosted. Most of them provide great stability in their geographically separated servers. However, if paying money is not your thing, or you do not require that much functionality / guaranteed uptime, there are plenty free DNS providers that are very descent at unbeatable price.
But what criteria do you use to pick the service?
Well. The best is FREE. Not free* with tiny foot notes with strict conditions. Not free only for the first 6 months. Not free only if you pay a hefty price to register/transfer domain there.
However, sometimes it is also a good idea to look at how the free DNS hosting company survive. It costs a lot of money keeping at least two servers on different locations, and I believe it is a lot of work to ensure their DNS is secured and protected, as it has been common for hackers to poison or DDoS attack DNS servers. I know some operators did it out of their generosity — great! Some depend on donation. Some sell extra services. Some force feed you with banner ads.
Well, it is good to know that your “free hosting” is able to survive financially. Nothing can be worse waking up Sunday morning and none of your websites and emails are working, because data centre somewhere cut off bandwidth to some non-paying client, which happens to be your DNS host.
Domains and Records
Most free hosts have limit on number of domains and DNS records that you can host, and many allow paying customers to extend that limit. If you just need DNS for a few blog sites, it does not really matter as it is not likely you’ll exceed the limit. However, if you want to host many domains with lots of sub-domains, you either need to (1) look at commercial offerings (2) find a DNS host that gives you that capability with one-time donation (like EveryDNS.net) (3) look for one that actually has no such limitation (like XName.org).
You also need to look out for what type of DNS records you can create. Most support the “usual bunch” —
NS, etc. However, if you need anything fancy like
TXT to support SPF for example. In that case, there might be less choices.
Many free DNS host provide extra features that are not part of DNS hosting. For example,
- Secondary DNS — it will regularly transfer DNS records from your primary DNS.
- Dynamic DNS — want to assign a domain name to your ADSL/cable connection but only has a dynamic IP?
- Web forwarding — it hosts the
Aentry of your website, and redirect to the actual URL.
- Email forwarding — it hosts the
MXentry of your domains, and forward the emails to another address.
Not that important if you are only after DNS hosting, but might be a deciding factor for some, as it means you don’t usually need to run these services. Personally I found email forwarding very useful. You can turn it on when your dedicated or VPS mail server is off-line, and have it forwarding incoming emails to your other email accounts.
Location! Location! Location!
Unlike some one-box-wonder small webhosting resellers who run both DNS server on two different IP addresses on the same box, most DNS hosting providers should have their DNS servers on geographical diversified networks and data centres. It is important to ensure your domain names remain resolvable even when the services you have provided are off-line.
For example, if both NS sit on the same physical server, it produces a single point of failure, which is exactly what the redundancy in DNS is trying to resolve. If both NS is on the same network, a DDoS against one of the name servers is likely to bring another one down as well. If both NS is in the same geographical location, natural disasters (earth quake, cyclone, etc) can still eliminate your domain off the net.
Therefore, like realtor would say, “Location! Location! Location!” It is a good idea to work out where their servers are located.
Sometimes the free DNS hosting providers would provide this kind of information on their website. A simple
tracert.exe on Windows) can also provide you with a good idea where the servers are. Don’t use a DNS provider that has all their NS in the same network, as it defeats the very purpose of redundancy in DNS.
Free DNS Hosting Provider Reviews
I will be sharing the experiences I had with some of those free DNS hosting providers.
I have compiled a list of free DNS providers that I have experience with, and host the comparison on Google docs.