Why Your Internet Connection Just Had a Freakout (And How to Fix It)

There's a chance your internet connection just fritzed out for 20 minutes or so and didn't let you load any webpages. If you were paying attention, though, you'd have seen that other services, like your chatrooms or a Twitter client, kept working just fine—you just couldn't send any data out. That's because there was a hiccup with Google's DNS servers. Here's exactly what happened, and how to fix it.

Basically, Google's DNS (Domain Name System) server, which translates the name of a website you're trying to use into its actual IP address (Disney's "go.com" is in actuality 199.181.132.250, which in turn houses a bunch of other popular sites, like ABC News and ESPN) fell down. And if you're trying to go to "gawker.com" but there's nothing there to translate those letters into the series of numbers that the internet understands, well, you're going to stall out.

There's more reason to learn about DNS than just figuring out why a 20-minute internet slip-up happened, though. A lot of times, when you're sitting at home, trying to figure out what the hell's wrong with your internet connection, you aren't really mad at Time Warner's internet service, but the DNS services connecting you to it. So if you know how to tinker with those, you can clear up your own problems.

Below, we've copied in some simple instructions from Google's page about how to set up your connection with its public servers. But since Google's the one that was having issues today, you'd want to swap out its servers (8.8.8.8 and/or 8.8.4.4) for something else. The most popular alternative on Twitter today was Level 3's (4.2.2.2), which you can always use to test if the problem is the DNS, but we didn't get a chance to test how much better that was before Google came back online and rendered the point moot. There are other public DNS servers like OpenDNS out there too, and often, they are faster than the ones your ISP sets you up with, so this is worth checking out regardless.

One note is that if you're on a controlled network (at work, for example), you might want to check with your administrator, since many of them will block alternative DNS servers. In which case, when you run into problems, feel free to just sit back and see how many pencils you can get stuck in the ceiling panels before the internet turns back on.

Anyway, this is basic internet knowledge, but something a lot of folks don't have a totally firm grasp on.

Here are some instructions from Google itself on how to change the DNS servers for your connection:

Microsoft Windows

DNS settings are specified in the TCP/IP Properties window for the selected network connection.

Example: Changing DNS server settings on Microsoft Windows 7

  1. Go the Control Panel.
  2. Click Network and Internet, then Network and Sharing Center, and click Change adapter settings.
  3. Select the connection for which you want to configure Google Public DNS. For example:
    • To change the settings for an Ethernet connection, right-click Local Area Connection, and click Properties.
    • To change the settings for a wireless connection, right-click Wireless Network Connection, and click Properties.
    If you are prompted for an administrator password or confirmation, type the password or provide confirmation.
  4. Select the Networking tab. Under This connection uses the following items, select Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) or Internet Protocol Version 6 (TCP/IPv6) and then click Properties.
  5. Click Advanced and select the DNS tab. If there are any DNS server IP addresses listed there, write them down for future reference, and remove them from this window.
  6. Click OK.
  7. Select Use the following DNS server addresses. If there are any IP addresses listed in the Preferred DNS server or Alternate DNS server, write them down for future reference.
  8. Replace those addresses with the IP addresses of the Google DNS servers:
    • For IPv4: 8.8.8.8 and/or 8.8.4.4.
    • For IPv6: 2001:4860:4860::8888 and/or 2001:4860:4860::8844
  9. Restart the connection you selected in step 3.
  10. Test that your setup is working correctly; see Testing your new settings below.
  11. Repeat the procedure for additional network connections you want to change.

Mac OS X

DNS settings are specified in the Network window.

Example: Changing DNS server settings on Mac OS 10.5

  1. From the Apple menu, click System Preferences, then click Network.
  2. If the lock icon in the lower left-hand corner of the window is locked, click the icon to make changes, and when prompted to authenticate, enter your password.
  3. Select the connection for which you want to configure Google Public DNS. For example:
    • To change the settings for an Ethernet connection, select Built-In Ethernet, and click Advanced.
    • To change the settings for a wireless connection, select Airport, and click Advanced.
  4. Select the DNS tab.
  5. Click + to replace any listed addresses with, or add, the Google IP addresses at the top of the list:
    • For IPv4: 8.8.8.8 and/or 8.8.4.4.
    • For IPv6: 2001:4860:4860::8888 and/or 2001:4860:4860::8844
  6. Click Apply and OK.
  7. Test that your setup is working correctly; see Testing your new settings below.
  8. Repeat the procedure for additional network connections you want to change.

And there you have it! A free and unfettered internet once again