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Power-up your Mac's internet connection with OpenDNS

Switch to OpenDNS domain name servers and you could find that your internet connection is faster and more reliable. Even if it's pretty good anyway, OpenDNS provides you with parental controls to keep your family protected from the worst on the internet, it provides phishing protection and warns you if you try to visit a suspected website, it provides a guide to the internet, it enables you to define custom messages when there are problems or blocked content is encountered, it enables you to create shortcuts to your favourite websites, and it corrects common typing errors when you enter website URLs into your web browser.

OpenDNS provides lots of useful benefits for internet users, but before we go any further, we need to explain that first sentence, "Switch to OpenDNS domain name servers." What's this all about?

Enter a website's URL into a web browser's address box and a few seconds later the web page will appear. We don't normally give much thought as to how this happens, but there is a lot going on behind the pretty user interface in front of you. For example, computers don't use URLs like www.apple.com to identify computers that you want to communicate with. The processor in your Mac is a number cruncher and it works best with numeric data.

When you enter a URL into a web browser's address box it is converted into a number. It's not a standard number though and it is an IP address that looks like this: 125.110.87.206. Four numbers separated by dots or full stops. Every computer and device on the internet has a different IP address and this unique set of numbers is used when your Mac wants to communicate with another computer.

Like all computers on the internet, web servers have unique IP addresses and you could access one by typing its IP address into Safari's address box instead of the usual URL. The problem is that while computers are good at manipulating numbers, we find it better to give names to websites and www.google.com, www.apple.com, www.bbc.co.uk and so on are much easier to remember than a bunch of numbers.

When you enter a URL the Mac looks up the corresponding IP address in a database. The database isn't stored on the Mac and instead it's on a computer on the internet called a Domain Name System (DNS) server. This means that everyone can access it and it's always bang up to date with the latest URLs and IP addresses.

Your Mac sends URLs to the DNS server and the server sends back the corresponding IP addresses. Each ISP has a DNS server for its customers and when you connect to the internet your Mac will automatically use it without you having to configure anything. Unfortunately, some ISPs' DNS servers slow down at peak times of the day as more people access them and this can slow down your internet connection. They offer very basic facilities too and none of the benefits outlined above that OpenDNS offers.

With a simple configuration change you can instruct your Mac to use OpenDNS servers instead of the one your ISP provides. It takes just a few seconds and you'll instantly reap the benefits os extra features and possibly extra speed and reliability too.

Configure OS X to use OpenDNS
Add DNS servers in Mac OS XTo use OpenDNS servers instead the the default DNS servers that are currently used (set by your ISP), you need to make a simple configuration change to OS X's network configuration in System Preferences.

It is very easy to do and it is just as easy to undo should you ever want to go back to the way things were.

Click the Apple logo at the left of the menu bar and select System Preferences. Click the Network icon and then either AirPort if you are using a wireless internet connection or Ethernet if you have a wired connection. Click the Advanced button and then click the DNS tab.

Normally you don't have to bother with DNS settings and OS X gets them from your ISP, but if you want to specify your own then this is where you do it.

Click the plus button below the left list titled DNS Servers. Enter the primary DNS server IP address 208.67.222.222 and press Enter, then click the plus button again and type in the secondary DNS server address 208.67.220.220. Click OK and then Apply.

That's it, the job's done. Fire up Safari or whatever web browser you prefer to use and try the new DNS servers. The browser and web pages don't look much different do they? How do you know OpenDNS is working? OpenDNSJust go to www.opendns.com and look in the top right corner of the home page. You'll see a message that says "You're using OpenDNS!"

One of the advantages of OpenDNS is that it responds in an intelligent fashion to misspelt or just plain wrong URLs entered into the address bar. For example, enter Manchester United into Safari's address bar and instead of seeing an error message, OpenDNS responds with a page of search results.

At the top of the list of results (below the sponsors), is www.manutd.com, which is the official site for Manchester United. Below are lots of other related links that you might be interested in.

Sometimes you'll be taken directly to the website you want, for example, if you enter Apple, BBC, or wikipedia you'll simply see the home page appear. Normally you will just see an error message stating that Safari can't find the server.

Restore your original DNS servers
If you decide that OpenDNS isn't for you, it is easy to undo the changes. Click the Apple logo at the left of the menu bar and choose System Preferences. Click Network and then either AirPort or Ethernet - whichever you use to connect to the internet. Click Advanced and then click the DNS tab. Select the two IP addresses you entered earlier (208.67.222.222 and 208.67.220.220) and click the minus button to delete them. Click OK and Apply and the job's done, or should that be undone?

Go to the OpenDNS home page (www.opendns.com) and that message stating that you're using OpenDNS will no longer appear. You're back as you were. You can enable or disable OpenDNS as often as you want and it does no harm. Enable it again to continue.

Create an OpenDNS account

There are some advantages to simply changing the DNS servers that OS X uses to OpenDNS, but there are many more benefits if you create an OpenNS account. It's easy and it's free, so try it and see.

Start Safari and go to www.opendns.com then click the Sign In link at the top of the home page. On the next page, click Create a free account. You'll be asked to choose a network, such as home, school or business. Click the appropriate one and on the next page you'll be asked whether you want to change the computer or router to use the OpenDNS servers.

Sign in to OpenDNS

We have already changed the computer of course, but click the option anyway, then click the OS X link on the next page and finally click the button at the bottom labelled Continue to Step 2 where you actually create your account. Now you'll see a short and simple form to fill in. All you need to do is to invent a username for yourself and a password, and then enter your email address. Click the Create Account button when you have filled in the form.

Create an OpenDNS account

Close your web browser and then wait a minute or two to give OpenDNS time to send you an email message. Now you can open Mail to check for new messages. You'll see an email sent from OpenDNS asking you to confirm the new account you just created. Click the link in it and Safari will go to the OpenDNS website and open your Dashboard.

The Dashboard at the OpenDNS website is where you configure all the extra options for OpenDNS. (To return here in future, go to the OpenDNS home page and click the Sign In link.)

OpenDNS dashboard

You don't need to log in to OpenDNS to use its features and the site can tell who you are from your Mac's IP address every time your Mac uses the OpenDNS servers to turn a URL into an IP address.

One slight snag with this is that it's common for ISPs to allocate whatever IP address is free at the time you log on. Your IP address tomorrow might be different to the one you have today and OpenDNS won't know who you are! Also, if you use a MacBook and log on at a Wi-Fi hotspot you'll have a different IP address to that at home or work. What's the solution?

You'll see a message on the Dashboard home page stating that you haven't created any networks. Click the link to create a network and click the Add button on the next page to add your IP address. Enter a name for your network and tick the box that says Yes it is dynamic.

OpenDNS

You'll see a link to OpenDNS Updater for Mac. This is a small utility that updates your IP address in your OpenDNS account whenever it changes. Click it to download the program and then click the Done button. The program is in your Downloads folder, so open it and double click the zip file to extract the contents.

OpenDNSOpen the OpenDNS folder and you'll see the program. Drag the OpenDNS Updater to your Applications folder.

You can manually run OpenDNS Updater every time you start your Mac to update the IP address in your OpenDNS account - your account settings are only applied to the IP address that's registered to you. Run it now and you'll be prompted to enter your username, password and network name. This is only required once and they will be remembered the next time the program is run.

The OpenDNS Updater also lets you can also choose if you want to be notified when your IP changes and how. There's a drop-down list of options and it's your choice. You can also choose how often to check for software updates too. Again, it's up to you. Click the update button when you're done. Notie that the big O in the menu bar on the right shows that OpenDNS is running.

OpenDNSYou might forget to run OpenDNS Update when you start your Mac, so it's useful to set up OS X to run it automatically. Click the Apple logo at the left of the menu bar and choose System Preferences.

Click Accounts, select your account, and then click the Login Items button. Click the plus button below the list of login items and select OpenDNS Updater in your Applications folder.

That's it. It will now run every time you start your Mac and it'll automatically update your OpenDNS account with your IP address whenever it changes at home, work or at a Wi-Fi hotspot.

Configure your OpenDNS account settings
You have changed the DNS settings in OS X, added a dynamic IP address to your OpenDNS account, and installed the OpenDNS Updater utility. All the hard work is done and all that remains is to configure your OpenDNS account settings. Log in to www.openDNS.com and the Dashboard provides access to all the settings and options. The rest is easy, so I'll leave it up to you to explore the features. For example, click the Shortcuts tab and follow the prompts to create showrtcuts - keywords - that take you to your favourite websites.

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