DNS vs. VPN and how smart is a Smart DNS?

Anton P. | October 20, 2023

This article compares DNS vs. VPN in their ability to provide privacy and content access. Domain Name System (DNS) enables a specialized Smart DNS service that can bypass firewalls.

A Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypts data and provides a new IP address to increase access options and security. Let's look closer at what unites and separates these two solutions.

Smart DNS and VPN both help to access content more freely, but only VPN provides additional layers of privacy.

What is a VPN service?

A VPN service is a multifunctional solution that increases your online security. The service boosts privacy by routing your traffic through a VPN server. All your requests and answers from the website go through this server before reaching their intended destination.

The server hides your IP address and provides you with a new one. This way, the website is less likely to identify certain details about you, like location. From its point of view, your traffic originates at the VPN server.

Additional VPN service features include:

  • Data encryption helps keep your traffic hidden from whoever might be watching.
  • Split tunneling allows choosing for which applications to use a VPN connection and which access directly. 
  • Kill switch temporarily disables internet access when the VPN connection is lost to prevent data leaks.

What is DNS?

Domain name system (DNS) is a system that converts domain names (or hostnames) into IP addresses. Hostnames, like atlasvpn.com, make sense for people who can easily associate them with the website's content.

Computers, on the other hand, communicate with each other by using IP addresses. These addresses are numerical for Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) and alphanumerical for Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6).

For example, the addresses can look like this:

  • for IPv4;
  • 2001:db8:3333:4444:CCCC:DDDD:EEEE:FFFF for IPv6.

DNS connects a specific hostname with its IP address. 

DNS server

A DNS server is a specific server that translates domain names into IP addresses. This way, DNS servers enable communication between the user and the machine. Here is how it works:

  1. You type the domain name of the services you want to access in your web browser. 

  2. Your device sends a query containing the domain name to the DNS server.

  3. The server conducts a search in its registry to find the IP address associated with the domain name.

  4. The server might need to contact other DNS servers to find the address.

  5. Upon finding the IP address, the server sends it to your device. The device can now access the web resource.

    Private Christmas & a safe New Year!


What is a Smart DNS service?

A Smart DNS service utilizes DNS servers to provide access to restricted content. People often use it to access free and independent media from wherever they are.

Most devices have DNS addresses assigned by the Internet Service Provider (ISP). You can configure your device to use a Smart DNS address instead.

When you use Smart DNS and want to open content, the service intercepts your DNS request. It changes the request to direct your traffic through the DNS proxy server in a different region.

The website identifies the Smart DNS proxy address as your device's. As the proxy address has access to the content, so do you now.

Smart DNS vs. VPN: a comparison

Smart DNS vs. VPN services perform some similar functions. However, the scope and methods of these two solutions differ significantly.

Smart DNS vs. VPN similarities:

  • Both are capable of allowing you to access content more freely;
  • For this purpose, both use servers that act like proxies,

Smart DNS vs. VPN differences:

  • Broadening your content access options is the primary purpose of Smart DNS service. Meanwhile, a VPN has many purposes, the main being your internet privacy and security.
  • Smart DNS doesn't hide your IP address or internet activity. It just accesses particular content by using a proxy server. VPN gives you a new IP address until you choose to disconnect from it.
  • VPNs require installing a VPN client software program. You can get smart DNS working by configuring the DNS setting in your device without installing any software.
  • VPN encrypts all your traffic. Most Smart VPN services either do not use encryption or encrypt only your DNS queries.
  • Smart DNS automatically detects what server you need to access content and directs traffic through it. That's what makes it smart. With a VPN, you use a default server or choose one manually.

The pros and cons of DNS vs. VPN

The choice of DNS vs. VPN depends on your aims and priorities. Smart DNS and VPN services have their advantages and disadvantages that make each better suited for some cases.

  • VPN services have more features than Smart DNS. Thus, many use cases call for VPN, while Smart DNS is mainly used for content access.
  • Smart DNS is more affordable than VPN. Due to broader functionality, VPNs tend to cost more.
  • VPNs provide more privacy and security as they encrypt all your traffic. When using a Smart DNS, you are vulnerable to more tracking practices.
  • Smart DNS services provide faster connection speeds. Your internet traffic can slow down a bit due to VPN encryption. Modern VPNs, however, optimize servers to increase speed. Additionally, you can choose a server closer to your location for a faster internet connection.
  • VPN services can have integrated Smart DNS functionality. Smart DNS service providers only give you configuration instructions for accessing the DNS server. DNS providers cannot incorporate all VPN functions without offering separate client software to install.

Thus, the choice comes down to what you need. Smart DNS might be enough if you only want to access specific content. If enhanced online privacy and security matter to you, consider a VPN.

Anton P.

Anton P.

Former chef and the head of Atlas VPN blog team. He's an experienced cybersecurity expert with a background of technical content writing.



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