How Does Windows Choose a DNS Server?


Heather Bennett

How Does Windows Choose a DNS Server?

When you connect to the internet, your computer needs to translate domain names like into IP addresses that can be understood by the network. This translation is done by a service called the Domain Name System (DNS).

But have you ever wondered how Windows chooses which DNS server to use? In this article, we’ll explore the factors that influence this decision and how you can customize it.

DNS Server Selection Process in Windows

Windows uses a specific order to select a DNS server when resolving domain names. This process is known as the DNS server priority list. Let’s take a closer look at each step:

1. Preferred DNS Server

The first place Windows looks for a DNS server is the preferred DNS server. This is typically provided by your Internet Service Provider (ISP) or configured manually on your network settings.

2. Alternate DNS Server

If the preferred DNS server fails to respond or provide a valid response, Windows will then try the alternate DNS server. Similar to the preferred DNS server, this can be set by your ISP or manually configured.

3. Cached DNS Entries

If both preferred and alternate DNS servers fail, Windows will check its local cache for previously resolved domain names and their corresponding IP addresses. This cache stores recent lookups and can help speed up subsequent requests for frequently visited websites.

4. Root Hints

If there are no cached entries available, Windows will query root hints – a predefined list of IP addresses for root name servers maintained by Microsoft. These root name servers have information about top-level domains like .com, .org, etc., and can provide guidance on further resolving domain names.

5. Forwarders

If the root hints also fail to provide a resolution, Windows can be configured to use forwarders.

Forwarders are specific DNS servers that you trust to resolve domain names on your behalf. These servers can be your ISP’s DNS servers or third-party DNS servers like Google Public DNS or OpenDNS.

Customizing DNS Server Selection

While Windows follows this default priority list, you have the flexibility to customize it according to your needs. Here’s how:

1. Network Adapter Settings

You can manually set the preferred and alternate DNS servers for each network adapter on your computer. This allows you to prioritize specific DNS servers over others. Local Hosts File

The local hosts file on your computer can override DNS lookups by mapping domain names directly to IP addresses. You can edit this file and add custom entries to bypass the default DNS server selection process. Third-Party DNS Clients

If you’re looking for advanced features and greater control over DNS server selection, you can consider using third-party DNS clients like dnscrypt-proxy or Namebench. These tools allow you to fine-tune the selection process based on factors such as speed, security, and reliability.


In conclusion, Windows follows a prioritized list when choosing a DNS server. It starts with the preferred and alternate DNS servers, then checks cached entries, root hints, and finally uses forwarders if necessary. However, you have the power to customize this selection process based on your preferences and requirements.

  • Note:
  • Ensure that any changes made to your network settings or local hosts file are done carefully and with proper understanding to avoid any disruptions in your internet connectivity.

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