How Does Windows Choose DNS Server?


Scott Campbell

How Does Windows Choose DNS Server?

When it comes to connecting to websites or any other online services, the Domain Name System (DNS) plays a crucial role in translating human-readable domain names into machine-readable IP addresses. In Windows, the operating system has its own mechanism to choose a DNS server to handle these translations efficiently and reliably. In this article, we will explore how Windows makes this decision and the factors that influence it.

DNS Server Selection Process in Windows

Windows follows a specific order of operations to determine which DNS server it should use for resolving domain names. The steps involved in this process are as follows:

  1. Local Hosts File: Windows first checks its local hosts file for any manually configured IP address mappings. This file contains a list of domain names and their corresponding IP addresses that bypass the DNS lookup process entirely. If a match is found, Windows uses the specified IP address directly.
  2. DNS Cache: If no entry is found in the local hosts file, Windows checks its DNS cache. The cache stores previously resolved domain name and IP address pairs, allowing for faster subsequent lookups. If the desired domain name is present in the cache and has not expired, Windows uses the associated IP address from the cache.
  3. Preferred DNS Servers: If there is no relevant entry in either the local hosts file or the DNS cache, Windows proceeds to use the preferred DNS servers configured on the network adapter. These servers are typically obtained automatically through DHCP (Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol) or manually set by the user.
  4. Alternate DNS Servers: In case all preferred DNS servers fail to respond within a specified timeout period, Windows moves on to the alternate DNS servers configured on the network adapter.

    These servers act as backups and provide redundancy in case the preferred servers are unavailable or experiencing issues.

  5. Root Hints: If none of the above steps yield a valid IP address, Windows resorts to using a list of root DNS servers known as root hints. These servers are maintained by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and contain information about top-level domains, such as .com, .org, etc. Windows sends a query to one of these root servers to obtain a referral to the appropriate authoritative DNS server for the requested domain.
  6. Recursive Query: Once Windows receives a referral from a root DNS server, it continues with a recursive query process. It sends requests to intermediate DNS servers until it reaches an authoritative DNS server responsible for the specific domain. The authoritative DNS server provides the final IP address for the requested domain.

Factors Influencing DNS Server Selection

The choice of which DNS server Windows uses can be influenced by several factors:

  • Network Adapter Configuration: The preferred and alternate DNS servers configured on the network adapter settings play a significant role in determining which servers Windows will use.
  • DNS Server Availability: If a preferred DNS server is unreachable or experiencing issues, Windows automatically switches to an alternate server to ensure uninterrupted name resolution.
  • DNS Server Response Time: Windows considers the response time of each available DNS server when making its selection. It tends to favor servers that respond quickly, leading to faster overall website loading times.
  • Prioritization and Weighting: Some advanced configurations allow administrators to assign priority levels and weights to DNS servers. This allows for fine-tuning the server selection process based on specific requirements and network conditions.


Understanding how Windows chooses a DNS server is essential for troubleshooting network connectivity issues and optimizing name resolution performance. By following the defined order of operations and considering various factors, Windows ensures efficient and reliable domain name translation, enabling users to access websites and online services seamlessly.

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