VPN vs. DNS vs. Smart DNS. What to use to access geo-blocked websites?

VPN vs. DNS vs. Smart DNS. What to use to access geo-blocked websites?

Geo-blocking is an internet censorship technique that restricts access to certain websites based on the user’s location. This practice is mainly applied by giant services such as Netflix, BBC iPlayer, Hulu, or Pandora, as they provide loads of intellectual property online. Since the copyrighted material is usually available only to a particular location or region, you can conclude why geo-blocking is practiced in the first place.

If you’re actively looking for a solution to overcome internet censorship and geo-restrictions, you have probably heard terms like VPN, Smart DNS, and DNS. What are these technologies, and who will win the fight between VPN vs. DNS vs. Smart DNS? Let’s find out together!

But firsts, let’s find out how the VPN vs. Smart DNS vs. DNS is explained in my location, Transylvania.

The VPN vs. DNS vs. Smart DNS competition. The Transylvanian explanation.

Springs brings not only beautiful colors to the Transylvanian fields, warm sun that spoils our faces, and happy birds that chirp at our windows in the morning. Spring also brings local competitions that spice up the whole majestic atmosphere.

The Castlevanian bats are crazy about one certain event that gathers all the vehicle enthusiasts in one place.

Le Tour de Castlevania is an annual competition that challenges its participants to find the best vehicle to take them from start to finish as fast as possible. In this year’s edition, the public’s favorites were PonyBat, TomBat, and AnonymousBat. Everyone was placing their bets, but the victory resumes to the participant who picks its vehicle wiselier.

On the competition’s day, people were more than surprised. PonyBat made her appearance with her pink cabin scooter, TomBat picked a motorcycle, while AnonymousBat made a humble appearance by choosing to ride his bike in the competition.

When the race began, TomBat started the competition with a breakneck speed, followed by PonyBat with her fancy scooter, then other bats riding ATVs, motorcycles, and crosses followed in the line. AnonymousBat was the last one in line for the title.

Unfortunately, our participants picking motor vehicles ignored some important aspects such as the traffic jams, waiting at the traffic lights, or the train barriers. All these impediments must be considered when you need to make it from point A to point B without obstacles and restrictions.

It was no big surprise when AnonymousBat started to surpass each of his opponents. Because he picked a bike, he was able to trick the system and ride the sidewalk when the traffic lights were red, and he was able to easily sneak through the heavy traffic, making it to the finish line before everyone else.

Why is this story relevant to our topic?

Because each of these vehicles and each of our technologies (Smart DNS, VPN, and DNS) are meant to take you from point A to point B. It is highly important to know what each of these does and how they facilitate your online journey.

The DNS, the motorcycle in my story, is meant to help you visit a website without you being constrained to include the exact IP address of your website you want to access in your web browser’s search bar.

The VPN, the cabin scooter in my example, helps you visit a website and bypass censorship while being protected and secured from ISP surveillance or hackers (this could translate as bad weather in my example).

The Smart DNS, the bike in my example, helps you visit a website and bypass censorship by tricking websites into seeing your location as an eligible one.

I know this may be a little too much to digest but have no fear, Vlad is here, ready to describe each technology from scratch.

What is DNS?

DNS stands for Domain Name System, and it is used to translate Internet domain names into IP addresses. This technology acts as an address book for internet domains. A domain name, like the one you visit at the moment (www.vladtalks.tech), has a specific IP address in the back. The DNS helps your browser translate your domain name into the exact IP address associated with the domain you need to access.

The list of domain names and IP addresses are distributed through the Internet in a hierarchy of authority. A DNS server is located close to your access provider that maps the domain names in your Internet requests or forwards them to other servers on the Internet.

VPN vs DNS vs Smart DNS - How does DNS technology work

Imagine how difficult would be to memorize the IP address of every website you need to access. The DNS surely knows how to ease our online experience while surfing the web.

What is VPN?

I get the sense that if you’re a constant reader of my blog, the VPN needs no further introduction.

Yet, practice makes perfect, right? Therefore, a little reminder never killed nobody (or at least I hope so).

VPN (Virtual Private Network) is used to add security and privacy to private and public networks, like public WiFi Hotspots. The VPN acts exactly like the cabin scooter in my example. It offers you protection against bad weather, and it transports you securely to your destination.

Usually, internet users set up a private VPN service, also known as a VPN tunnel, to protect their online activity and identity.

In an era where we are confronting lots of threats, like the rise in cybercrime during the pandemic, VPN technology came as a native answer to people’s requests to protect their online privacy, as by using an anonymous VPN service, the Internet traffic and data remain encrypted.

The military-grade encryption used in a VPN connection is almost unbreakable. Even if your ISP (Internet Service Provider) might recognize that you use a VPN, it won’t be able to track your final destination on the web.

Moreover, armed with a VPN, you can easily change your IP virtual location, get access to advanced security features (like Kill Switch), and you can fight against DPI, and bandwidth throttling.

The awesome part is that a VPN is compatible with the most popular operating systems (Windows, Android, Mac, iOS) and devices (Apple devices, smartphones, or Smart TVs), even on a VPN router. Therefore, enabling a VPN connection can be done whenever you want, wherever you are, with just a simple click or tap.

How does a VPN work?

To ensure a highly-secured internet connection, a new IP address, and complete anonymity in relation to your ISP, the VPN combines a series of components – a VPN server, a VPN protocol of your choice, and an encryption standard.

Anytime you decide to enable a VPN connection (no matter if you set it up manually or choose a VPN app aka VPN software to do the job), you are automatically connected to a VPN server. This server is located in a different country or region. At this point, you are assigned a brand-new IP address corresponding to your server’s location of choice. After this task is completed, the VPN server, helped by the VPN protocol and the encryption standard, encrypts your traffic and transports it to the desired destination on the web. The same principle applies when the response comes back to your device, meaning that your connection is encrypted from an end to another, back and forth.

VPN vs DNS vs Smart DNS - How does VPN work

Looking at things from our perspective of interest – the capability of a VPN to unblock a website -, we can easily conclude that this thing is made possible by the new IP address you receive. Therefore, if you’re located in Germany and want to access BBC iPlayer, you will need a VPN server located in the UK, as BBC iPlayer is available only in this country.

An important thing that you should keep in mind is that giant streaming services use advanced tracking and blocking algorithms for VPN detection. BBC iPlayer and Netflix are great examples of this practice. In such a case, the worst thing that may happen is that the service recognizes that you’re using a VPN, and it won’t grant you access to your account. In this situation, all you need to do is try again by using a different server and (possibly) a different browser or direct your attention to different solutions like Smart DNS or proxy.

VPN pros and cons.

VPN prosVPN cons
It encrypts your trafficYou may face connection drops
It changes your IP addressIt may cause speed drops, due to encryption
It helps you unblock websitesSome websites may recognize and block VPN traffic
It helps you avoid bandwidth throttlingSetting up a VPN can get tricky
It helps you save moneyGood VPNs may be expensive

What is Smart DNS?

Smart DNS, like its name suggests, is a smarter version of the DNS I was just telling you about. Smart DNS uses a server to help you spoof your location. This technique is specially developed to help internet users access geo-blocked content.

The Smart DNS proxy directs your traffic to a server, and only after this task is completed, it sends your request to the world-wide-web.

Just like the VPN, the Smart DNS service is also paid. Yet, compared to the VPN, Smart DNS does not hide your IP as it does not use a VPN server, and it does not encrypt your traffic, as it does not use a VPN protocol and an encryption standard.

Even so, the Smart DNS solution is doing a great job at tricking websites into seeing your location as an eligible one, granting you with a fast connection to enjoy your favorite streaming services like Netflix, BBC iPlayer, or Hulu.

How does Smart DNS work?

This sneaky technology that tricks a website into seeing your location as an eligible one, replaces your DNS address assigned by your ISP with a new one associated with the DNS server used for traffic routing. In order to do so, the technology uses a proxy server and a DNS server. This server can be located anywhere in the world and is provided by a Smart DNS provider.

The brand-new DNS address does not contain any information on your real geo-location. The smart and cool thing is that Smart DNS analyzes your request and replaces any information that may leak your location and, helped by the proxy server, is pointing to a location where the website you want to unblock is available.

VPN vs DNS vs Smart DNS - How does Smart DNS work

This is how Smart DNS works magic on your location!

Smart DNS pros and cons.

Smart DNS prosSmart DNS cons
It helps you unblock websitesIt does not change your IP
It provides killer speedIt does not offer any kind of encryption
It is a cheap and effective solutionIt does not provide any security features

Is Smart DNS the same as a proxy?

This is 100% a legit question to ask when it comes to Smart DNS and proxy.

In short terms, NO, Smart DNS is not a proxy, and it does not work like one.

The proxy technology uses a special proxy server to change your IP address and allow you to surf the web freely and anonymously. As this thing happens, websites won’t know your real identity. Compared to the VPN, the proxy does not offer encryption. On the other hand, Smart DNS does not change your IP address or encrypt your traffic. Yet, compared to the proxy, Smart DNS is able to unblock websites available in different countries, at the same time, as it won’t change your IP to a different location, since it only tricks websites by changing your DNS.

Smart DNS vs VPN. Is Smart DNS better than VPN?

Now that we know that DNS is a completely different thing, compared to the VPN and Smart DNS, let’s focus on the battle between these two similar but very different technologies.

Compared to a VPN (Virtual Private Network), the Smart DNS does not provide encrypted connections, and it does not change the IP address of the device in use. Instead, it changes the device’s DNS, providing access to restricted content.

Because the Smart DNS does not encrypt data, the connection between a website and a computer is much faster than the connection established through a VPN tunnel. Smart DNS is not a technology developed for online security and privacy purposes. For additional security, encryption, and advanced features, internet users should take into consideration using a VPN service.

Just how it happens in case of the comparison with a VPN, compared with a proxy, Smart DNS is way faster.

VPN vs DNS vs Smart DNS. FAQ on this subject

Is the VPN legal to use to unblock websites?

The VPN is 100% legal, as long as you make sure you don’t commit illegal stuff while using it. For instance, you can use a VPN to secure your activities while downloading torrents, as torrenting is legal, as long as you don’t download copyrighted content. Keep in mind that even if the VPN is legal, there are some countries where VPN usage is regulated.

Is the Smart DNS technology legal?

Just like the VPN, the Smart DNS solution is safe to use. There is nothing wrong with changing your DNS, as it is the same thing as changing your IP. However, be aware that illegal online activities will remain illegal with or without using Smart DNS or VPN!!!

Are there complete solutions providing VPN and Smart DNS?

Luckily, yes! There are plenty of highly performant services like NordVPN, ExpressVPN, CyberGhost, Surfshark, and StrongVPN.

What happens if I can’t unblock websites with any of these services?

Where there’s a will there’s a way! The task of unblocking websites may be really challenging but, there is always a solution to do so. If you’re looking for a VPN service or a Smart DNS solution, before paying for a subscription, make sure to check their performance by asking for a free VPN trial. In this way, you can check if their VPN or Smart DNS solutions are working properly. If everything works great in the beginning but you start to face problems on the go, you should make sure you’re not leaking your location. To check that everything is set-up properly, ask for technical support from your VPN provider. I am sure they will be able to troubleshoot your problem and offer a proper solution.

I want great speed and an encrypted connection. Can I use VPN and Smart DNS simultaneously?

Unfortunately, not. These two technologies cannot work simultaneously, as they may conflict. The location of your device would be the one associated with the VPN server, therefore, the chances are almost 0 for your VPN location to be the same as the one provided by the Smart DNS.

Let’s sum things up!

One thing is for sure. We cannot declare a clear winner of the VPN vs. DNS vs. Smart DNS war since this isn’t a battle. Each of the discussed technologies has its purpose.

If we reduce the whole discussion to a single thing – security – then yes, we have a winner – the VPN.

Therefore, it is really important to draw your online expectations.

If you look for advanced security, online freedom, and privacy, then you must use the VPN. On the other hand, if you want to surf fast, free (but unprotected), you should go for the Smart DNS. But, if you want to get access to both, you may subscribe to a VPN service that offers Smart DNS. Smart, isn’t it?

Last but not least, if you’re interested in VPN and VPN-related news, then you should consider subscribing to my newsletter by using the form below.

See you in your inbox! K?

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