Use DNS to Fix a Web Page Not Loading in Your Browser

DNS Query diagram
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Question:

My Browser Does Not Display a Web Site Correctly: How Do I Fix This Problem?

My browser is not displaying web sites. When I use my browser to visit a web site, it sometimes fails to load a web page or only displays part of the page. Sometimes I see timeout errors, yet at other times the site loads fine. What’s going on and how can I fix this problem?

Answer:

There are many reasons why a web page may not load successfully in your browser.

Sometimes the problem is one of compatibility. A web site’s developers may wrongly choose to use proprietary coding techniques that not every browser knows how to interpret. You can check for this type of issue by using a different browser to visit the web site in question. That’s one of the reasons why I keep SafariFirefox, and Chrome web browsers handy. If a page loads in one browser but not another, I know it’s a compatibility problem.

One of the most likely causes of a web page not loading is a wrongly configured or poorly maintained DNS (Domain Name Server) system by your ISP (Internet Service Provider). Most Internet users have the DNS system assigned to them by their ISP. Sometimes this is done automatically; sometimes an ISP will give you the DNS server’s Internet address to manually enter into your Mac’s network settings. In either case, the problem is usually at the ISP’s end of the connection.

DNS is a system that allows us to use easily remembered names for web sites (as well as other Internet services), instead of the harder-to-remember numeric IP addresses assigned to web sites. For example, it is a lot easier to remember www.about.com than 207.241.148.80, which is one of About.com’s actual IP address.

If the DNS system is having problems translating www.about.com to the correct IP address, then the web site won’t load. You may see an error message, or only part of the web site may display.

That doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do. You can confirm whether your ISP’s DNS system is working correctly. If it isn’t (or even if it is), if you wish, you can change your DNS settings to use a more robust server than the one your ISP recommends.

Testing Your DNS

Mac OS offers various ways to test and confirm whether an operational DNS system is available to you. I’m going to show you one of those methods.

  1. Launch Terminal, located at /Applications/Utilities/.
  2. Type or copy/paste the following command into the Terminal window.
    host www.about.com
  3. Press the return or enter key after you enter the line above.

If your ISP’s DNS system is working, you should see the following two lines returned in the Terminal application:

www.about.com is an alias for dynwwwonly.about.com.​dynwwwonly.about.com has address 208.185.127.122​

What is important is the second line, which verifies that the DNS system was able to translate the web site’s name into an actual numeric Internet address, in this case 208.185.127.122.

(please note: the actual IP address returned may be different).

Try the host command if you’re having problems accessing a web site. Don’t worry about the number of lines of text that may be returned; it varies from web site to web site. What’s important is that you do not see a line that says:

Host your.website.name not found

If you get a ‘web site not found’ result, and you’re sure you have entered the web site’s name correctly (and that there really is a web site by that name), than you can be reasonably sure that, at least for the moment, your ISP’s DNS system is having problems.

Use a Different DNS

The easiest way to fix an ISP’s malfunctioning DNS is to substitute a different DNS for the one provided.

My favorite DNS system is run by a company called OpenDNS (now part of Cisco), which offers free use of its DNS system. OpenDNS provides complete instructions for making the changes to a Mac’s network setting, but if you’re having DNS issues, you may not be able to access the OpenDNS web site. Here is the quick scoop on how to make the changes yourself.

  1. Launch System Preferences by clicking on the ‘System Preferences’ icon in the Dock, or choosing the ‘System Preferences’ item from the Apple menu.
  2. Click the ‘Network’ icon in the System Preferences window.
  3. Select the connection you are using for Internet access. For almost everyone, this will be Built-In Ethernet.
  4. Click the ‘Advanced’ button
  5. Select the ‘DNS’ tab.
  6. Click the plus (+) button below the DNS Servers field and enter the following DNS address.
    208.67.222.222
  7. Repeat the above steps and enter a second DNS address, shown below.
    208.67.220.220
  8. Click the ‘OK’ button.
  9. Click the ‘Apply’ button.
  10. Close the Network preferences pane.

Your Mac will now have access to the DNS services provided by OpenDNS, and the wayward web site should now load properly.

This method of adding the OpenDNS entries keeps your original DNS values. If you wish, you can reorder the list, moving the new entries to the top of the list. The DNS search starts with the first DNS server in the list. If the site is not found in the first entry, the DNS lookup calls on the second entry. This continues until the lookup is made, or all of the DNS servers in the list have been exhausted.

If the new DNS servers you added are performing better then your original ones, you can move the new entries to the top of the list by simple selecting one and dragging it to the top.

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