I consider myself to be a partial geek, not a whole geek.  I’m an ubergeek about some things (thanks for the tag, Doug!), but sorely lacking in other areas.

Cars.  I’m a lightweight car geek.  You got the gas tank, and spark plugs, and you press on the gas pedal and it goes.  Oh, and rocker arms.

Computers and networking, more of a heavyweight.  I understand why certain video modes show 80  or 132 columns of characters, the difference between ASCII and EBCDIC, and how 2600 Magazine got its name.

Networking-wise, I understand a backbone, know that having your own T1 line ain’t what it used to be, and know the difference between BBN and DNS.

And it’s DNS that is the topic today.  The Domain Name System is what converts Google.com into the IP address, so all the routers and switches can get your search query to the right place.  We’re human, most of us, and we find a word much lot easier to remember than a string of numbers.  The words tie into the brands we know and love.  The numbers, not so much.  It’s easier to remember santaclaus.com than it is to remember (although either one will get you to the same place).

Way off in the dark corners of the world, in very safe places, there are eleven root servers for domain names.  These are the authoritative oracles, saying which domain name goes with which IP address.  These root servers are protected and preserved, and normal people like you and I don’t use them.  But they share out information and other people keep copies of the data.  Your Internet Service Provider has a copy of this, probably.  There are millions of domain names and millions of IP addresses linked to them, and you are implicitly asking for this word-to-number translation to take place every time you type in a web address.

There’s a little problem, though, in that your ISP may not have current information (new web pages, or ones that have moved IP addresses).  Your ISP’s domain name system might be broken.  Your ISP’s DNS might even be poisoned (see here).  Or it’s slow, or you want something new and exciting and different.

(note: if you can say “new and exciting and different” about DNS, you’re a geek.  Welcome aboard!)

The standby for alternate DNS systems, if you don’t want to roll your own, has been OpenDNS.  They provide fast, free DNS lookup, and will help you avoid some nastiness out there.  I have set up several computers and routers using this (setting it up in your router means that everybody gets it automatically.  For me, it means only a single setup instead of doing it on each machine.).

And then the friendly giant steps in.  Google announced today that it is running its own public DNS, and invites people to give them a try (announcement here, details here).  I want to try it out, but there’s some nagging part of my brain that says that it’s not necessarily good to provide Google with every detail about my web experience, even though I’m doing nothing wrong.  There’s the possibility of too much power concentrated in one company.  I will probably use this when I set up my new Win7 computer (which should happen between Christmas and New Year).

Either way, choice is good.  Competition is good.  The vibrant, thriving DNS world is even more sunshiny and joyful today.

(and you wander away muttering “geek!”.  And I say “Thanks!!”.)

Technical details for OpenDNS:

Technical details for Google’s DNS:

(yeah, Google wins the easy-to-remember contest)