What is a DNS error and how to fix it

Man working at a laptop in a plant-filled room learning about how to fix DNS errors


#GoToGetsIT: This article is part of an ongoing series from GoTo’s thought leaders on the frontlines: Our Solutions Consultants deeply understand our customers’ unique challenges and connect the right solutions to meet their goals using GoTo technology. Here, they share their industry knowledge on what it takes to help businesses everywhere thrive in a remote or hybrid world.

What is DNS?

A Domain Name Service (DNS) is the website naming method used to put logical sounding names on top of IP addresses. Web browsers interact through Internet Protocol (IP) addresses. DNS translates domain names to IP addresses so browsers can load Internet resources. Think of DNS as a pretty mask, covering up an ugly jumble of complex numbers. It’s easier to remember a catchy DNS name like CNN.com, Microsoft.com or GoTo.com than it is to try to memorize a challenging series of IPv4 numbers such as, or the newer and more complicated alpha-numeric IPv6 addresses such as this Wikipedia example: 2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:7334.

DNS spares every web browser user from having to keep a complex directory of website address numbers (can you imagine what this type of cumbersome IP lookup directory would be like?), and instead makes typing a website name into the browser URL (Uniform Resource Locator) bar an act of simplicity. But there are some common DNS issues to look out for.

What is a DNS error? Why am I getting a DNS error?

If something you’re typing into the browser URL bar is not being translated properly, you’re likely to see a “DNS error” message. This could be an internet-wide problem, but the best way to determine that would be to skip the text name of the site and manually type in the IP address instead. For example, if you’re trying to reach Apple.com, instead try typing If the internet is intact, then you’ll reach the site. If the internet is down, you’ll error out.

You can also open a command prompt, a feature in most support tools, or manually start on a Windows machine by typing CMD into the search on the task bar. From here you can then “ping” the site by typing ping at the prompt that appears, and it will indicate whether or not the site is reachable.

  • If it is reachable, something like trace route might help in determining any hang-ups. Type tracert and see what the flows look like.
  • If the site is not reachable, it might be that the site is simply down, so try another site to see if it is reachable. If you can’t get anywhere, it could be the fault of your ISP (Internet Service Provider), so it’s a good idea to check with your provider. In my case here in Boston, I’d contact my ISP, XFINITY, and see if there are any known problems, if there are, they might even be able to tell you what specific sites are impacted.

DNS failure? Try these DNS troubleshooting basics.

If it’s not the site, and not the ISP, you’ll want to walk through some fundamental steps:

Clear the cache

From the command prompt you can type ipconfig/flushdns and this will make sure nothing stored in the DNS cache is causing problems, and the next time you try the website, it will be forced to download new DNS information.

Reboot your computer

Tried and true, it rules out any stuck processes and flows. Useful after the step above, to make sure a DNS Flush completes the necessary refresh.

Check your hardware and wires

Is everything on? Are any cables loose?

Run a wizard

On a PC you can type in “settings” in the search box, find settings-troubleshoot, and run some automated checks that self-correct or indicate where the problem might reside.

Run an antivirus scan

Rule out any malware causing problems.

Check DHCP (Dynamic Host Control Protocol)

The DHCP obtains IP info. This should be enabled on both your device and on your router. It’s typically found under your Local Area Connections and the IP properties. Having DNS server addresses and IP addresses obtained automatically is recommended.

Reach out to the experts

The next time a DNS error suddenly appears on your screen, you can contact your IT department who might be using a tool like GoTo Resolve that have troubleshooting features built into their remote management and support. These include executing a command prompt on your machine from a remote location, or jumping into a screen sharing session to check your settings.

Of course, if DNS errors are completely preventing you from reaching the internet, you’ll need to rely on your own manual walkthrough of the recommended steps listed above. I wish you the best of luck with your future DNS ventures!

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