A look at the DNS habits of the top 100k websites

Aug 16, 2017

I was thinking about switching DNS providers recently, and found myself whoising random domains and looking at their nameservers. One thing lead to another and I ended up doing a survey of the nameservers of the top 100,000 sites according to Alexa.

The top providers by a large margin were, unsurprisingly, Cloudflare and AWS Route 53. Between them they accounted for around 30% of the top 100k sites.

The top 10 providers overall were:

Provider Country Sites
Cloudflare United States 19%
AWS Route53 United States 10%
GoDaddy United States 4%
DNSPod China 3%
Dyn United States 2%
Akamai United States 2%
DNS Made Easy United States 2%
Hi China China 1%
UltraDNS United States 1%
Namecheap United States 1%

You have to search fairly deep to find a provider that’s not American or Chinese: OVH (France), Gandi (France again) and RU Center (Russia) all come in at around 0.5% of the top sites.

One thing I found particularly interesting was the relatively small number of sites that use Google’s hosted DNS service – out of the 100,000 sites only 0.4% appear to use Google Cloud DNS. That’s 25 times fewer than are using Route 53.

Different strokes for different folks

This graph shows the relative frequency of some of the big providers for sites in different positions in the top 100,000 list:

Graph showing popularity of DNS providers across sites grouped by position

There are a few interesting transitions that can be seen here. The very large sites tend to manage their own DNS, as can be seen with the large ‘Self-hosted/other’ number in the top 100 category. As you move down into the top thousand, you get to sites that still have significant requirements but don’t quite have the need to run their own DNS infrastructure; here you can see Akamai peak, and Cloudflare usage jump up an order of magnitude.

As you travel further down the list, DNS becomes a much more mundane affair and you see ‘premium’ providers such as NS1, Dyn and Verisign drop off, and commodity providers such as GoDaddy start to soar. Cloudflare remains a popular option for these sites thanks, I imagine, to its generous free plan.

Resilience

In October 2016, Dyn was subject to a large DDoS attack that cripped a significant number of major websites. There are two main ways that individual sites can mitigate such an attack: they can host DNS themselves (in which case it’s as vulnerable to a DDoS attack as the rest of their infrastructure), or they can use multiple DNS providers effectively hedging their bets.

There’s one other potential issue that may affect DNS resilience: the reliability of the TLD’s nameservers. Shortly after the Dyn outage, the majority of the nameservers for the .io, .ac and .sh TLDs went down. If your nameservers were under one of those TLDs, clients would again be unable to reach them. The easiest way to reduce the risk of this happening is to have namesevers under multiple TLDs.

As you would expect, the use of these techniques tend to be more common with the higher ranking sites:

Graph showing use of resilience techniques by site position

Of those sites that do use multiple providers, there are some fairly common pairings:

Chart showing frequency of pairings of top providers

Dyn is obviously frequently paired with a number of providers. In fact, of all the top 100k sites using Dyn 40% also use a different provider. They’re second only to NS1, who despite having smaller absolute numbers, appear alongside one of their competitors on 72% of the sites that use them.

NS1 also suffered from DDoS attacks over the summer of 2016. It seems that after a major outage, customers wisely tend to hedge their bets and introduce a backup provider.