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Host File Windows - Using the Host File in Windows

domain notepad click text

In order to work online, Windows and all other operating systems must translate those user-friendly domain names into numeric IP address that the machine can use. This operation, called a domain lookup or domain resolution, has several steps. Windows attempts these steps one after another until it achieves a valid response. As soon as it gets that response, it discards all remaining steps.

The host file in Windows is the first step in that queue. It is essentially a database, a simple, text-based database, but a database nonetheless. This file allows the user and applications to dictate the IP address associated with a particular domain name or even a range of them. This is just like a DNS server although much smaller and far less sophisticated.

Where is the host file located in Windows?

In all versions of Windows, the hosts file is located in systemroot\system32\drivers\etc\. The systemroot element will vary depending on the Windows installation, but for most users it will be c:\windows, and therefore, the entire path would be c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc\hosts.

What if the Windows hosts file is not there?

In the default configuration, Windows does not display hidden files, and the host file has the hidden flag. Therefore, if you go looking for it and don’t see it, you’ll need to access Tools and then Folder Options in the Windows Explorer menu. In Windows Vista and Windows 7, that menu may not be visible, in which case you’ll need to press the ALT key to make it appear. On the Folder Options dialog, click the View tag, and then check the radial (circular checkbox) labeled ‘Show hidden files, folders, and drives.’

Can I edit the Windows hosts file?

Yes, you can edit the host file in Windows with any text editor. Most users find it easiest to use Notepad, which is the basic text editor built into Windows. Windows Vista and Windows 7 users may experience difficulty saving the file, and they’ll get the following message: ‘You don’t have permission to save in this location.’ In this case, you’ll have to run an instance of Notepad as an administrator, then edit and save. To do this, use the tip below.

Tip: Click on Start (the circular Windows icon). Type the term notepad into the search bar. Notepad will appear in the program list. Right-click Notepad, and then select ‘Run as administrator.’ Now, click Notepad, and navigate to the host file from the File menu.

How do I edit the host file in Windows?

The host file is just a simple text file, even though it often does not have the txt extension. When you open it, you should see a comments section at the head of the file. The file probably does not include any actual entries, but the ‘For example’ section includes two samples that you can emulate. The basic format is the IP address and then the domain name separated by at least a space on a single line.

Can I use the host file in Windows to speed up browsing?

Yes, theoretically, and most so-called Web accelerators use the host file in this way. It can improve speed when communication with the DNS server is slow and you’re able to resolve the domain locally. Typically, a user will only realize the speed boost on a dial-up connection, and even then, there are limitations. As the size of the host file grows, the inefficiency of the process can actually make the Internet connection operate more slowly.

Can I use the host file in Windows to block adware, malware, and undesirable websites?

Yes, in modern configurations the greatest benefit to the host file in Windows is the ability to block ads and other undesirable content. For example, associating www.undesiredadserver.com with 127.0.0.1 (the loopback address) prevents all ads from that company by rerouting all requests directly back to your own computer. This is how most ad-blocking software blocks content.

Is there a premade host file that I can use, and would I want to?

Yes, on both counts. The host file in Windows is an excellent and efficient means of blocking unwanted content, but the downside is that it requires a lot of work on your end. Even the smallest ad providers use a handful of distinct servers, so trying to record them all becomes a monumental undertaking. Fortunately, the community has combined its efforts to create a free host file for Windows.

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