Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Using HOSTS to block websites

I have to admit something: My name is Tim, and I'm a YouTube addict. Someone sent me a link to the Sony Bravia commercial (the one with with Jose González singing "Heartbeats") a few months ago and I haven't been able to get away from the site since. I'm powerless over it. My life has become unmanageable.

Which is all cool, the American way, really. Except when I started clicking into YouTube at work for a couple minutes, and had that turn into more than a couple minutes. This had to stop. I was going to have to call on a higher power.

I found it in the form of the HOSTS file. The HOSTS file is a simple way of bypassing the Domain Name Service (DNS) that converts Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) into IP addresses. Essentially, it acts like a telephone directory, remembering that "" means "" so you don't have to.

Because the DNS does such a great job, there isn't much call for the HOSTS file, unless you need to reach a site that only has an IP address (I used this hack recently as a workaround for some sloppy coding we got from a consultant), or if you want to redirect a troublesome URL to a safe one.

I bit the bullet and decided I was never going to look at YouTube at work again. So I opened c:/windows/system32/drivers/etc/HOSTS in notepad and put in the following entry, being careful not to erase anything that was already there:

# Sites I don't think I should look at at work is the IP address of our company website (The Reinvestment Fund), but you could put whatever you want that is not problematic for you. I put in other potentially bothersome sites as well. Not that I look at eBay at work (really, boss, I don't). By the way, that big space there is a TAB. And the first line is a comment, because it starts with a pound sign.

The other thing I did to make my system a little more user friendly was to put a shortcut to "notepad c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc\HOSTS" on my desktop.

When I put a new entry into HOSTS, I may have to close my browser and run the command "ipconfig /flushdns" from the command line to make the change take effect.

"But Tim", you may say, "can't you just re-edit the HOSTS file and get back on youtube immediately?" Yep. But I haven't yet. Who knows why this works? Maybe it's the nature of this beast that I only indulge mindlessly, so when I have to become mindful to override the safefguard, I realize what I am doing and stop doing it.

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