Best ad blockers for 2021 - how to block ads, tracking and more

See which are the best ad blockers to use and learn how to block ads, tracking websites, malware and more unwanted content

Ad blocking as a topic is on the rise, again. With the recent announcements from Chrome's Dev team it becomes increasingly clear that Google is annoyed by our efforts in experiencing a more privacy-oriented internet.

For many years we have relied on these extensions to block ads and prevent tracking. I use a mixture of 4 (uBlock origin, disconnect, No Coin, WebRTC leak protection) and, making them unusable in Chrome, will be a complete game-changer for me and many other users. This "war" between ad blockers and ad servers is ever changing. With the most popular browser being owned and developed by THE biggest ad server it's no wonder that we have to stay relevant and up to date in our efforts for having a better online experience.

In this article I'm going to cover everything that I use and recommend using if you want to get rid of ads once and for all. All tools are complementing each other because there is none to do it all on eevry platform.

When it comes to blocking ads we have 2 options:

Block ads with browser extensions

Extensions that work inside your browser, scan the content and block parts of the website where ads are known to show up. Some of them even block the requests towards other websites. Everything is done based on rules that match or not.

One major drawback in using these extensions is that they are not available on mobile ddevices and, if they are, they tend to consume a LOT of battery because the rule matching is done using your resources.

Other negative thing to note here is the fact that some maintainers of such extensions have started whitelisting "allowed ads" based on sponsorship, donations, etc. so they are not completely reliable.

Block ads using a private DNS server

Some DNS servers have the ability to block ads and other websites by matching the same rules against the target domain. Usually, there's a database with flagged domains which are known to serve ads or perform tracking and that database is matched against every requested domain that you perform.

The advantage of using a DNS server to stop ads is in the fact that those rules are checked and matched on the DNS server and not your computer. This saves you bandwidth, battery life and other resources.

Apart from dnsadblock which I'm going to cover in this article, the DNS servers usually do not allow any kind of customization of rules (you can't add your own rules) and this is a major drawback when you compare them with the extensions as a solution.

Another drawback to this approach is the fact that you can't block parts of a website like the extensions do. A DNS server blocks entire domains/subdomains so, ads served from the same domain will go through.

Block ads using a hostname file

This is a "more maintenance", less user-friendly, power-user type of thing so I'm specifying it last. The most annoying thing is to keep that list of blocked domains healthy and updated. Ad server domains frequently change to avoid being blocked for too long and constantly chasing them by yourself can be a little too demanding.

There are good solutions and scripts to do it automatically for you but…yeah, have fun. I'm just to lazy to spend hours or days setting up an automated task, compiling python scripts and running crons for the sake of updating a hosts file.

It acts similarly to a DNS server by checking each request against "the list" of blocked domains.

uBlobk Origin - uBlock is a fast ad blocker extension which is also a bit lighter on the resources compared to its rivals. Since battery is important for phones, tablets and laptops I recommend this one instead of ABP for example. - this extension is aimed towards privacy and blocking trackers more than anything else. It's an excellent addition to uBlock.

No Coin - with the coin frenzy in recent years there's no wonder in the fact that many webmasters go blackhat and attempt to mine as much as they can by placing scripts in their webpages which are milking their visitors resources by mining. One such website can drain your battery in 20 minutes or less if left open. This extension has a list of known websites that mine using their webpages and blocks them.

Best ad blocking DNS server

The best solution as an ad blocking DNS server is dnsadblock because it allows you to customize your experience on many levels.

Not only that they have a frequently updated list of rules but they also keep everything placed together into groups that can be enabled or disabled at will. Some of the groups are:

  • ads
  • tracking
  • adult/porn
  • malware
  • crypto
  • phishing
  • gambling
  • fake news

You can overwrite their rules with your own by blocking or whitelisting any domain you wish. At any time you can open the dashboard and see logs about the activity of your connection. The logs represent the blocked domains. You will be amazed at how many requests are blocked just by browsing the internet.

One other benefit of using dnsadblock is that you can also bypass government restrictions or geo restricted content. If these restrictions are applied at the DNS level of course (which many are). Netflix and other streaming services rely on DNS leaks to guess your location.

You can use dnsadblock on mobile as well. We all know how hard is to achieve a proper ad blocking experience on our mobile phones due to restrictions in the operating system (which usually does not allow for a private DNS server on WiFi and Cellular) or restrictions in the browsers. On mobile, dnsadblock creates a VPN connection that tunnels your DNS traffic.

Our recommendation

The recommended approach is to use a DNS server and extensions if possible. The advantage here is that many of the requests will be blocked before they get the chance to display. Extensions block parts of the page but that doesn't mean that those parts are not loading in many cases. Ads may still be getting loaded and consuming your bandwidth and resources, even if they are not being shown. Hidden elements are still loading, consuming your resources. Think of it as a layered firewall.

In conclusion

Keep in mind that Big Brother will always try to bypass your restrictions. In the latest versions of Chrome they also introduced a featured called "async DNS" which resolves domains from links before being clicked. It's a form of pre-cache which is nice but the evil part is the fact that this DNS prefetch is using google's own DNS servers.

Because of these continuous efforts in bypassing our restrictions I highly recommend you switch over to Firefox.

This asynchronous DNS feature can be disabled by navigating to: chrome://flags in your URL bar and disabling the featured called Async DNS Resolver - search for "DNS" inside the flags list. Chrome still keeps a DNS cache though so you will have to clear that out as well by navigating to chrome://net-internals DNS tab and hit "Clear host cache".