There are multiple reasons why certain pages become inaccessible, but it’s possible to unlock websites in several ways. For example, some of the countries with a totalitarian regime automatically block Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, in an effort to prevent its citizens from staying connected with global news.
Subsequently, the leaders of those countries are safe to promote their own political agenda by dominating all mass media channels and without fearing the interference of any external factors. Government censorship is, unfortunately, a real thing. However, people can fight against it using solutions like VPN.
Why some websites are unavailable
You might also find yourself in the position to look for solutions to unlock websites when using the Internet network of schools or colleges. Principals and deans think that students will be able to better focus on learning if they don’t have access to any sources of online entertainment, but we all know how that plan turns out in most cases: the student manages to find a way to access blocked websites and turns against the authority figures in the process.
In other cases, websites get blocked for simple technical reasons. For instance, if numerous connections come from the same IP address, the network admin of the website thinks it’s getting flooded with numerous requests from a bot.
How to unblock websites in 13 ways
Whatever the case may be, the important part is to know there are numerous workarounds to unlock websites, from using VPN, Tor and proxies, to changing DNS settings and modifying the system’s Hosts file. You can explore several options before deciding which one is the best one for you:
1. Use VPN
A virtual private network service is an all-around solution when it comes to secure Internet connections. It assigns you a different IP address, depending on which country you’re attempting to emulate. With its help, you can unlock websites by switching to a country that’s accepted by the remote server. Some VPN services have rich databases with IP addresses belonging to numerous countries. Examples include ExpressVPN, NordVPN, and CyberGhost VPN.
This means that you can explore servers from various regions to see what gets passed a particular website block, in case you cannot find out the reason for the ban. What’s more, VPN tools are the most effective on this list for gaining access to Netflix libraries from other countries, along with BBC iPlayer, Amazon Prime, and others. On the other hand, you should know that Netflix is continuously working on ways to block VPN, so it’s necessary to turn to an application that always provides new servers capable of getting around the ban.
In addition to unlocking geo-restricted content, VPNs provide high-level security against man-in-the-middle attacks, preventing hackers from stealing your login credentials, credit card details, private photos, business documents, medical records, your children’s schedule, and so on. If you’re interested in VPN, make sure to go with a premium software solution since free and freemium VPN are not well maintained and prone to security leaks. You should also find out the many pros and few cons of using VPN.
2. Use Tor
It can be really difficult for casual users to take in Tor and the way it works, but it provides the highest level of privacy and security on this list when it comes to Internet navigation. Tor represents an anonymous network that anyone can use to safely perform online searches, even on parts of the Internet that are not indexed by Google Search and other search engine (the so-called Dark Web). For example, Tor gives you access to .onion websites by browsing directories. Therefore, it can be used to unlock websites.
The Tor engine comes with its own web browser based on Firefox, so it has a familiar interface for those who’ve used Mozilla’s tool. You can choose your security level, pick a secure search engine to explore the web, set up a new identity to protect your true location, and always use HTTPS when visiting websites.
Note: If you want to maximize security as well as your chances of gaining access to websites from many countries, use a VPN service + Tor. However, you should keep in mind that it will probably take a heavy toll on connection speed, significantly lowering it.
3. Use Lantern
A lantern is a freemium tool specifically designed to help users access websites by getting around Internet censorship. The way it works is that users in countries with unrestricted online access share their bandwidth with those living in areas with Internet blocks.
Although it encrypts network traffic through its proxy servers to secure your privacy, it’s not as strong as Tor (but it’s faster). Because Lantern cannot offer 100% anonymity, users living in countries with harsh Internet policies should be careful when using this tool. A man was recently fined for using Lantern to bypass online restrictions in China.
Incredibly easy to set up and use, the application takes over your system proxy, provides access through the nearest server to ensure the best speed, and sits silently in the taskbar to let you enjoy the censorship-free Internet. Lantern is available for Windows, Ubuntu, macOS, and Android.
4. Use Psiphon
Psiphon is another example of Internet censorship circumvention tool, dedicated to users living in countries with severe government policies toward Internet freedom. It’s free and open-source. What makes it one of a kind is that it uses hybrid technology which combines VPN with HTTP proxy and SSH.
The app has servers in over 20 countries, doesn’t require you to sign up with a username and password, and hides your IP address immediately. No logs about your online activity are stored. It changes your IP address whenever newer Psiphon servers are identified. However, just like Lantern, it doesn’t ensure anonymity like Tor does.
The most recent version of the application supports split tunneling, upstream proxies (may be required by schools or businesses), as well as L2TP/IPSec mode for virtual networking. No installation is necessary, so you can download and immediately run the .exe. Psiphon is available for Windows, Android, and iOS (including a Psiphon Browser version for iOS).
5. Use a proxy
Just like VPN and Tor, a proxy server represents a gateway between your computer and the public Internet, which can reroute traffic using an IP address that’s different from your real one. Subsequently, you can bypass geographical restrictions, defeat government censorship, unblock websites, and make remote servers think you are sending page requests from a different IP address that they do not ban.
All web browsers have built-in proxy settings, as well as most desktop applications that require Internet access. It’s also possible to explore the features of your operating system to locate and change proxy configurations. The great thing about proxies is that they can be freely used, although there are premium services, too.
On the downside, you should know that free proxy servers are not effective in unlocking Netflix libraries from all over the world. In fact, they do a worse job than VPN services. It’s because Netflix can easily block the IP addresses used by free proxies, while it has a harder time doing this for VPNs. On top of that, unless it is properly configured (advanced), a proxy server has weaker levels of security that you would expect.
Free online proxy servers
If you want to quickly unlock websites like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram, make sure to check out the numerous free online proxy servers available before resorting to more complicated solutions involving proxy configurations. For instance, My-Proxy can give you immediate access to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Reddit, and Imgur. It can also go to any website you enter by assigning a random US IP address.
Meanwhile, the free web proxy of Hide My Ass! supports servers from other countries besides the US, too, such as Germany and the UK. It can encrypt your URL, disable cookies and remove scripts automatically. Hidester has optimized US servers for users from China who attempting to unblock websites. Other examples include KPROXY and CroxyProxy.
Note: If it’s necessary to get associated with a different IP address to be able to unlock certain websites (e.g. IP address from the UK to access BBC iPlayer), then you can explore a wide range of websites that provide free lists of proxy servers. For instances, Free Proxy List shows hundreds of proxies, along with their country of origin, anonymity status, whether they are HTTP or HTTPS, and if they can be found on Google. Another similar website is Proxy-List.Download, featuring support for HTTP, HTTPS, SOCKS 4 and SOCKS 5 servers.
Proxy and VPN browser extensions
If you want to use a proxy server on a semi-regular basis, then drop the online services and go with a browser extension that works with your favorite web browser. This way, you don’t have to visit the proxy page every time you need to unlock websites, since the addon applies the proxy configuration to all visited pages while it’s enabled, and it can be easily disabled without having to uninstall it.
There are numerous browser plugins available, and it’s difficult to pinpoint the best one. But you should know that there aren’t that many free proxy and VPN addons left. Most of them offer some free IP addresses to give you a taste, showing you the premium servers which are inaccessible unless you agree to a paid subscription plan. Besides, it’s not recommended to opt for free products due to security reasons.
For example, TunnelBear VPN is simple and straightforward, available for Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. It offers a free 500MB bandwidth each month and unrestricted access to servers from all supported countries. You can check out more information in our TunnelBear Review. Another great VPN extension for Chrome, Firefox and Opera is Windscribe, whose free edition may not provide access to all supported servers but has extra security features, like generating secure links, alerting you of ad beacons and third-party trackers on visited websites, and blocking ads. Other cool examples are ZenMate VPN, DotVPN and PureVPN.
Web browser and system built-in proxy settings
The proxy configuration of the web browser you’re using may have already been set up by someone else who used your computer before, like an administrator. This can happen when using a computer from a place with a closed or partially closed circuit, like an Internet cafe, school, college campus, when buying a second-hand PC, or when borrowing the computer from a friend who forgot to undo their browser proxy settings. This means that you have to find and check the proxy profile of your web browser as well as the whole system.
Please follow the next steps to successfully change proxy settings on Firefox, Windows (Chrome, Opera, Internet Explorer, Microsoft Edge), macOS and Linux.
The following instructions are available for Firefox (v65.0.2):
- Click the hamburger button on the upper-right corner of Firefox to open a menu and select Options. Alternatively, you can type about:preferences in the address bar and press Enter
- Go to the first tab called General and scroll down until the end of the page, where you can view Network Settings and click the Settings button. Alternatively, you can use the Find in Options box on top to type proxy and click the Settings button
- In Connection Settings, check if Firefox is set to Manual proxy configuration. If so, select No proxy and click OK to confirm the new options
Note: In some cases, it’s not permitted to install browser extensions due to restrictions set by the network administrator. A workaround for this issue is to prepare a portable copy of your favorite web browser and install the proxy addon on it, copy the portable edition to a USB flash drive, then plug it into the computer to launch the application without setup.
Chrome, Opera, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Edge rely on the “Internet Options” feature that can be found in Windows. Therefore, if you were to explore the proxy settings of these web browsers, you would end up in the same place: Internet Options.
- Click the Start button or press the Win key, type Internet Options in the search box, and click this entry in the Best match list or press Enter to open a new window
- Click on the Connections tab, followed by the LAN settings button to open a new window
- If Use a proxy server for your LAN… is enabled, then clear the box to disable the option
- Afterward, if no other setting is enabled, click OK for confirmation and exit. No proxy will be used
Note: If it’s still not possible to unblock the websites you were interested in, repeat the steps to return to Internet Options -> Connections -> LAN Settings and tick the Automatically detect settings, in case your network is hiding behind a particular proxy that you actually need
- Click the Start button or press the Win key, type Change proxy settings in the search box and click this entry in the Best match list or press Enter to open a new window
- If any options are enabled in this area (the slider is blue and set to On), then disable everything to deactivate the existing proxy. There’s no need for confirmation to apply the new changes.
Note: Similar to the “Internet Options” step, if you have trouble gaining access to the blocked websites, return to this area and turn on the slider of Automatically detect settings, in case your network is hiding behind a particular proxy that you actually need.
- On the desktop, click the Apple button on the upper-left corner of the screen to open a menu and select System Preferences
- In System Preferences, locate and click Network to open this area
- In Network, there’s a list with all your network connections on the left side. Select the one you use for connecting to the Internet
- Click Advanced on the right side to open a new area and go to Proxies
- If there are any boxes ticked in the Select a protocol to configure box, clear all and click OK to confirm
Note: If you still cannot connect to the blocked website, go back to the Proxies window, select Auto Proxy Discovery and click OK, in case your network is using a particular proxy server set by the network administrator for gaining Internet access.
The following instructions are available for Debian (v9.8.0):
- Click the down arrow on the upper-right corner of the desktop to open a menu and click the settings button to open a window
- Find and click the Network button to open a new window
- A list of your current connections is available on the left. Find and select Network proxy
- Click the None menu next to Method and select Manual to expand the menu
- Depending on what type of proxy you want, enter the IP address in the associated box, along with the port number (separate box). For example, for an HTTP Proxy, you can enter the 126.96.36.199 IP address and the 3128 port number. It’s not necessary to perform a special action to confirm changes since these are made immediately
6. Change your DNS server
The DNS (Domain Name System) is responsible for associating domain names with various details (including IP addresses) for connecting and identifying devices across the Internet. They are assigned by ISPs to your computer, smartphone, tablet and other devices with an Internet connection, but it’s not mandatory to utilize them. In some cases, blocked websites deny remote access by DNS server, so that any devices using that particular DNS server are left out.
To unlock websites, the solution here is to change your DNS server into something else. Luckily, there are many free and public DNS servers that you can test:
|Provider||Preferred DNS (IPv4)||Alternate DNS (IPv4)||Preferred DNS (IPv6)||Alternate DNS (IPv6)|
|Google Public DNS||188.8.131.52||184.108.40.206||2001:4860:4860::8888||2001:4860:4860::8844|
|Comodo Secure DNS||220.127.116.11||18.104.22.168||–||–|
Configure DNS settings
Please follow the next steps to successfully change the DNS configuration on Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, and iOS.
- Right-click the Start button to open a menu and click Network Connections
- Below Change your network settings, click Change adapter options
- Right-click the network interface used for connecting to the Internet to open a menu and click Properties
- Select Internet Protocol Version 4 (TCP/IPv4) if you use IPv4 or Internet Protocol Version 6 (TCP/IPv6) if you use IPv6, then click on the Properties button below
- In the General tab, switch from Obtain DNS server address automatically to Use the following DNS server addresses. If Use the following DNS server addresses is already selected, then just edit the information.
- Type the primary DNS server (first option) in Preferred DNS server, along with the secondary one in Alternate DNS server. The alternate will only be used if the first one is not available (as a backup).
- Click OK to confirm the new configuration
- Open the Apple menu and select System Preferences
- In System Preferences, find and click Network to open a new window
- In Network, you can see a list of all connections on the left side, so select the one you use for connecting to the Internet
- After selecting the network connection, click Advanced on the lower-right corner of the window
- In Advanced, go to DNS on the upper part of the window
- Click + on the bottom part to add a new entry. Unlike Windows, the preferred and alternate DNS servers cannot be told apart by the operating system. The same rules applies to IPv4 and IPv6 addresses. Simply add the new DNS servers and keep in mind that their order in this list matter (topmost have highest priority).
- Click OK to confirm the new configuration, then click Apply when you’re back in Network
The following instructions are available for Debian (v9.8.0):
- Click the arrow down button on the top-right corner of the desktop to open a menu and click the settings button
- Locate and click Network to open a new window
- Select the network connection which facilitates direct Internet access from the left side of the Network window
- Click the settings button on the lower-right side of the window to open a new area
- If you have an IPv4 address, then select IPv4 from the left column to view properties (otherwise, select IPv6)
- By default, DNS is set to Automatic. But you can change it to manual by moving the Automatic slider to the OFF position, then enter the desired DNS server address in the Server box below (IP address + port number).
- Once you’re done, click Apply to commit the new DNS configuration
- Locate and tap Network & internet to open this menu
- Scroll down until you find and tap Advanced to expand this area
- Tap Private DNS to bring up a small window to the screen
- By default, Select Private DNS Mode is set to Off. But you can change it to Automatic, or to Private DNS provider hostname if you want to use a specific DNS. In this case, write the full hostname, then tap Save to confirm modifications
- Alternatively, you can install an app from the Play Store that automatically changes your DNS settings
- Locate the wireless network that provides you with direct Internet access and long tap it to open its properties
- Scroll down until you reach the DNS section and tap Configure DNS
- By default, the DNS configuration is set to Automatic, but you can change it to Manual if you want to use a specific DNS
- After tapping Manual, the operating system shows an area with the DNS servers. Tap Add Server
- Tapping Add Server adds an empty entry to the list of DNS Servers (newest on bottom). Tap this entry to enter edit mode and write the DNS address
- When you’re done, tap Save on the upper-right corner of the display to confirm modifications
7. Use IP addresses or shortened URLs
Besides taking advantage of the DNS server, blocking remote access to websites can be done by just adding the website’s domain to the blacklist, instead of the IP address. It can be considered a simple mistake that rarely happens to administrators in charge of the system’s firewall and security, particularly system admins. Nevertheless, it’s a mistake worth exploiting, especially since it’s not necessary to resort to other tools or perform special actions to test this and unlock websites.
To attempt accessing a page in this manner, simply write its IP address in the address bar of your browser instead of its domain name. For example, if you want to gain entry to Google’s search engine, type 22.214.171.124 in the address bar instead of www.google.com. To find out the IP address of a website, you can either use online services like IP checker or fire up a command prompt window and type ping website_name. Similarly, if the website has a short URL, try using this instead of the full link.
8. URL recasting
Another simple trick you can try to bypass the restrictions of a specific website is to enter its full domain name in the browser’s address bar. There are many cases of websites whose SSL certificates weren’t validated by Google, especially if those pages originate from virtual private networks. It doesn’t mean that the site administrator locked you out, only that the website was accidentally restricted for anyone trying to access it outside of the VPN.
When this happens, you can try forcing HTTPS by writing the full address, including the WWW part. For example, try https://www.google.com instead of http://www.google.com or google.com. If your browser sent you security errors when you tried accessing the website before, this should be now fixed and working as normal, thanks to HTTPS tunneling.
9. Check the Hosts file
The Hosts file represents a document that contains all the rules and conditions taken into account by the operating system when connecting to the Internet. It contains multiple lines of text, where each line is made out of an IP address (that belongs to you) and hostname. The IP address and hostname represent the Internet connection that your computer is not allowed to create. For example, if you open Hosts and come across 0.0.0.0 facebook.com, it means that it’s not possible to access Facebook from your machine, no matter what IPv4 address you try to use.
If the computer you’re currently using is part of a wider network, like a school, college or workplace, it may have been previously configured by an administrator to ban access to certain websites. If so, those banned websites should exist in the Hosts file. Since it’s just like any other text document, the file can be edited, which means that any site entry can be removed from the blacklist, so that you can unlock websites. However, it’s not possible to make modifications to the Hosts file without PC administrative privileges (you must be either logged in as the admin or know the admin credentials).
Please follow the next steps to find and edit the Hosts file in Windows, macOS, and Linux.
The Hosts file is located at C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc. It can be opened and edited with any text editor, including Windows Notepad. All you have to do is carefully browse it, locate lines with mentions of the website you’re trying to unblock, and delete every one of them.
Afterward, save, exit, restart your browser, and try again. However, it’s recommended to create a backup copy of the original Hosts file to be able to replace it if you accidentally delete something you shouldn’t have.
The following commands are available for macOS High Sierra:
- On the Finder bar, open the Go menu and select Utilities
- Find and click Terminal to open a console window
- Enter the following command and then press Enter to open the Hosts file: sudo nano /private/etc/hosts
- When prompted by the operating system, enter your user password.
Note: The Hosts file contains comments (lines that begin with the # symbol) and some default host name mappings (for example, 127.0.0.1 – local host). Add your new mappings after the default mappings. After saving the new Hosts changes, you can force the modifications to take effect by entering the following command: dscacheutil -flushcache.
10. Use Google Translate
Few Internet users are aware that Google Translate service cannot only process text and whole documents, but also entire pages of content. If Wikipedia is blocked in your country, for instance, you can try entering the full URL in Google Translate to obtain a translated copy in the language of your choice (assuming you’re multilingual, of course). Similar results by using Bing Translator.
- Go to Google Translate
- Enter the blocked website’s address in the first translation box
- Set the source language to Detect language
- If the destination language is the same as the source, change it to something else
- Click on the link displayed in the second translation box to open the website contents in a new page
Note: If it works, you should be able to explore all pages belonging to the blocked website within Google Translate.
11. Use mobile versions
Most self-respectable websites are optimized not only for desktops but also for mobiles. You might have noticed that if you try accessing a particular page on your smartphone, you will be automatically redirected to its mobile version (has a slightly different URL). However, mobile versions are not restricted to smartphones and tablets alone. In fact, they can be accessed like any other website.
If a website was blocked by an administrator, perhaps they weren’t careful enough when setting the restrictions and forgot or were never concerned about any existing mobile counterparts. It’s not ideal to use your desktop to view the mobile-optimized version of a website, but it’s a solution that can be certainly used to get the job done and unlock websites.
12. Use an RSS reader
Another trick to get hold of the restricted information is to employ the services of a reliable RSS reader. These are specialized tools that monitor page content to collect and distribute a list of headlines to all subscribed users, sending notifications whenever there’s something new. Subsequently, RSS readers give you the possibility to read the news, check out the latest blog posts, and basically keep in touch with whatever is happening on the website you follow.
RSS links are often excluded from website bans. Therefore, they can provide you with a solution for getting around blocked pages and, at least get a glimpse of what they contain. Think of an RSS reader as asking a friend to drive you around the city because your driving license was suspended. By turning to auxiliary methods that are not explicitly forbidden by the blocked websites, you can fly under the radar, unblock websites, and obtain the information you’re interested in.
13. Use Wayback Machine or Google Cache
Internet Archive: Wayback Machine is an awesome part of the web that saves the history of any website which supports crawlers. By entering the name of any website, you can check out a calendar of all snapshots taken by Wayback Machine for the website, letting you access any recorded day. It’s a great solution for accessing websites that are not necessarily blocked but currently inactive, making it only seem like it denies remote access.
What the online service does is save caches of websites. Google Cache works in the same way, although it’s less organized. If you write cache: right before a website’s URL, e.g. cache:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virtual_private_network, it will load the last taken snapshot of the website, together with the timestamp. It’s certainly a creative solution for helping you unlock websites.
There are a lot of reasons why websites get blocked, but this shouldn’t be discouraging. Fortunately, there are multiple solutions for getting passed these restrictions, like using a reliable VPN service, browsing the web with Tor, switching to different DNS servers, or modifying the system’s Hosts file. We’d love to hear how you unlock websites that are normally off limits, so please don’t hesitate to drop us a comment in the section below.