How To Block Websites On Windows Using The Hosts File

How to block websites using the hosts file in windows

In this article I will show you how to use the hosts file to block websites on computers running the Windows operating system. I will also go over the limitations of using the hosts file to restrict access to the web when compared to dedicated web filtering software so you can choose the best internet management method for your needs.

Want an Easier & More Scalable Way to Block a Website?

Editing the Hosts file to block a website on multiple devices is a time-consuming, inflexible, and labor-intensive process.

For just $2.99 per license per month, you can take advantage of BrowseControl to block billions of websites across over 100 URL categories. More than 10,000 new domains are added each day, making it simple to restrict internet access even as new sites emerge. 

With BrowseControl you can…

  • Block or allow a website based on URL, category, domain, or IP address
  • Schedule unique website restrictions throughout the day 
  • Assign custom policies for each group of computers or users
  • Enforce internet usage policies, even when devices leave the network

”As a ‘novice’ I was able to set up with help from support in about an hour. Previous software took forever and didn’t work as advertised; this software worked right out of the box. It allows my workers to use the internet and make money for the practice without distraction/temptation to use personal websites/email/shopping.”
Gerard B., Office Manager

Using Web Filters vs Hosts File to Block a Website

Hosts FileWeb FilterThe BrowseControl Logo, web filtering softwareThe BrowseControl Logo, web filtering software
Multiple DevicesNot recommended. It forces you to decentralize the management of your network.
Recommended. The centralized console of a web filter makes managing multiple devices simple and efficient.
Granularity Limited. Web access permissions can only be done on a per-device basis. Changes to the file also affects all users on the device.Advanced. Unique web access permissions can be adjusted for each device, user, or workgroup.
WhitelistingDifficult. Using the hosts file block all websites except approved ones requires you to manually find the IP addresses of the websites you would like to allow, add them to the file, and direct all other traffic to a null route.Simple. To whitelist websites with a web filter you simply need to add the domains you’d like to allow to a whitelist (allow list) and all other domains will be blocked by default.
Wildcard FilteringNot Supported. You need to specify each and every variation of a URL you would like to block.Supported. A web filter allows you to block all URLs within a domain with one wildcard entry.
Ease of UseDifficult. You have to edit the hosts manually for every single device you want to manage. You will also need to reconfigure the file every time you wipe the machine. Simple. All you need to do is add the websites you’d like to block to your block list.
Table of Contents

Why Should I Block My Users From Accessing Certain Websites?

Block Websites
  • Bandwidth Management: Bandwidth abuse causes severe latency and network crashes. Organizations will use a bandwidth analyzer to identify the users and websites responsible for the excessive bandwidth usage, later adding them to their internet blacklist to prevent future abuse.
  • Network & Computer Security: By preventing users from accessing malicious websites that are known to contain malware, an internet filter provides critical security controls for protecting sensitive data 
  • Productivity Management: Content filters are used to block access to distracting websites and computer applications such as social media sites, computer games, and video streaming services. 
  • Data Security Compliance: Organizations that are responsible for sensitive data such as personal health information (PHI) will use internet blocking tools to prevent employees from maliciously or negligently leaking data through unauthorized data management channels such as personal cloud storage accounts.
  • Blocking Inappropriate Content: Administrators will use internet filters to block content that is considered NSFW or otherwise inappropriate for their users such as porn, grotesque imagery, violence, and profanity. Filters prevent underaged users from accessing adult content while also mitigating against the use of websites that may contribute to a hostile work environment.

Want to learn more? Check out our article on the benefits of web filters.

What is the Hosts File in Windows?

Screenshot of the Windows hosts file open in Notepad

The hosts file in Windows is a text file that is used by the operating system to map hostnames to IP addresses. In Windows 10 it located in the System 32 folder at C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc folder

Editing the hosts file in Windows lets you change the IP address that a given website resolves to on your computer. This allows you to override the destination that a website’s DNS zone file would normally take you to.

Since these changes only apply to your local machine this method of web filtering is useful for blocking websites on a personal device. However, anyone managing multiple devices should use a dedicated web content filter instead of blocking websites using hosts file to make policy updates more efficiently. 

How It Works

How you normally get access to web content

Normally when you enter a URL (such as Facebook.com) into the address bar of your web browser it will send a Domain Name System (DNS) request to a server. DNS changes the names of these human-readable domains into an IP address such as 31.13.80.36 (for IPv4) or 2a03:2880:f10e:83:face:b00c:0:25de (for IPv6) that identifies the server’s location. 

How hosts changes this

You can think of DNS as the internet phone book and the hosts file of your local machine as your own personal address book

Imagine you’re looking up someone’s phone number. Before resorting to the phone book (DNS) you’ll first take a look at your personal address book (the hosts file) to see if you have any contact details (IP addresses). If you do, you’ll not bother to check the phone book at all.

Your computer works the same way. Before any request for a domain takes place from your web browser, your machine will actually reference the local hosts file first. If any entries are found there they will be used instead.

This is precisely how you are able to block websites using hosts file. It has lines of text that consist of an IP address followed by a host name. These lines of text can be modified to tell your web browser that a given host name should route to a given IP address.

So, if you want to stop your users from accessing Facebook you can enter Facebook.com into your hosts file and route it to the IP address of your local machine (127.0.0.1). This will allow you to block websites using hosts file.

What is the Hosts File Used For?


Block websites using hosts file

DNS changes names of domains into IP addresses. For example, 69.63.184.142 is one of the IPs of facebook.com. You can use a hosts file to change that and redirect the site you want to block to another address. It will allow you to link a certain domain name with any IP address you want.

Note: When you block websites using hosts file the websites will only be blocked on the local PC. To ensure that websites are blocked on multiple computers you need dedicated web filtering software.

The hosts file is used to block ads

Ad filtering with the hosts file works exactly the same way as blocking a website does. Entries for known malicious or spammy domains can be blocked by adding them to the file and redirecting them to another IP address.

Test and develop websites

Web developers can use the hosts file to test and develop websites on their local machine. To make changes to a website before it is made public the web developer will install the site files locally and edit the hosts file on their computer so that it points the sites domain name to the IP address of the environment they want to test in.

How to Block Websites Using Hosts File in Windows (Guide)

  1. Open Notepad as an Administrator
    While logged into an administrator’s account press the Windows Key and type in “Notepad”
    Windows start menu. Notepad has been entered into the search box and the Notepad program is highlighted
  2. Right click on Notepad and press Run as administrator
    Windows start menu. Notepad is right-clicked. Next to it is a context menu with "Run as administrator" highlighted
  3. If your User Account Control dialogue box opens up asking “Do you want to allow this app to make changes to your device?”, select Yes
    User Account Control dialogue box for Notepad. It says "Do you want to allow this app to make changes to your device?"
  4. Open the Hosts File
    In Notepad click on File > Open or press CTRL + O
    Screenshot of the Notepad file menu. The "Open" command is highlighted
  5. Next, navigate to C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc folder. Here’s how to get there: In the Address Bar of the Open Dialogue Box enter this text string: %SystemRoot%\System32\drivers\etc\hosts (Note: This is the case for Windows 10. For the exact location in a different OS, check out this article)
    Windows File Explorer with the path to the hosts file in the address bar: %SystemRoot%\System32\drivers\etc
  6. At first you will not see anything in this folder. To make the contents of this folder visible you must click the drop-down menu in the bottom-right corner and change it from “Text Documents (*.txt)” to “All Files (*.*)”
    Screenshot of the Notepad "Open" process. Windows File Explorer with "All Files (*.*) selected as the visible filetype
  7. Double-click on the hosts file to open it
    Windows File Explorer with the hosts file location open. The hosts file is highlighted
  8. The default, unmodified file should look exactly like this
    Screenshot of the Windows hosts file open in Notepad
  9. (Optional) Backup the hosts file
    As a precaution you can make a backup of your hosts file by copying the text to a new Notepad file. Should the changes you make to your host file cause unwanted behavior you can simply replace the edited hosts file with the backup. You can also visit this guide to reset the hosts file back to its default configuration. 
  10. Add the Websites You Want to Block to the Hosts File
    In this example we will block the computer from accessing Facebook.

    Press Enter to create a new line, then add this to your hosts file: 127.0.0.1 www.facebook.com.

    It’s important to note that this will only block www.facebook.com specifically. You will need to add a new line for Facebook.com to completely block Facebook.

    The IP address 127.0.0.1 is the default IP address for the local machine (localhost). Using this as the remapped IP will ensure that you do not accidentally send your users to an unwanted IP address. You could also use a non-existent IP address such as 0.0.0.0 if you wish.

    Note: When you attempt to visit a blocked domain after it has been added to your hosts file you may get a privacy/security warning from your web browser. This is because the web browser was expecting a valid security certificate from the domain. Since the hosts file remaps the connection attempt back to the localhost rather than the actual website the web browser will flag the unexpected behavior.
    Google Chrome screenshot. Error message: "Connection Not Private"

Troubleshooting & FAQ

My Hosts File is Read Only. How Do I Fix This?

When a file is read-only you can freely open it but you can’t save any changes you make. 

Follow these steps to disable read-only mode:

  1. Go to the hosts file: Enter %SystemRoot%\System32\drivers\etc\ in the address bar of the file explorer or enter that string as a Run command
    Windows File Explorer with the hosts file location open. The hosts file is highlighted
  2. Right-click on it and click on Properties
    Right-click context menu with "Properties" highlighted
  3. At the bottom of this screen you will see Attributes. If the Read-only checkbox next to it is filled in you can click it to disable the Read-only attribute
    Properties dialogue box for the hosts file. The "Read Only" attribute box is highlighted
  4. Click on Apply and OK to save your changes
  5. After making your desired changes to the hosts file you should consider reenabling read-only again to help prevent unwanted changes.

What Are the Default Contents of the Hosts File?

# Copyright (c) 1993-2009 Microsoft Corp.
#
# This is a sample HOSTS file used by Microsoft TCP/IP for Windows.
#
# This file contains the mappings of IP addresses to host names. Each
# entry should be kept on an individual line. The IP address should
# be placed in the first column followed by the corresponding host name.
# The IP address and the host name should be separated by at least one
# space.
#
# Additionally, comments (such as these) may be inserted on individual
# lines or following the machine name denoted by a ‘#’ symbol.
#
# For example:
#
#      102.54.94.97      rhino.acme.com      # source server
#      38.25.63.10      x.acme.com      # x client host
# localhost name resolution is handled within DNS itself.
#     127.0.0.1      localhost
#     ::1      localhost

Screenshot of the Windows hosts file open in Notepad

Note: All of the octothorpes (aka hashtag/pound sign/number symbol – #) are used to comment out text entries. Any content on the same line as the # symbol will be ignored. Thus, the default file does not actually do anything. 

How Do I Open the Hosts File in Windows?

Method 1: Access Using the File Explorer

To access the hosts file using the file explorer you simply need to log in to an administrator account and enter %SystemRoot%\System32\drivers\etc\ into the address bar. If it is not there, it may be hidden. Follow this guide to show hidden files in Windows.

Windows File Explorer with the hosts file shown in its default location

Method 2: Access With a Run Command

  1. Open the Run App
    Press the Windows Key + R to open the Run app
  2. In the Open: text field, type in this string of text: %SystemRoot%\System32\drivers\etc\hosts
  3. Hit Ctrl+Shift+Enter to run your command with admin privileges. Do not simply hit the Enter key by itself as this only runs the command with normal user privileges.
  4. You may be prompted by Windows to choose a program for opening the file. You can choose a basic text editor such as Notepad.
    Windows "How do you want to open this file?" dialogue box with Notepad highlighted
  5. You should now see the file. It will look like this.
    Screenshot of the Windows hosts file open in Notepad

If you do not have administrator permission, you will receive an error like this:

Dialogue Box that says "C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc\hosts.txt You don’t have permission to save in this location. Contact the administrator to obtain permission. Would you like to save in the Documents folder instead?"

Note: You must have administrator privileges to access and edit the hosts file. If you do not run Notepad under administrator privileges, you will only get to view the file and you will be unable to save your changes to the appropriate folder. Any changes you make will not work unless it is saved in the correct location – saving it in the Documents folder will not allow you to block websites using the hosts file.

Method 3: Open With Notepad

  1. Open Notepad as an Administrator
  2. In Notepad click on File > Open or press CTRL + O 
  3. In the Address Bar of the Open Dialogue Box enter this text string: %SystemRoot%\System32\drivers\etc\hosts 
  4. At first you will not see anything in this folder. To make the contents of this folder visible you must click the drop-down menu in the bottom-right corner and change it from “Text Documents (*.txt)” to “All Files (*.*)” 
  5. Double-click on the file to open it 

How to Block Websites in Windows With Web Filtering Software

Need to restrict internet access in your network? In this tutorial you will learn how to block websites using a free trial of BrowseControl, CurrentWare’s web content filtering software.

With BrowseControl you can…

Block websites based on URL, category, domain, or IP address

Schedule unique internet restrictions throughout the day 

Assign custom policies for each group of computers or users,

and enforce internet usage policies, even when devices leave the network

There are 3 ways to block employee internet access with BrowseControl

1) Block access to specific websites with the Block List

2) Restrict internet access to only certain sites with the Allow List 

3) Using the Category Filtering feature you can block access to content categories such as Porn, Virus Infected, or Social Media 

For complete control over internet and application use in your network, you can combine BrowseControl with BrowseReporter, CurrentWare’s internet monitoring software.

All right, let’s get started.

To begin, sign up for a free trial of BrowseControl at CurrentWare.com/Download. After filling out the form you will be provided with the files you need to get started with BrowseControl.

To install BrowseControl, run CurrentWare.exe on the administrator’s computer and follow the installation instructions; this will install the CurrentWare Console and Server. 

After that, deploy the CurrentWare Client Setup file (cwClientSetup.exe) on all of the computers you would like to control. 

From there you can import your Active Directory organizational units or manually create your desired policy groups.

For full installation instructions, please visit our knowledge base at CurrentWare.com/Support. 

Now that you have BrowseControl installed, I’ll show you how to block specific websites based on their URL, domain, or IP address with the URL Filter.

This feature can be used to block your employees from accessing distracting websites like Facebook, TikTok, or Instagram.

First, decide whether you want to control internet access based on users or computers and select the desired mode.

Next, click on the URL Filter then select “Blocked List”

From the drop-down menu, select the group of computers or users that you want to restrict

Enter the URL, domain, or IP address of the websites you want to block to the master URL list, then press the Enter key or click “Add”. 

BrowseControl will apply a wildcard to the URL, ensuring that any paths within the domain will be blocked as well.

In the master URL list, select the websites you want to block for the chosen group, then click “Add to Blocked List”.

If you would like to add the selected websites to the block list of multiple groups, you can press the drop-down arrow and select “add to multiple groups”, select the desired groups, then click “add to blocked list”

If you have a large number of websites you would like to block, you can also use the import feature to import an existing list.

Finally, click “Apply to Clients”.

That’s it! You have now blocked your employees, students, or patrons from accessing those specific websites. 

Next, I’ll show you how to restrict internet access to only certain sites.

This feature is ideal if you want to prevent your employees, students, or patrons from accessing websites that are not explicitly allowed by your organization.

The process is identical to how you would block a website, except this time you will set the internet to “off” and add the websites you would like to allow to the Allow List.

With this method, your users will only be able to access the exact websites that have been approved by your company.

Here are the full instructions.

First, decide whether you want to control internet access based on users or computers and select the desired mode.

Next, click on the URL Filter, then ensure that “Allowed List” is selected

From the drop-down menu, select the group of computers or users that you want to restrict

Next, set the internet to “Off”. This will ensure that only the websites that are added to the allowed list can be accessed.

Enter the URL, domain, or IP address of the website you want to allow to the master URL list, then press the Enter key or click “Add”. BrowseControl will apply a wildcard to the URL, ensuring that any paths within the domain will be allowed as well.

In the master URL list, select the websites you want to allow for the chosen group, then click “Add to Allowed List”

If you would like to add the selected websites to the Allowed list of multiple groups, you can press the drop-down arrow and select “Add to Multiple Groups”, select the desired groups, then click “Add to Allowed list”

If you have a large number of websites you would like to allow, you can also use the import feature to import an existing list.

Finally, click “Apply to Clients”.

Next, I’ll show you how to block websites based on content categories such as Porn, Virus Infected, and Social Media 

With BrowseControl’s category filtering feature you can block billions of websites across over 100 URL categories. More than 10,000 new domains are added each day, making it simple to restrict internet access even as new sites emerge. 

Here’s how:

First, decide whether you want to control internet access based on users or computers, then select the desired mode.

Next, click on “Category Filtering”

From the drop-down menu, select the group of computers or users that you want to restrict

Select the web content categories you would like to block, then click “Add to Blocked List”

Finally, click “Apply to Clients”.

That’s it! 

The Allow List can also be used in tandem with the Category Filtering feature to allow websites that would otherwise be blocked based on their content category. 

For example, you could use the Category Filtering feature to block Social Media while still allowing access to LinkedIn.

Now that you’ve seen the 3 key ways you can block a website with BrowseControl, I’d like to show you how to restrict internet access at certain times.

With BrowseControl’s Internet Scheduler you can schedule custom block or allow lists throughout the day. 

This feature will bring some flexibility to your internet restriction policies; in this example, we will allow our employees to browse the internet during lunchtime.

Here’s how to use the internet scheduler

First, decide whether you want to control internet access based on users or computers and select the desired mode.

Next, click on “internet scheduler”

From the drop-down menu, select the group of computers or users that you want to restrict

Next, click “New Schedule”

Set the start and end time of the schedule. Then, select the schedule type.

Internet On will allow internet access to all websites that are not on the URL Block List

Custom allowed list will only allow access to specific websites.

Custom blocked list will block access to a specific list of websites and allow access to the rest of the internet.

Custom Category blocked list will block specific categories and allow access to the rest of the internet.

Next, set your desired schedule frequency.

Daily will enable the schedule every day during the specified time period.

Weekly will enable the schedule only on specific days of the week.

Monthly will enable the schedule only on specific months.

Next, click “Add Schedule”.

If you selected one of the custom block or allow list options, you can click the link provided under the “schedule type” column to set the websites or categories that you would like on the list.

And finally, click “Enable Scheduler” if it is not already enabled

That’s it for today. If you’re ready to start blocking websites you can get a free trial of BrowseControl at CurrentWare.com/Download. 

If you have any questions during your evaluation our support team is available to help you over a phone call, live chat, or email.

See you next time!

Need to restrict employee internet access at-scale? With BrowseControl you can block websites for all of your computers and users in just a few clicks. BrowseControl’s granular internet restriction policies allow you to apply unique restrictions to each group of users or computers in your company.

Conclusion

There are multiple ways to block users from accessing certain websites. Editing the hosts file in Windows is a viable method for blocking websites on a per-device basis, however to properly manage web filtering policies across multiple devices on a network you will need a centralized web filter.

Dale Strickland
Dale Strickland
Dale Strickland is the Digital Marketing Manager for CurrentWare, a global provider of user activity monitoring, web filtering, and device control software. Dale’s diverse multimedia background allows him the opportunity to produce a variety of content for CurrentWare including blogs, infographics, videos, eBooks, and social media shareables.