This article is about editing the /etc/hosts file on a Debian 10 Buster system. But let us first see what the Hosts file is.

Understanding the Hosts File

All operating systems keep hosts files on a machine in order to translate hostnames to IP addresses. Whenever you open a website by typing its hostname, your system will read through the hosts file to check for the corresponding IP and then open it. The hosts file is a simple text file located in the etc folder of your Debian.

Here is how it looks like:

Debian hosts file

From what we mentioned, you might be expecting this file to have a very long list of IPs and corresponding hostnames; but that is not true. The hosts file only contains a number of lines;

  • The first part, by default, contains hostnames and IP addresses of your localhost and machine. This is the part you will usually modify in order to make the desired changes.
  • The second part has information about IPv6 capable hosts and you will hardly be editing these lines.

Whenever you type an address, your system will check the hosts file for its presence; if it is present there, you will be directed to the corresponding IP. If the hostname is not defined in the hosts file, your system will check the DNS server of your internet to look up for the corresponding IP and redirect you accordingly.

Why Edit a Hosts File?

By editing the hosts files, you can achieve the following and much more:

  • Block a website
  • Handle an attack or resolve a prank
  • Create an alias for locations on your local server
  • Override addresses that your DNS server provides
  • Control access to network traffic

How to Edit the Hosts File?

You can edit the hosts text file, located at /etc/hosts only as a superuser. You will first have to open it in text editors such as VI editor, Nano editor or gedit, etc. in the Debian terminal. Then, you will then make the required changes and save the file in order for these changes to take effect.

So first, let us open the Terminal through the Application Launcher Search as follows:

Debian Terminal

The Debian Application Launcher can be accessed through the Super/Windows key.

In this article, we will use the Nano editor to edit the hosts file. Please type the following command in order to open the hosts file:

$ sudo nano /etc/hosts

Or

$ sudo gedit /etc/hosts

(for gedit)

Edit the hosts file

As mentioned before, we will be editing the first part of the hosts file where IP addresses and hostnames are defined. We will explain the following two ways in which you can make use of the hosts file:

  • Block a website
  • Access Remote Computer Through an Alias

Block a Website using the /etc/hosts file

You can block a website by redirecting it to the IP of your localhost or to the default route.

For example, if we want to block google.com, we can add the following text to our file:

127.0.0.1 www.google.com

Now when we open the google website, our system will take the IP of our localhost (127.0.0.1) from the hosts file and redirect us to that instead of the google IP from our DNS server.

OR

0.0.0.0 www.google.com

Now when we open the google website, our system will take the IP of the default route (0.0.0.0) from the hosts file and redirect us to that instead of the google IP from our DNS server.

This is how the edited file will look like. Please save the changes by hitting ctrl+X and then entering y on the filename prompt.

Block certain websites using /etc/hosts file

Now when you try to open www.google.com from your browser, you will see an error message as follows:

Website blocked

Please note that we have defined the complete address www.google.com instead of just the hostname google.com in the hosts file because modern browsers sometimes circumvent the block if we only define the later.

Access Remote Computer Through an Alias

Now suppose that we have a server located at a local network that we want to access. We usually have to type the server’s IP to access it unless it has been defined on our local DNS. One way to avoid typing the IP, again and again, is to assign an alias to the server in the hosts file as follows:

192.168.1.10 myserver

The IP corresponds to the location of the server we want to access and myserver is the new alias we want to use.

Use hosts file to define server name aliases

Now when we save the file and type myserver in the address bar, we will be redirected to our remote server.

We have learned that by making very simple changes to the hosts file, we can customize and thus redirect the network traffic according to our needs. We can also get rid of a network attack or prank by restoring the hosts file to its default.

How to Edit the Hosts File on Debian
Avatar

Karim Buzdar

About the Author: Karim Buzdar holds a degree in telecommunication engineering and holds several sysadmin certifications. As an IT engineer and technical author, he writes for various web sites. He blogs at LinuxWays.