[Windows] Block ads, malicious websites, and edit HOSTS file with HostsMan

HostsMan UIWithout delving too much into the particulars, or traveling far down the rabbit hole so to speak, the system HOSTS file handles the IP and DNS process. More specifically, it’s the sole file responsible for linking DNS servers to their appropriate IPs. Needless to say it’s integral to the OS, at least when internet usage is concerned.

If you know how to use it, you can use the HOSTS file to do cool things such as block ads or malicious websites. Unfortunately, the file is not easily modified unless you’re a more advanced or tech-literate individual. That is where HostsMan comes in.

What is it and what does it do

Main Functionality

HostsMan is a Windows application that allows you to easily manage or modify the system HOSTS file. Not only does it allow you to manually edit the HOSTS file but you can download third-party HOSTS file that include entries that block ads and malicious websites.

The application can open the HOSTS file natively through the program itself, or it can open the file in notepad. In addition, the app includes several tools for managing the file like an integrity checking tool or a duplicate string finder.

Pros

  • Allows you to easily edit/manage your system hosts file
  • You can download third-party HOSTS files from trusted sources, HOSTS files that include entries that block ads and malicious websites
  • Because the HOSTS file is used at the operating system level, blocking ads and malicious websites by downloading third-party HOSTS file works with all browsers and programs on your computer that connect to the internet
  • When manually editing the HOSTS file, uses the integrated editor or open the hosts file with your default text editor
  • There are several extra tools at your disposal which make modifying the hosts file easier, such as backup manager with multiple version support
  • Only uses about 6MB of RAM while running

Cons

  • This isn’t an issue with HostsMan itself but you can seriously mess up your internet connectivity if you do the wrong thing to your HOSTS file
  • No other serious issues that I could find other than minor nuisances such as the editor is a bit unappealing, I much prefer a text editor like Notepad+ (though that’s my opinion and therefore relative)

Discussion

HostsMan is available in two different versions, one portable and the other is a standard installation package. If you opt for the portable version, it will come bundled in a compressed folder. That means you will need an archive tool like WinRAR, WinZIP, or 7ZIP to extract the related contents. Once extracted (portable version), the application can be run from any directory including that of a USB drive.

Frankly speaking, if you know what you are doing, HOSTS file isn’t actually all that hard to modify. You can use Notepad or a similar text program to change or add IP and DNS information and edit the HOSTS. That being said, there are a lot of things that can go wrong if you don’t know what you’re doing. The same holds true with Hostsman, so please be aware that it’s possible to cause issues with your system and network if you are not careful.

As a side note: make sure to run the application with administrative privileges.

HostsMan manage update sourcesThe user interface is quite simple, and that’s one of the first things you’ll notice about the app. One of the most common implementations when working with the system HOSTS file is to add exclusion commands for various online entities. This allows you to prevent your system from connecting to potentially harmful or undesired websites, IP addresses or DNS servers.

It’s not surprising then that the very first tab in the app is dedicated to choosing a filter source, which will provide the necessary information for a third-party HOSTS file. To reiterate, you basically choose from several predefined sources, or a custom one, and the information is then downloaded and added to the HOSTS file. In other words, you can download third-party HOSTS file that come with settings that automatically block malicious websites and ads on all browsers and programs on your computer. HostsMan comes with support for third-party HOSTS files from MVPS, hpHosts, Peter Lowe, Cameleon, and Malware Domain List, plus you can add your own third-party HOSTS file if you wish. We recommend the MVPS one.

HostsMan integrated editorAside from downloading a third-part HOSTS file, you can use HostsMan’s built-in HOSTS file editor, which allows you to manually add/remove entries in the HOSTS file.

On top of that, with the app you can scan the hosts file for issues, find duplicate strings, delete comments, replace IP addresses, rearrange hosts, edit the exclusion list and more. You can also flush the DNS cache, resolve the hostname, or open the HOSTS file in a couple different ways (Windows Explorer, command prompt, power shell).

HostsMan backup managerThere’s a pretty nifty backup manager that allows you to backup separate instances of the HOSTS file. This means you can have several different versions of the file stored on your computer, ready to restore when the time is right.

The native editor is a little cramped for my style. Personally, I would opt to use something like Notepad++ to do my work. However, it’s still nice to see the option available and I’m sure some may appreciate the built-in editor a little more. For people like me though, there’s an option to open the file in the default text editor.

For reference, HostsMan uses nearly 6MB of RAM while running. For an application of this caliber that’s definitely respectable. If you’re looking for something lightweight, you can’t go wrong here.

Conclusion and download link

HostsMan aboutHostsMan is an extremely useful Windows application that lets you easily manage the system HOSTS file. Not only can you manually edit the HOSTS file with this program, but you can easily download third-party HOSTS file that allow you to block ads and malicious websites.

With several tools at your disposal, and a lightweight resource footprint, you’d be hard pressed to find a better option when it comes to managing the system HOSTS than HostsMan. Check out this app if you need or want the ability to edit the HOSTS file or block ads/malicious websites.

Price: Free

Version reviewed: 4.1.9.6

Supported OS: Windows 8/7/Vista/XP

Download size: 2.98MB (portable), 2.6MB (installer)

VirusTotal malware scan results: 0/46 (portable)

Is it portable? Yes

HostsMan homepage

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15 comments

  1. WildCat

    [@Karl J. Gephart] No, the first sentence of your first post, how you said it, points toward your arrogance. The author of the article shared information to help people, and teach them something, which I applaud him, and all the other authors here on dotTech, for doing. I can’t speak for everyone here, but to ME, by starting off your post the way you did by saying “Not really seeing who this article is targeting.” It was like saying “Pffffft… why did I bother reading this and why’d the author write it. Waste of my power user time.”

    Your third sentence… “Anyone who would require software with a clean GUI probably shouldn’t be messing with the hosts file in the first place.”… Again, I can’t speak for everyone, but to ME, you seem to state here that anyone who read this article, and followed the author’s advice, are intellectually below your own power user uberness. On the other hand Ed’s comment of “I prefer to do mine manually, I wouldn’t trust any software to this chore.”, humbly shows his expertise and states his opinion. Tom’s and Tenderfoot’s comments also reflect this. In them, they not only show their knowledge, but they also share that knowledge and give helpful advice/information to others who have read, or might read, this article.

    The irony of all this is when you reply to Tom saying “Adding malware-risky sites is too time-intensive…” Uh, hello? Did you not read the article or anyone else’s comments? That’s what this program, and most other software, is for. To make things easier and less time consuming. And when you say “a couple of trusty anti-malware programs and following good, safe practices are all anyone needs.” To me, here you contradict yourself and I find your statement to be incorrect.

    After all, don’t most anti- malware/virus programs have clean GUI’s? Malwarebytes comes to mind here. Second, even with anti- virus/malware programs and following “safe practices”, you can still run into trouble. Many freeware programs come bundled with crapware, that is not detected by anti-virus/malware, they may or may not tell you that they are going to install themselves onto your PC. Hostman, as Darcy said is a “nice option to have in your toolbox”. It is another type of tool that one can have/use to help protect a PC by blocking access to these nasty things. Ashraf wrote a nice article concerning this only a couple of days ago.
    http://dottech.org/123619/how-to-block-opencandy-windows-xp-vista-7-8-guide/

    On another note… I don’t know about you, but I was not born with omnipotent computer knowledge. I probably started out, like most people, because I was “curious”. For me that started sometime during, or after, Naval Nuclear Power School. I started as a noob and worked my way up, 25 self taught years later, to my “HiTech Redneck” status. I have done this in part by reading articles like this on dotTech and other sites. Soaking up the knowledge that they, and the comments/debates to them, shared and in the process either learning something new or a better way, or program, to do something. As far as your “level of computer expertise” goes… I care not one iota about it. What I do care about is how people treat others. You could be the next Bill Gates for all I know. But a word of advice… you won’t get far beating people over the head with how smart you are.

    [@Tenderfoot] Nice comment. Thanks for sharing that info!

    [@Ashraf] I tried Boss, but my Irish got the better of me. No worries though… I’ll understand if you think it is “delete worthy”.

  2. Tenderfoot

    For a long time I was curious as to what a HOSTS file really looked like or contained. Once I opened one, I found it to be rather simple, so I would like to share the first few lines of my HOSTS file with you. Again, remember, this is simply a Text file that can be created/saved using windows Notepad if you so desire. It’s basically two columns of information.

    The 127.0.0.1 column on the left (Look at he chart below) is the Redirected Target Site or IP Address (final destination of a request) that the PC is being redirected to go to. Recall that the IP Address of 127.0.0.1 is really just a virtual trash can which stops the computer from pulling any information into itself from that site.

    The second column contains the site that the PC might be requested to travel to (Original Target Site) to grab and pull information back to your PC (possibly malware or a virus.)

    For example, in my HOSTS file shown below, “fr.a2dfp.net” is a “known bad site” site that contains some type of malware or something that I don’t want my PC acquire. I never want to allow my PC to go to to retrieve anything from this site, so any time my PC is instructed to go to “fr.a2dfp.net”, the request is redirect to the IP Address of 127.0.0.1 instead (remember the virtual trash can) which ends the request and prevents the PC from ever going to that site…ever!

    In the case of my HOSTS file, I currently have a total of 15,323 Host Names of known “problem causing” sites in my HOSTS file, so anytime my PC is told by either me or another program or web page to travel to any one of these sites, the request is simply redirected to an IP Address of 127.0.0.1 which is the virtual trash can and that’s the end of the request. As a result, nothing is ever pulled in from these sites, so no need to try to battle them later on my PC with any other Antivirus or other type of Malware Prevention software.

    Of course I still use Microsoft Security Essentials Antivirus software on the PC to catch the few items that may not be included on this list as the web is constantly changing, but this simple combination of tools have proven very effective for me and those that I have installed it for.

    Sample Partial HOSTS file below:

    127.0.0.1 localhost
    ::1 localhost #[IPv6]
    127.0.0.1 fr.a2dfp.net
    127.0.0.1 m.fr.a2dfp.net
    127.0.0.1 ad.a8.net
    127.0.0.1 asy.a8ww.net
    127.0.0.1 abcstats.com
    127.0.0.1 a.abv.bg
    127.0.0.1 adserver.abv.bg
    127.0.0.1 adv.abv.bg
    127.0.0.1 bimg.abv.bg
    127.0.0.1 ca.abv.bg
    127.0.0.1 www2.a-counter.kiev.ua
    127.0.0.1 track.acclaimnetwork.com
    127.0.0.1 accuserveadsystem.com
    127.0.0.1 http://www.accuserveadsystem.com
    127.0.0.1 achmedia.com
    127.0.0.1 aconti.net
    127.0.0.1 secure.aconti.net
    127.0.0.1 http://www.aconti.net #[Dialer.Aconti]
    127.0.0.1 csh.actiondesk.com

    …. and so on to the bottom of the list of 15,323 lines of known bad sites. (anything following a “#” symbol is considered a comment in the HOSTS file and is ignored from that point forward on the line.

    I hope this helps to unlock the mystery of the “HOSTS” file for everyone and remove the “scare” factor. If you can type into the comment section of this web page, you can manage a HOSTS file. The Best Part is that it is FREE, and if you mess it up, you can always go back and change it or delete it and start over.

    The HostsMan tool just makes it really easy to modify, update and turn on and off the HOSTS file on your system and it also keeps track of any changes you make to the HOSTS file so you can undo them or restore an earlier backup version of the file if you wish.

    Again, if you have any questions, Check out this site for more information on the HOSTS file. http://winhelp2002.mvps.org/hosts.htm

    It really is that simple…and powerful too.
    Enjoy!

  3. Karl J. Gephart

    [@WildCat] Stating my level of computer expertise makes me arrogant? I’m simply stating my background and experience. You missed the whole point of my comment. Most anyone (not everyone – there would be a few intermediates) who needs a program like this because they can’t edit their hosts file probably shouldn’t be messing with it in the first place.

  4. Karl J. Gephart

    [@Tom] I did say that I edit the hosts file myself. Adding malware-risky sites is too time-intensive – a couple of trusty anti-malware programs and following good, safe practices are all anyone needs.

  5. Tenderfoot

    [@Jennifer]

    Hey Jennifer, Yeah, I know it sounds complicated, but once you understand how the HOSTS file works, you may change your mind.

    First, the HOSTS file on your computer is just a simple TEXT FILE, so nothing special about it. You can create one yourself with your Notepad application on your PC.

    So you can create your own, or download a free one that someone else created and put it on your PC. (I prefer to do this myself)

    Simply put, the HOSTS file (for purposes of our use at home) contains a list of Web Sites or Domains that are know to be malicious sites.

    When your computer goes to any web site, that site contains some information like an article that your looking to read, but it also contains other commands that are sent back to your PC that tell your PC to go to other locations on the web and download Ad’s, Malicious Files, Pop Ups, etc. When your PC complies with these requests, then it’s up to your PC’s pop up stopper, antivirus software, Ad-ware Blockers, etc to kick in and try to prevent these files from corrupting your PC. Most of the time they intercept these files and neutralize them. Legitimate Ad’s and Pop Ups are generally allowed to come through however if they are not determined to be malicious, however sometimes these other programs make a mistake and allow a malicious file to get on to your PC and Poof!, your infected or other malicious software is then told to download itself on your PC. Before long, you are so infected with Tool bars, popups, etc that you can hardly run your PC.

    So the biggest part of the solution is to prevent your PC from going out and retrieving these kinds of files in the first place. This is where the Hosts file comes in.

    In short, when you or another site tells your PC to go to a web site, the first thing your PC does is look for your HOSTS file. If it can find one, it scans the file to see if the requested IP Address appears in the HOSTS file. If it doesn’t, then your PC will then try to access the requested IP Address which could be any site on the Web.

    The HOSTS file acts like an Internet Police Man or Guard for Your PC. The HOSTS file contains two main items.

    It contains a web location called 127.0.0.1 which is essentially a virtual trash can on your PC. The second IP Address is the IP Address of the Site your PC may want to access which could be a malicious site or domain. So think of your HOSTS file as a “Redirector” which is in charge of keeping your PC from roaming to the dark side when requested to do so by you or other web sites that are instructing it to do so.

    For example, when you open your browser and type in Google.com, your PC fill then locate an IP address for Google.com, then it will check your HOSTS file to see if that IP Address is located in it. If it doesn’t find the IP Address in your HOSTS file, your PC will then roam to the Google.com IP Address and begin downloading the information from that site.

    Now, If you had placed the Google.com IP address in your HOSTS file and then “Redirected” it to the Yahoo.com IP address, then every time you would try to reach Google.com, your HOSTS file would “Redirect” it to Yahoo.com. Cool huh???

    So your HOSTS file is very simple, but very powerful as well.

    For our purposes, we want to prevent your PC from going to malicious sites, so the HOSTS file that you download contains a verified list of literally thousands of sites and domains that are known malicious sites, and the HOSTS file will intercept and redirect any requests to these sites to 127.0.0.1 which is your PC’s virtual trash can effectively stopping the request in it’s tracks and preventing your PC from getting infected or downloading anything from the site.

    From time to time, the HOSTS file is updated and sent to your PC automatically. You can also add your own line items or sites to the file or remove sites from the file yourself.

    Hostsman is simply a tool to help manage your HOSTS file to allow you to easily update it or from time to time you may want to disable the HOSTS file to allow access perhaps to a legitimate video file that is Ad supported that won’t play unless your PC is able to download that 1 Ad. Once your done watching your video, you can turn the HOSTS file back on, restart your browser and you should be protected once again.

    Having a good HOSTS file also makes your browser a little faster because your not burning bandwidth downloading excess garbage to your PC to start with.

    Every PC I own has this program on it, and I love it. Best of all it’s free and all of the updates to the HOSTS file are free.

    Check out this site for more information on the HOSTS file if you have any interest in learning more about this.

    http://winhelp2002.mvps.org/hosts.htm

  6. Tenderfoot

    I have been using this for many years and while it can prevent you from ocassionally watching a video or accessing a site you would like to access due to the protective nature of the program, I have to say that the benefits of this far outweigh the downside. I have installed this on all of my PC’s and my friends and family’s PC’s over the years, and this combined with a basic Antivirus program like Windows Security Essentials has literally kept over 15 machines virus free for 3+ years.

    It’s a little tricky to setup particularly on Windows Vista or higher software due to the User Account Control software, but once you have done it, it works just fine (you have to manually allow the HOSTS file update every few months, but its easy)

    I recommend this highly to everyone as a way to pretty much eliminate all Pop Ups, garbage Ad’s on your screen and also keeping your PC from roaming to places that it really shouldn’t go. Also seems to keep your browser pages cleaner as it prevents most Ad’s from showing up on your web pages.

    Enjoy!!

  7. Tom

    [@Karl J. Gephart] You CAN manually the HOSTS file, I do… but HostsMan enables you to add tens of thousands of adware and malware sites very simply. I dare say I don’t plan to take on the enormity of that task, even typing alone, manually.

    Re: backup… While I agree, keeping a copy of your original HOSTS file is a darn good thing to do, unless you have a complicated network bound to your HOSTS file, one can simple delete a troublesome HOSTS file, reboot, and all is well again…even if you don’t have a backup file.

  8. Karl J. Gephart

    Not really seeing who this article is targeting. For power users like myself, I would just go in and simply edit the hosts file. Anyone who would require software with a clean GUI probably shouldn’t be messing with the hosts file in the first place. And Ed makes a good point, too. Why take chances with software? Same with Win registry programs.

  9. Darcy

    Thank you for this one, though I believe you’ve mentioned it here before it is good enough to bear repeating. This is one of those things that should only be done by someone with experience, or with expert guidance. It’s a very nice option to have in your toolbox though.

    Also it bears repeating, mostly because someone will try without it but I always try to warn people anyway, Back up your current hosts file first! Recovery from a problem is so much easier if you have a working copy available.