Chapter 17. DNS Servers

DNS (Domain Name System), also known as a nameserver, is a network system that associates host names with their respective IP addresses. For users, this has the advantage that they can refer to machines on the network by names that are usually easier to remember than the numerical network addresses. For system administrators, using the nameserver allows them to change the IP address for a host without ever affecting the name-based queries, or to decide which machines handle these queries.

17.1. Introduction to DNS

DNS is usually implemented using one or more centralized servers that are authoritative for certain domains. When a client host requests information from a nameserver, it usually connects to port 53. The nameserver then attempts to resolve the name requested. If it does not have an authoritative answer, or does not already have the answer cached from an earlier query, it queries other nameservers, called root nameservers, to determine which nameservers are authoritative for the name in question, and then queries them to get the requested name.

17.1.1. Nameserver Zones

In a DNS server such as BIND (Berkeley Internet Name Domain), all information is stored in basic data elements called resource records (RR). The resource record is usually a fully qualified domain name (FQDN) of a host, and is broken down into multiple sections organized into a tree-like hierarchy. This hierarchy consists of a main trunk, primary branches, secondary branches, and so on.

Example 17.1. A simple resource record

bob.sales.example.com
Each level of the hierarchy is divided by a period (that is, .). In Example 17.1, “A simple resource record”, com defines the top-level domain, example its subdomain, and sales the subdomain of example. In this case, bob identifies a resource record that is part of the sales.example.com domain. With the exception of the part furthest to the left (that is, bob), each of these sections is called a zone and defines a specific namespace.
Zones are defined on authoritative nameservers through the use of zone files, which contain definitions of the resource records in each zone. Zone files are stored on primary nameservers (also called master nameservers), where changes are made to the files, and secondary nameservers (also called slave nameservers), which receive zone definitions from the primary nameservers. Both primary and secondary nameservers are authoritative for the zone and look the same to clients. Depending on the configuration, any nameserver can also serve as a primary or secondary server for multiple zones at the same time.

17.1.2. Nameserver Types

There are two nameserver configuration types:
authoritative
Authoritative nameservers answer to resource records that are part of their zones only. This category includes both primary (master) and secondary (slave) nameservers.
recursive
Recursive nameservers offer resolution services, but they are not authoritative for any zone. Answers for all resolutions are cached in a memory for a fixed period of time, which is specified by the retrieved resource record.
Although a nameserver can be both authoritative and recursive at the same time, it is recommended not to combine the configuration types. To be able to perform their work, authoritative servers should be available to all clients all the time. On the other hand, since the recursive lookup takes far more time than authoritative responses, recursive servers should be available to a restricted number of clients only, otherwise they are prone to distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

17.1.3. BIND as a Nameserver

BIND consists of a set of DNS-related programs. It contains a nameserver called named, an administration utility called rndc, and a debugging tool called dig. See Chapter 12, Services and Daemons for more information on how to run a service in Red Hat Enterprise Linux.