All communications inside of the domain protocol are carried in a single
format called a message. The top level format of message is divided
into 5 sections (some of which are empty in certain cases) shown below:
| Header |
| Question | the question for the name server
| Answer | RRs answering the question
| Authority | RRs pointing toward an authority
| Additional | RRs holding additional information
The header section is always present. The header includes fields that
specify which of the remaining sections are present, and also specify
whether the message is a query or a response, a standard query or some
other opcode, etc.
The names of the sections after the header are derived from their use in
standard queries. The question section contains fields that describe a
question to a name server. These fields are a query type (QTYPE), a
query class (QCLASS), and a query domain name (QNAME). The last three
sections have the same format: a possibly empty list of concatenated
resource records (RRs). The answer section contains RRs that answer the
question; the authority section contains RRs that point toward an
authoritative name server; the additional records section contains RRs
which relate to the query, but are not strictly answers for the
4.1.1. Header section format
The header contains the following fields:
1 1 1 1 1 1
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5
| ID |
|QR| Opcode |AA|TC|RD|RA| Z | RCODE |
| QDCOUNT |
| ANCOUNT |
| NSCOUNT |
| ARCOUNT |
ID A 16 bit identifier assigned by the program that
generates any kind of query. This identifier is copied
the corresponding reply and can be used by the requester
to match up replies to outstanding queries.
QR A one bit field that specifies whether this message is a
query (0), or a response (1).
OPCODE A four bit field that specifies kind of query in this
message. This value is set by the originator of a query
and copied into the response. The values are:
0 a standard query (QUERY)
1 an inverse query (IQUERY)
2 a server status request (STATUS)
3-15 reserved for future use
AA Authoritative Answer - this bit is valid in responses,
and specifies that the responding name server is an
authority for the domain name in question section.
Note that the contents of the answer section may have
multiple owner names because of aliases. The AA bit
corresponds to the name which matches the query name, or
the first owner name in the answer section.
TC TrunCation - specifies that this message was truncated
due to length greater than that permitted on the
RD Recursion Desired - this bit may be set in a query and
is copied into the response. If RD is set, it directs
the name server to pursue the query recursively.
Recursive query support is optional.
RA Recursion Available - this be is set or cleared in a
response, and denotes whether recursive query support is
available in the name server.
Z Reserved for future use. Must be zero in all queries
RCODE Response code - this 4 bit field is set as part of
responses. The values have the following
0 No error condition
1 Format error - The name server was
unable to interpret the query.
2 Server failure - The name server was
unable to process this query due to a
problem with the name server.
3 Name Error - Meaningful only for
responses from an authoritative name
server, this code signifies that the
domain name referenced in the query does
4 Not Implemented - The name server does
not support the requested kind of query.
5 Refused - The name server refuses to
perform the specified operation for
policy reasons. For example, a name
server may not wish to provide the
information to the particular requester,
or a name server may not wish to perform
a particular operation (e.g., zone
transfer) for particular data.
6-15 Reserved for future use.
QDCOUNT an unsigned 16 bit integer specifying the number of
entries in the question section.
ANCOUNT an unsigned 16 bit integer specifying the number of
resource records in the answer section.
NSCOUNT an unsigned 16 bit integer specifying the number of name
server resource records in the authority records
ARCOUNT an unsigned 16 bit integer specifying the number of
resource records in the additional records section.
4.1.2. Question section format
The question section is used to carry the "question" in most queries,
i.e., the parameters that define what is being asked. The section
contains QDCOUNT (usually 1) entries, each of the following format:
1 1 1 1 1 1
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5
/ QNAME /
| QTYPE |
| QCLASS |
QNAME a domain name represented as a sequence of labels, where
each label consists of a length octet followed by that
number of octets. The domain name terminates with the
zero length octet for the null label of the root. Note
that this field may be an odd number of octets; no
padding is used.
QTYPE a two octet code which specifies the type of the query.
The values for this field include all codes valid for a
TYPE field, together with some more general codes which
can match more than one type of RR.
QCLASS a two octet code that specifies the class of the query.
For example, the QCLASS field is IN for the Internet.
4.1.3. Resource record format
The answer, authority, and additional sections all share the same
format: a variable number of resource records, where the number of
records is specified in the corresponding count field in the header.
Each resource record has the following format:
1 1 1 1 1 1
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5
/ NAME /
| TYPE |
| CLASS |
| TTL |
| RDLENGTH |
/ RDATA /
NAME a domain name to which this resource record pertains.
TYPE two octets containing one of the RR type codes. This
field specifies the meaning of the data in the RDATA
CLASS two octets which specify the class of the data in the
TTL a 32 bit unsigned integer that specifies the time
interval (in seconds) that the resource record may be
cached before it should be discarded. Zero values are
interpreted to mean that the RR can only be used for the
transaction in progress, and should not be cached.
RDLENGTH an unsigned 16 bit integer that specifies the length in
octets of the RDATA field.
RDATA a variable length string of octets that describes the
resource. The format of this information varies
according to the TYPE and CLASS of the resource record.
For example, the if the TYPE is A and the CLASS is IN,
the RDATA field is a 4 octet ARPA Internet address.
4.1.4. Message compression
In order to reduce the size of messages, the domain system utilizes a
compression scheme which eliminates the repetition of domain names in a
message. In this scheme, an entire domain name or a list of labels at
the end of a domain name is replaced with a pointer to a prior occurance
of the same name.
The pointer takes the form of a two octet sequence:
| 1 1| OFFSET |
The first two bits are ones. This allows a pointer to be distinguished
from a label, since the label must begin with two zero bits because
labels are restricted to 63 octets or less. (The 10 and 01 combinations
are reserved for future use.) The OFFSET field specifies an offset from
the start of the message (i.e., the first octet of the ID field in the
domain header). A zero offset specifies the first byte of the ID field,
The compression scheme allows a domain name in a message to be
represented as either:
- a sequence of labels ending in a zero octet
- a pointer
- a sequence of labels ending with a pointer
Pointers can only be used for occurances of a domain name where the
format is not class specific. If this were not the case, a name server
or resolver would be required to know the format of all RRs it handled.
As yet, there are no such cases, but they may occur in future RDATA
If a domain name is contained in a part of the message subject to a
length field (such as the RDATA section of an RR), and compression is
used, the length of the compressed name is used in the length
calculation, rather than the length of the expanded name.
Programs are free to avoid using pointers in messages they generate,
although this will reduce datagram capacity, and may cause truncation.
However all programs are required to understand arriving messages that
For example, a datagram might need to use the domain names F.ISI.ARPA,
FOO.F.ISI.ARPA, ARPA, and the root. Ignoring the other fields of the
message, these domain names might be represented as:
20 | 1 | F |
22 | 3 | I |
24 | S | I |
26 | 4 | A |
28 | R | P |
30 | A | 0 |
40 | 3 | F |
42 | O | O |
44 | 1 1| 20 |
64 | 1 1| 26 |
92 | 0 | |
The domain name for F.ISI.ARPA is shown at offset 20. The domain name
FOO.F.ISI.ARPA is shown at offset 40; this definition uses a pointer to
concatenate a label for FOO to the previously defined F.ISI.ARPA. The
domain name ARPA is defined at offset 64 using a pointer to the ARPA
component of the name F.ISI.ARPA at 20; note that this pointer relies on
ARPA being the last label in the string at 20. The root domain name is
defined by a single octet of zeros at 92; the root domain name has no
The DNS assumes that messages will be transmitted as datagrams or in a
byte stream carried by a virtual circuit. While virtual circuits can be
used for any DNS activity, datagrams are preferred for queries due to
their lower overhead and better performance. Zone refresh activities
must use virtual circuits because of the need for reliable transfer.
The Internet supports name server access using TCP [RFC-793] on server
port 53 (decimal) as well as datagram access using UDP [RFC-768] on UDP
port 53 (decimal).
4.2.1. UDP usage
Messages sent using UDP user server port 53 (decimal).
Messages carried by UDP are restricted to 512 bytes (not counting the IP
or UDP headers). Longer messages are truncated and the TC bit is set in
UDP is not acceptable for zone transfers, but is the recommended method
for standard queries in the Internet. Queries sent using UDP may be
lost, and hence a retransmission strategy is required. Queries or their
responses may be reordered by the network, or by processing in name
servers, so resolvers should not depend on them being returned in order.
The optimal UDP retransmission policy will vary with performance of the
Internet and the needs of the client, but the following are recommended:
- The client should try other servers and server addresses
before repeating a query to a specific address of a server.
- The retransmission interval should be based on prior
statistics if possible. Too aggressive retransmission can
easily slow responses for the community at large. Depending
on how well connected the client is to its expected servers,
the minimum retransmission interval should be 2-5 seconds.
More suggestions on server selection and retransmission policy can be
found in the resolver section of this memo.
4.2.2. TCP usage
Messages sent over TCP connections use server port 53 (decimal). The
message is prefixed with a two byte length field which gives the message
length, excluding the two byte length field. This length field allows
the low-level processing to assemble a complete message before beginning
to parse it.
Several connection management policies are recommended:
- The server should not block other activities waiting for TCP
- The server should support multiple connections.
- The server should assume that the client will initiate
connection closing, and should delay closing its end of the
connection until all outstanding client requests have been
- If the server needs to close a dormant connection to reclaim
resources, it should wait until the connection has been idle
for a period on the order of two minutes. In particular, the
server should allow the SOA and AXFR request sequence (which
begins a refresh operation) to be made on a single connection.
Since the server would be unable to answer queries anyway, a
unilateral close or reset may be used instead of a graceful
5. MASTER FILES
Master files are text files that contain RRs in text form. Since the
contents of a zone can be expressed in the form of a list of RRs a
master file is most often used to define a zone, though it can be used
to list a cache's contents. Hence, this section first discusses the
format of RRs in a master file, and then the special considerations when
a master file is used to create a zone in some name server.
The format of these files is a sequence of entries. Entries are
predominantly line-oriented, though parentheses can be used to continue
a list of items across a line boundary, and text literals can contain
CRLF within the text. Any combination of tabs and spaces act as a
delimiter between the separate items that make up an entry. The end of
any line in the master file can end with a comment. The comment starts
with a ";" (semicolon).
The following entries are defined:
$ORIGIN <domain-name> [<comment>]
$INCLUDE <file-name> [<domain-name>] [<comment>]
Blank lines, with or without comments, are allowed anywhere in the file.
Two control entries are defined: $ORIGIN and $INCLUDE. $ORIGIN is
followed by a domain name, and resets the current origin for relative
domain names to the stated name. $INCLUDE inserts the named file into
the current file, and may optionally specify a domain name that sets the
relative domain name origin for the included file. $INCLUDE may also
have a comment. Note that a $INCLUDE entry never changes the relative
origin of the parent file, regardless of changes to the relative origin
made within the included file.
The last two forms represent RRs. If an entry for an RR begins with a
blank, then the RR is assumed to be owned by the last stated owner. If
an RR entry begins with a <domain-name>, then the owner name is reset.
<rr> contents take one of the following forms:
[<TTL>] [<class>] <type> <RDATA>
[<class>] [<TTL>] <type> <RDATA>
The RR begins with optional TTL and class fields, followed by a type and
RDATA field appropriate to the type and class. Class and type use the
standard mnemonics, TTL is a decimal integer. Omitted class and TTL
values are default to the last explicitly stated values. Since type and
class mnemonics are disjoint, the parse is unique. (Note that this
order is different from the order used in examples and the order used in
the actual RRs; the given order allows easier parsing and defaulting.)
<domain-name>s make up a large share of the data in the master file.
The labels in the domain name are expressed as character strings and
separated by dots. Quoting conventions allow arbitrary characters to be
stored in domain names. Domain names that end in a dot are called
absolute, and are taken as complete. Domain names which do not end in a
dot are called relative; the actual domain name is the concatenation of
the relative part with an origin specified in a $ORIGIN, $INCLUDE, or as
an argument to the master file loading routine. A relative name is an
error when no origin is available.
<character-string> is expressed in one or two ways: as a contiguous set
of characters without interior spaces, or as a string beginning with a "
and ending with a ". Inside a " delimited string any character can
occur, except for a " itself, which must be quoted using \ (back slash).
Because these files are text files several special encodings are
necessary to allow arbitrary data to be loaded. In particular:
of the root.
@ A free standing @ is used to denote the current origin.
\X where X is any character other than a digit (0-9), is
used to quote that character so that its special meaning
does not apply. For example, "\." can be used to place
a dot character in a label.
\DDD where each D is a digit is the octet corresponding to
the decimal number described by DDD. The resulting
octet is assumed to be text and is not checked for
( ) Parentheses are used to group data that crosses a line
boundary. In effect, line terminations are not
recognized within parentheses.
; Semicolon is used to start a comment; the remainder of
the line is ignored.
5.2. Use of master files to define zones
When a master file is used to load a zone, the operation should be
suppressed if any errors are encountered in the master file. The
rationale for this is that a single error can have widespread
consequences. For example, suppose that the RRs defining a delegation
have syntax errors; then the server will return authoritative name
errors for all names in the subzone (except in the case where the
subzone is also present on the server).
Several other validity checks that should be performed in addition to
insuring that the file is syntactically correct:
1. All RRs in the file should have the same class.
2. Exactly one SOA RR should be present at the top of the zone.
3. If delegations are present and glue information is required,
it should be present.
4. Information present outside of the authoritative nodes in the
zone should be glue information, rather than the result of an
origin or similar error.
5.3. Master file example
The following is an example file which might be used to define the
ISI.EDU zone.and is loaded with an origin of ISI.EDU:
@ IN SOA VENERA Action\.domains (
20 ; SERIAL
7200 ; REFRESH
600 ; RETRY
60) ; MINIMUM
MX 10 VENERA
MX 20 VAXA
A A 18.104.22.168
VENERA A 10.1.0.52
VAXA A 10.2.0.27
Where the file <SUBSYS>ISI-MAILBOXES.TXT is:
MOE MB A.ISI.EDU.
LARRY MB A.ISI.EDU.
CURLEY MB A.ISI.EDU.
STOOGES MG MOE
Note the use of the \ character in the SOA RR to specify the responsible
person mailbox "Action.domains@E.ISI.EDU".
6. NAME SERVER IMPLEMENTATION
The optimal structure for the name server will depend on the host
operating system and whether the name server is integrated with resolver
operations, either by supporting recursive service, or by sharing its
database with a resolver. This section discusses implementation
considerations for a name server which shares a database with a
resolver, but most of these concerns are present in any name server.
A name server must employ multiple concurrent activities, whether they
are implemented as separate tasks in the host's OS or multiplexing
inside a single name server program. It is simply not acceptable for a
name server to block the service of UDP requests while it waits for TCP
data for refreshing or query activities. Similarly, a name server
should not attempt to provide recursive service without processing such
requests in parallel, though it may choose to serialize requests from a
single client, or to regard identical requests from the same client as
duplicates. A name server should not substantially delay requests while
it reloads a zone from master files or while it incorporates a newly
refreshed zone into its database.
While name server implementations are free to use any internal data
structures they choose, the suggested structure consists of three major
- A "catalog" data structure which lists the zones available to
this server, and a "pointer" to the zone data structure. The
main purpose of this structure is to find the nearest ancestor
zone, if any, for arriving standard queries.
- Separate data structures for each of the zones held by the
- A data structure for cached data. (or perhaps separate caches
for different classes)
All of these data structures can be implemented an identical tree
structure format, with different data chained off the nodes in different
parts: in the catalog the data is pointers to zones, while in the zone
and cache data structures, the data will be RRs. In designing the tree
framework the designer should recognize that query processing will need
to traverse the tree using case-insensitive label comparisons; and that
in real data, a few nodes have a very high branching factor (100-1000 or
more), but the vast majority have a very low branching factor (0-1).
One way to solve the case problem is to store the labels for each node
in two pieces: a standardized-case representation of the label where all
ASCII characters are in a single case, together with a bit mask that
denotes which characters are actually of a different case. The
branching factor diversity can be handled using a simple linked list for
a node until the branching factor exceeds some threshold, and
transitioning to a hash structure after the threshold is exceeded. In
any case, hash structures used to store tree sections must insure that
hash functions and procedures preserve the casing conventions of the
The use of separate structures for the different parts of the database
is motivated by several factors:
- The catalog structure can be an almost static structure that
need change only when the system administrator changes the
zones supported by the server. This structure can also be
used to store parameters used to control refreshing
- The individual data structures for zones allow a zone to be
replaced simply by changing a pointer in the catalog. Zone
refresh operations can build a new structure and, when
complete, splice it into the database via a simple pointer
replacement. It is very important that when a zone is
refreshed, queries should not use old and new data
- With the proper search procedures, authoritative data in zones
will always "hide", and hence take precedence over, cached
- Errors in zone definitions that cause overlapping zones, etc.,
may cause erroneous responses to queries, but problem
determination is simplified, and the contents of one "bad"
zone can't corrupt another.
- Since the cache is most frequently updated, it is most
vulnerable to corruption during system restarts. It can also
become full of expired RR data. In either case, it can easily
be discarded without disturbing zone data.
A major aspect of database design is selecting a structure which allows
the name server to deal with crashes of the name server's host. State
information which a name server should save across system crashes
includes the catalog structure (including the state of refreshing for
each zone) and the zone data itself.
Both the TTL data for RRs and the timing data for refreshing activities
depends on 32 bit timers in units of seconds. Inside the database,
refresh timers and TTLs for cached data conceptually "count down", while
data in the zone stays with constant TTLs.
A recommended implementation strategy is to store time in two ways: as
a relative increment and as an absolute time. One way to do this is to
use positive 32 bit numbers for one type and negative numbers for the
other. The RRs in zones use relative times; the refresh timers and
cache data use absolute times. Absolute numbers are taken with respect
to some known origin and converted to relative values when placed in the
response to a query. When an absolute TTL is negative after conversion
to relative, then the data is expired and should be ignored.
6.2. Standard query processing
The major algorithm for standard query processing is presented in
When processing queries with QCLASS=*, or some other QCLASS which
matches multiple classes, the response should never be authoritative
unless the server can guarantee that the response covers all classes.
When composing a response, RRs which are to be inserted in the
additional section, but duplicate RRs in the answer or authority
sections, may be omitted from the additional section.
When a response is so long that truncation is required, the truncation
should start at the end of the response and work forward in the
datagram. Thus if there is any data for the authority section, the
answer section is guaranteed to be unique.
The MINIMUM value in the SOA should be used to set a floor on the TTL of
data distributed from a zone. This floor function should be done when
the data is copied into a response. This will allow future dynamic
update protocols to change the SOA MINIMUM field without ambiguous
6.3. Zone refresh and reload processing
In spite of a server's best efforts, it may be unable to load zone data
from a master file due to syntax errors, etc., or be unable to refresh a
zone within the its expiration parameter. In this case, the name server
should answer queries as if it were not supposed to possess the zone.
If a master is sending a zone out via AXFR, and a new version is created
during the transfer, the master should continue to send the old version
if possible. In any case, it should never send part of one version and
part of another. If completion is not possible, the master should reset
the connection on which the zone transfer is taking place.
6.4. Inverse queries (Optional)
Inverse queries are an optional part of the DNS. Name servers are not
required to support any form of inverse queries. If a name server
receives an inverse query that it does not support, it returns an error
response with the "Not Implemented" error set in the header. While
inverse query support is optional, all name servers must be at least
able to return the error response.
6.4.1. The contents of inverse queries and responses
queries reverse the mappings performed by standard query operations;
while a standard query maps a domain name to a resource, an inverse
query maps a resource to a domain name. For example, a standard query
might bind a domain name to a host address; the corresponding inverse
query binds the host address to a domain name.
Inverse queries take the form of a single RR in the answer section of
the message, with an empty question section. The owner name of the
query RR and its TTL are not significant. The response carries
questions in the question section which identify all names possessing
the query RR WHICH THE NAME SERVER KNOWS. Since no name server knows
about all of the domain name space, the response can never be assumed to
be complete. Thus inverse queries are primarily useful for database
management and debugging activities. Inverse queries are NOT an
acceptable method of mapping host addresses to host names; use the IN-
ADDR.ARPA domain instead.
Where possible, name servers should provide case-insensitive comparisons
for inverse queries. Thus an inverse query asking for an MX RR of
"Venera.isi.edu" should get the same response as a query for
"VENERA.ISI.EDU"; an inverse query for HINFO RR "IBM-PC UNIX" should
produce the same result as an inverse query for "IBM-pc unix". However,
this cannot be guaranteed because name servers may possess RRs that
contain character strings but the name server does not know that the
data is character.
When a name server processes an inverse query, it either returns:
1. zero, one, or multiple domain names for the specified
resource as QNAMEs in the question section
2. an error code indicating that the name server doesn't support
inverse mapping of the specified resource type.
When the response to an inverse query contains one or more QNAMEs, the
owner name and TTL of the RR in the answer section which defines the
inverse query is modified to exactly match an RR found at the first
RRs returned in the inverse queries cannot be cached using the same
mechanism as is used for the replies to standard queries. One reason
for this is that a name might have multiple RRs of the same type, and
only one would appear. For example, an inverse query for a single
address of a multiply homed host might create the impression that only
one address existed.
6.4.2. Inverse query and response example
The overall structure
of an inverse query for retrieving the domain name that corresponds to
Internet address 10.1.0.52 is shown below:
Header | OPCODE=IQUERY, ID=997 |
Question | <empty> |
Answer | <anyname> A IN 10.1.0.52 |
Authority | <empty> |
Additional | <empty> |
This query asks for a question whose answer is the Internet style
address 10.1.0.52. Since the owner name is not known, any domain name
can be used as a placeholder (and is ignored). A single octet of zero,
signifying the root, is usually used because it minimizes the length of
the message. The TTL of the RR is not significant. The response to
this query might be:
Header | OPCODE=RESPONSE, ID=997 |
Question |QTYPE=A, QCLASS=IN, QNAME=VENERA.ISI.EDU |
Answer | VENERA.ISI.EDU A IN 10.1.0.52 |
Authority | <empty> |
Additional | <empty> |
Note that the QTYPE in a response to an inverse query is the same as the
TYPE field in the answer section of the inverse query. Responses to
inverse queries may contain multiple questions when the inverse is not
unique. If the question section in the response is not empty, then the
RR in the answer section is modified to correspond to be an exact copy
of an RR at the first QNAME.
6.4.3. Inverse query processing
Name servers that support inverse queries can support these operations
through exhaustive searches of their databases, but this becomes
impractical as the size of the database increases. An alternative
approach is to invert the database according to the search key.
For name servers that support multiple zones and a large amount of data,
the recommended approach is separate inversions for each zone. When a
particular zone is changed during a refresh, only its inversions need to
Support for transfer of this type of inversion may be included in future
versions of the domain system, but is not supported in this version.
6.5. Completion queries and responses
The optional completion services described in RFC-882 and RFC-883 have
been deleted. Redesigned services may become available in the future.
7. RESOLVER IMPLEMENTATION
The top levels of the recommended resolver algorithm are discussed in
[RFC-1034]. This section discusses implementation details assuming the
database structure suggested in the name server implementation section
of this memo.
7.1. Transforming a user request into a query
The first step a resolver takes is to transform the client's request,
stated in a format suitable to the local OS, into a search specification
for RRs at a specific name which match a specific QTYPE and QCLASS.
Where possible, the QTYPE and QCLASS should correspond to a single type
and a single class, because this makes the use of cached data much
simpler. The reason for this is that the presence of data of one type
in a cache doesn't confirm the existence or non-existence of data of
other types, hence the only way to be sure is to consult an
authoritative source. If QCLASS=* is used, then authoritative answers
won't be available.
Since a resolver must be able to multiplex multiple requests if it is to
perform its function efficiently, each pending request is usually
represented in some block of state information. This state block will
- A timestamp indicating the time the request began.
The timestamp is used to decide whether RRs in the database
can be used or are out of date. This timestamp uses the
absolute time format previously discussed for RR storage in
zones and caches. Note that when an RRs TTL indicates a
relative time, the RR must be timely, since it is part of a
zone. When the RR has an absolute time, it is part of a
cache, and the TTL of the RR is compared against the timestamp
for the start of the request.
Note that using the timestamp is superior to using a current
time, since it allows RRs with TTLs of zero to be entered in
the cache in the usual manner, but still used by the current
request, even after intervals of many seconds due to system
load, query retransmission timeouts, etc.
- Some sort of parameters to limit the amount of work which will
be performed for this request.
The amount of work which a resolver will do in response to a
client request must be limited to guard against errors in the
database, such as circular CNAME references, and operational
problems, such as network partition which prevents the
resolver from accessing the name servers it needs. While
local limits on the number of times a resolver will retransmit
a particular query to a particular name server address are
essential, the resolver should have a global per-request
counter to limit work on a single request. The counter should
be set to some initial value and decremented whenever the
resolver performs any action (retransmission timeout,
retransmission, etc.) If the counter passes zero, the request
is terminated with a temporary error.
Note that if the resolver structure allows one request to
start others in parallel, such as when the need to access a
name server for one request causes a parallel resolve for the
name server's addresses, the spawned request should be started
with a lower counter. This prevents circular references in
the database from starting a chain reaction of resolver
- The SLIST data structure discussed in [RFC-1034].
This structure keeps track of the state of a request if it
must wait for answers from foreign name servers.
7.2. Sending the queries
As described in [RFC-1034], the basic task of the resolver is to
formulate a query which will answer the client's request and direct that
query to name servers which can provide the information. The resolver
will usually only have very strong hints about which servers to ask, in
the form of NS RRs, and may have to revise the query, in response to
CNAMEs, or revise the set of name servers the resolver is asking, in
response to delegation responses which point the resolver to name
servers closer to the desired information. In addition to the
information requested by the client, the resolver may have to call upon
its own services to determine the address of name servers it wishes to
In any case, the model used in this memo assumes that the resolver is
multiplexing attention between multiple requests, some from the client,
and some internally generated. Each request is represented by some
state information, and the desired behavior is that the resolver
transmit queries to name servers in a way that maximizes the probability
that the request is answered, minimizes the time that the request takes,
and avoids excessive transmissions. The key algorithm uses the state
information of the request to select the next name server address to
query, and also computes a timeout which will cause the next action
should a response not arrive. The next action will usually be a
transmission to some other server, but may be a temporary error to the
The resolver always starts with a list of server names to query (SLIST).
This list will be all NS RRs which correspond to the nearest ancestor
zone that the resolver knows about. To avoid startup problems, the
resolver should have a set of default servers which it will ask should
it have no current NS RRs which are appropriate. The resolver then adds
to SLIST all of the known addresses for the name servers, and may start
parallel requests to acquire the addresses of the servers when the
resolver has the name, but no addresses, for the name servers.
To complete initialization of SLIST, the resolver attaches whatever
history information it has to the each address in SLIST. This will
usually consist of some sort of weighted averages for the response time
of the address, and the batting average of the address (i.e., how often
the address responded at all to the request). Note that this
information should be kept on a per address basis, rather than on a per
name server basis, because the response time and batting average of a
particular server may vary considerably from address to address. Note
also that this information is actually specific to a resolver address /
server address pair, so a resolver with multiple addresses may wish to
keep separate histories for each of its addresses. Part of this step
must deal with addresses which have no such history; in this case an
expected round trip time of 5-10 seconds should be the worst case, with
lower estimates for the same local network, etc.
Note that whenever a delegation is followed, the resolver algorithm
The information establishes a partial ranking of the available name
server addresses. Each time an address is chosen and the state should
be altered to prevent its selection again until all other addresses have
been tried. The timeout for each transmission should be 50-100% greater
than the average predicted value to allow for variance in response.
Some fine points:
- The resolver may encounter a situation where no addresses are
available for any of the name servers named in SLIST, and
where the servers in the list are precisely those which would
normally be used to look up their own addresses. This
situation typically occurs when the glue address RRs have a
smaller TTL than the NS RRs marking delegation, or when the
resolver caches the result of a NS search. The resolver
should detect this condition and restart the search at the
next ancestor zone, or alternatively at the root.
- If a resolver gets a server error or other bizarre response
from a name server, it should remove it from SLIST, and may
wish to schedule an immediate transmission to the next
candidate server address.
7.3. Processing responses
The first step in processing arriving response datagrams is to parse the
response. This procedure should include:
- Check the header for reasonableness. Discard datagrams which
are queries when responses are expected.
- Parse the sections of the message, and insure that all RRs are
- As an optional step, check the TTLs of arriving data looking
for RRs with excessively long TTLs. If a RR has an
excessively long TTL, say greater than 1 week, either discard
the whole response, or limit all TTLs in the response to 1
The next step is to match the response to a current resolver request.
The recommended strategy is to do a preliminary matching using the ID
field in the domain header, and then to verify that the question section
corresponds to the information currently desired. This requires that
the transmission algorithm devote several bits of the domain ID field to
a request identifier of some sort. This step has several fine points:
- Some name servers send their responses from different
addresses than the one used to receive the query. That is, a
resolver cannot rely that a response will come from the same
address which it sent the corresponding query to. This name
server bug is typically encountered in UNIX systems.
- If the resolver retransmits a particular request to a name
server it should be able to use a response from any of the
transmissions. However, if it is using the response to sample
the round trip time to access the name server, it must be able
to determine which transmission matches the response (and keep
transmission times for each outgoing message), or only
calculate round trip times based on initial transmissions.
- A name server will occasionally not have a current copy of a
zone which it should have according to some NS RRs. The
resolver should simply remove the name server from the current
SLIST, and continue.
7.4. Using the cache
In general, we expect a resolver to cache all data which it receives in
responses since it may be useful in answering future client requests.
However, there are several types of data which should not be cached:
- When several RRs of the same type are available for a
particular owner name, the resolver should either cache them
all or none at all. When a response is truncated, and a
resolver doesn't know whether it has a complete set, it should
not cache a possibly partial set of RRs.
- Cached data should never be used in preference to
authoritative data, so if caching would cause this to happen
the data should not be cached.
- The results of an inverse query should not be cached.
- The results of standard queries where the QNAME contains "*"
labels if the data might be used to construct wildcards. The
reason is that the cache does not necessarily contain existing
RRs or zone boundary information which is necessary to
restrict the application of the wildcard RRs.
- RR data in responses of dubious reliability. When a resolver
receives unsolicited responses or RR data other than that
requested, it should discard it without caching it. The basic
implication is that all sanity checks on a packet should be
performed before any of it is cached.
In a similar vein, when a resolver has a set of RRs for some name in a
response, and wants to cache the RRs, it should check its cache for
already existing RRs. Depending on the circumstances, either the data
in the response or the cache is preferred, but the two should never be
combined. If the data in the response is from authoritative data in the
answer section, it is always preferred.
8. MAIL SUPPORT
The domain system defines a standard for mapping mailboxes into domain
names, and two methods for using the mailbox information to derive mail
routing information. The first method is called mail exchange binding
and the other method is mailbox binding. The mailbox encoding standard
and mail exchange binding are part of the DNS official protocol, and are
the recommended method for mail routing in the Internet. Mailbox
binding is an experimental feature which is still under development and
subject to change.
The mailbox encoding standard assumes a mailbox name of the form
"<local-part>@<mail-domain>". While the syntax allowed in each of these
sections varies substantially between the various mail internets, the
preferred syntax for the ARPA Internet is given in [RFC-822].
The DNS encodes the <local-part> as a single label, and encodes the
<mail-domain> as a domain name. The single label from the <local-part>
is prefaced to the domain name from <mail-domain> to form the domain
name corresponding to the mailbox. Thus the mailbox HOSTMASTER@SRI-
NIC.ARPA is mapped into the domain name HOSTMASTER.SRI-NIC.ARPA. If the
<local-part> contains dots or other special characters, its
representation in a master file will require the use of backslash
quoting to ensure that the domain name is properly encoded. For
example, the mailbox Action.domains@ISI.EDU would be represented as
8.1. Mail exchange binding
Mail exchange binding uses the <mail-domain> part of a mailbox
specification to determine where mail should be sent. The <local-part>
is not even consulted. [RFC-974] specifies this method in detail, and
should be consulted before attempting to use mail exchange support.
One of the advantages of this method is that it decouples mail
destination naming from the hosts used to support mail service, at the
cost of another layer of indirection in the lookup function. However,
the addition layer should eliminate the need for complicated "%", "!",
etc encodings in <local-part>.
The essence of the method is that the <mail-domain> is used as a domain
name to locate type MX RRs which list hosts willing to accept mail for
<mail-domain>, together with preference values which rank the hosts
according to an order specified by the administrators for <mail-domain>.
In this memo, the <mail-domain> ISI.EDU is used in examples, together
with the hosts VENERA.ISI.EDU and VAXA.ISI.EDU as mail exchanges for
ISI.EDU. If a mailer had a message for Mockapetris@ISI.EDU, it would
route it by looking up MX RRs for ISI.EDU. The MX RRs at ISI.EDU name
VENERA.ISI.EDU and VAXA.ISI.EDU, and type A queries can find the host
8.2. Mailbox binding (Experimental)
In mailbox binding, the mailer uses the entire mail destination
specification to construct a domain name. The encoded domain name for
the mailbox is used as the QNAME field in a QTYPE=MAILB query.
Several outcomes are possible for this query:
1. The query can return a name error indicating that the mailbox
does not exist as a domain name.
In the long term, this would indicate that the specified
mailbox doesn't exist. However, until the use of mailbox
binding is universal, this error condition should be
interpreted to mean that the organization identified by the
global part does not support mailbox binding. The
appropriate procedure is to revert to exchange binding at
2. The query can return a Mail Rename (MR) RR.
The MR RR carries new mailbox specification in its RDATA
field. The mailer should replace the old mailbox with the
new one and retry the operation.
3. The query can return a MB RR.
The MB RR carries a domain name for a host in its RDATA
field. The mailer should deliver the message to that host
via whatever protocol is applicable, e.g., b,SMTP.
4. The query can return one or more Mail Group (MG) RRs.
This condition means that the mailbox was actually a mailing
list or mail group, rather than a single mailbox. Each MG RR
has a RDATA field that identifies a mailbox that is a member
of the group. The mailer should deliver a copy of the
message to each member.
5. The query can return a MB RR as well as one or more MG RRs.
This condition means the the mailbox was actually a mailing
list. The mailer can either deliver the message to the host
specified by the MB RR, which will in turn do the delivery to
all members, or the mailer can use the MG RRs to do the
In any of these cases, the response may include a Mail Information
(MINFO) RR. This RR is usually associated with a mail group, but is
legal with a MB. The MINFO RR identifies two mailboxes. One of these
identifies a responsible person for the original mailbox name. This
mailbox should be used for requests to be added to a mail group, etc.
The second mailbox name in the MINFO RR identifies a mailbox that should
receive error messages for mail failures. This is particularly
appropriate for mailing lists when errors in member names should be
reported to a person other than the one who sends a message to the list.
New fields may be added to this RR in the future.
9. REFERENCES and BIBLIOGRAPHY
[Dyer 87] S. Dyer, F. Hsu, "Hesiod", Project Athena
Technical Plan - Name Service, April 1987, version 1.9.
Describes the fundamentals of the Hesiod name service.
[IEN-116] J. Postel, "Internet Name Server", IEN-116,
USC/Information Sciences Institute, August 1979.
A name service obsoleted by the Domain Name System, but
still in use.
[Quarterman 86] J. Quarterman, and J. Hoskins, "Notable Computer Networks",
Communications of the ACM, October 1986, volume 29, number
[RFC-742] K. Harrenstien, "NAME/FINGER", RFC-742, Network
Information Center, SRI International, December 1977.
[RFC-768] J. Postel, "User Datagram Protocol", RFC-768,
USC/Information Sciences Institute, August 1980.
[RFC-793] J. Postel, "Transmission Control Protocol", RFC-793,
USC/Information Sciences Institute, September 1981.
[RFC-799] D. Mills, "Internet Name Domains", RFC-799, COMSAT,
Suggests introduction of a hierarchy in place of a flat
name space for the Internet.
[RFC-805] J. Postel, "Computer Mail Meeting Notes", RFC-805,
USC/Information Sciences Institute, February 1982.
[RFC-810] E. Feinler, K. Harrenstien, Z. Su, and V. White, "DOD
Internet Host Table Specification", RFC-810, Network
Information Center, SRI International, March 1982.
Obsolete. See RFC-952.
[RFC-811] K. Harrenstien, V. White, and E. Feinler, "Hostnames
Server", RFC-811, Network Information Center, SRI
International, March 1982.
Obsolete. See RFC-953.
[RFC-812] K. Harrenstien, and V. White, "NICNAME/WHOIS", RFC-812,
Network Information Center, SRI International, March
[RFC-819] Z. Su, and J. Postel, "The Domain Naming Convention for
Internet User Applications", RFC-819, Network
Information Center, SRI International, August 1982.
Early thoughts on the design of the domain system.
Current implementation is completely different.
[RFC-821] J. Postel, "Simple Mail Transfer Protocol", RFC-821,
USC/Information Sciences Institute, August 1980.
[RFC-830] Z. Su, "A Distributed System for Internet Name Service",
RFC-830, Network Information Center, SRI International,
Early thoughts on the design of the domain system.
Current implementation is completely different.
[RFC-882] P. Mockapetris, "Domain names - Concepts and
Facilities," RFC-882, USC/Information Sciences
Institute, November 1983.
Superceeded by this memo.
[RFC-883] P. Mockapetris, "Domain names - Implementation and
Specification," RFC-883, USC/Information Sciences
Institute, November 1983.
Superceeded by this memo.
[RFC-920] J. Postel and J. Reynolds, "Domain Requirements",
RFC-920, USC/Information Sciences Institute,
Explains the naming scheme for top level domains.
[RFC-952] K. Harrenstien, M. Stahl, E. Feinler, "DoD Internet Host
Table Specification", RFC-952, SRI, October 1985.
Specifies the format of HOSTS.TXT, the host/address
table replaced by the DNS.
[RFC-953] K. Harrenstien, M. Stahl, E. Feinler, "HOSTNAME Server",
RFC-953, SRI, October 1985.
This RFC contains the official specification of the
hostname server protocol, which is obsoleted by the DNS.
This TCP based protocol accesses information stored in
the RFC-952 format, and is used to obtain copies of the
[RFC-973] P. Mockapetris, "Domain System Changes and
Observations", RFC-973, USC/Information Sciences
Institute, January 1986.
Describes changes to RFC-882 and RFC-883 and reasons for
[RFC-974] C. Partridge, "Mail routing and the domain system",
RFC-974, CSNET CIC BBN Labs, January 1986.
Describes the transition from HOSTS.TXT based mail
addressing to the more powerful MX system used with the
[RFC-1001] NetBIOS Working Group, "Protocol standard for a NetBIOS
service on a TCP/UDP transport: Concepts and Methods",
RFC-1001, March 1987.
This RFC and RFC-1002 are a preliminary design for
NETBIOS on top of TCP/IP which proposes to base NetBIOS
name service on top of the DNS.
[RFC-1002] NetBIOS Working Group, "Protocol standard for a NetBIOS
service on a TCP/UDP transport: Detailed
Specifications", RFC-1002, March 1987.
[RFC-1010] J. Reynolds, and J. Postel, "Assigned Numbers", RFC-1010,
USC/Information Sciences Institute, May 1987.
Contains socket numbers and mnemonics for host names,
operating systems, etc.
[RFC-1031] W. Lazear, "MILNET Name Domain Transition", RFC-1031,
Describes a plan for converting the MILNET to the DNS.
[RFC-1032] M. Stahl, "Establishing a Domain - Guidelines for
Administrators", RFC-1032, November 1987.
Describes the registration policies used by the NIC to
administer the top level domains and delegate subzones.
[RFC-1033] M. Lottor, "Domain Administrators Operations Guide",
RFC-1033, November 1987.
A cookbook for domain administrators.
[Solomon 82] M. Solomon, L. Landweber, and D. Neuhengen, "The CSNET
Name Server", Computer Networks, vol 6, nr 3, July 1982.
Describes a name service for CSNET which is independent
from the DNS and DNS use in the CSNET.