Commit f7ba2cb0 authored by Mark Andrews's avatar Mark Andrews

4892: Requirements for a Mechanism Identifying a Name Server Instance

parent 75fa8d38
......@@ -116,6 +116,7 @@
4648: The Base16, Base32, and Base64 Data Encodings
4701: A DNS Resource Record (RR) for Encoding
Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) Information (DHCID RR)
4892: Requirements for a Mechanism Identifying a Name Server Instance
5155: DNS Security (DNSSEC) Hashed Authenticated Denial of Existence
5295: Host Identity Protocol (HIP) Domain Name System (DNS) Extension
5507: Design Choices When Expanding the DNS
Network Working Group S. Woolf
Request for Comments: 4892 Internet Systems Consortium, Inc.
Category: Informational D. Conrad
June 2007
Requirements for a Mechanism Identifying a Name Server Instance
Status of This Memo
This memo provides information for the Internet community. It does
not specify an Internet standard of any kind. Distribution of this
memo is unlimited.
Copyright Notice
Copyright (C) The IETF Trust (2007).
With the increased use of DNS anycast, load balancing, and other
mechanisms allowing more than one DNS name server to share a single
IP address, it is sometimes difficult to tell which of a pool of name
servers has answered a particular query. A standardized mechanism to
determine the identity of a name server responding to a particular
query would be useful, particularly as a diagnostic aid for
administrators. Existing ad hoc mechanisms for addressing this need
have some shortcomings, not the least of which is the lack of prior
analysis of exactly how such a mechanism should be designed and
deployed. This document describes the existing convention used in
some widely deployed implementations of the DNS protocol, including
advantages and disadvantages, and discusses some attributes of an
improved mechanism.
1. Introduction and Rationale
Identifying which name server is responding to queries is often
useful, particularly in attempting to diagnose name server
difficulties. This is most obviously useful for authoritative
nameservers in the attempt to diagnose the source or prevalence of
inaccurate data, but can also conceivably be useful for caching
resolvers in similar and other situations. Furthermore, the ability
to identify which server is responding to a query has become more
useful as DNS has become more critical to more Internet users, and as
network and server deployment topologies have become more complex.
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The conventional means for determining which of several possible
servers is answering a query has traditionally been based on the use
of the server's IP address as a unique identifier. However, the
modern Internet has seen the deployment of various load balancing,
fault-tolerance, or attack-resistance schemes such as shared use of
unicast IP addresses as documented in [RFC3258]. An unfortunate side
effect of these schemes has been to make the use of IP addresses as
identifiers associated with DNS (or any other) service somewhat
problematic. Specifically, multiple dedicated DNS queries may not go
to the same server even though sent to the same IP address. Non-DNS
methods such as ICMP ping, TCP connections, or non-DNS UDP packets
(such as those generated by tools like "traceroute"), etc., may well
be even less certain to reach the same server as the one which
receives the DNS queries.
There is a well-known and frequently-used technique for determining
an identity for a nameserver more specific than the possibly-non-
unique "server that answered the query I sent to IP address A.B.C.D".
The widespread use of the existing convention suggests a need for a
documented, interoperable means of querying the identity of a
nameserver that may be part of an anycast or load-balancing cluster.
At the same time, however, it also has some drawbacks that argue
against standardizing it as it's been practiced so far.
2. Existing Conventions
For some time, the commonly deployed Berkeley Internet Name Domain
(BIND) implementation of the DNS protocol suite from the Internet
Systems Consortium [BIND] has supported a way of identifying a
particular server via the use of a standards-compliant, if somewhat
unusual, DNS query. Specifically, a query to a recent BIND server
for a TXT resource record in class 3 (CHAOS) for the domain name
"HOSTNAME.BIND." will return a string that can be configured by the
name server administrator to provide a unique identifier for the
responding server. (The value defaults to the result of a
gethostname() call). This mechanism, which is an extension of the
BIND convention of using CHAOS class TXT RR queries to sub-domains of
the "BIND." domain for version information, has been copied by
several name server vendors.
A refinement to the BIND-based mechanism, which dropped the
implementation-specific label, replaces "BIND." with "SERVER.". Thus
the query label to learn the unique name of a server may appear as
(For reference, the other well-known name used by recent versions of
BIND within the CHAOS class "BIND." domain is "VERSION.BIND.". A
query for a CHAOS TXT RR for this name will return an
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administratively defined string which defaults to the software
version of the server responding. This is, however, not generally
implemented by other vendors.)
2.1. Advantages
There are several valuable attributes to this mechanism, which
account for its usefulness.
1. The "HOSTNAME.BIND." or "ID.SERVER." query response mechanism is
within the DNS protocol itself. An identification mechanism that
relies on the DNS protocol is more likely to be successful
(although not guaranteed) in going to the same system as a
"normal" DNS query.
2. Since the identity information is requested and returned within
the DNS protocol, it doesn't require allowing any other query
mechanism to the server, such as holes in firewalls for
otherwise-unallowed ICMP Echo requests. Thus it is likely to
reach the same server over a path subject to the same routing,
resource, and security policy as the query, without any special
exceptions to site security policy.
3. It is simple to configure. An administrator can easily turn on
this feature and control the results of the relevant query.
4. It allows the administrator complete control of what information
is given out in the response, minimizing passive leakage of
implementation or configuration details. Such details are often
considered sensitive by infrastructure operators.
2.2. Disadvantages
At the same time, there are some serious drawbacks to the CHAOS/TXT
query mechanism that argue against standardizing it as it currently
1. It requires an additional query to correlate between the answer
to a DNS query under normal conditions and the supposed identity
of the server receiving the query. There are a number of
situations in which this simply isn't reliable.
2. It reserves an entire class in the DNS (CHAOS) for what amounts
to one zone. While CHAOS class is defined in [RFC1034] and
[RFC1035], it's not clear that supporting it solely for this
purpose is a good use of the namespace or of implementation
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3. The initial and still common form, using "BIND.", is
implementation specific. BIND is one DNS implementation. At the
time of this writing, it is probably most prevalent for
authoritative servers. This does not justify standardizing on
its ad hoc solution to a problem shared across many operators and
implementors. Meanwhile, the aforementioned refinement changes
the query label but preserves the ad hoc CHAOS/TXT mechanism.
4. There is no convention or shared understanding of what
information an answer to such a query for a server identity could
or should contain, including a possible encoding or
authentication mechanism.
5. Hypothetically, since DNSSEC has been defined to cover all DNS
classes, the TXT RRs returned in response to the "ID.SERVER."
query could be signed, which has the advantages described in
[RFC4033]. However, since DNSSEC deployment for the CHAOS class
is neither existent nor foreseeable, and since the "ID.SERVER."
TXT RR is expected to be unique per server, this would be
impossible in practice.
The first of the listed disadvantages may be technically the most
serious. It argues for an attempt to design a good answer to the
problem, "I need to know what nameserver is answering my queries",
not simply a convenient one.
3. Characteristics of an Implementation Neutral Convention
The discussion above of advantages and disadvantages to the
"HOSTNAME.BIND." mechanism suggest some requirements for a better
solution to the server identification problem. These are summarized
here as guidelines for any effort to provide appropriate protocol
1. The mechanism adopted must be in-band for the DNS protocol. That
is, it needs to allow the query for the server's identifying
information to be part of a normal, operational query. It should
also permit a separate, dedicated query for the server's
identifying information. But it should preserve the ability of
the CHAOS/TXT query-based mechanism to work through firewalls and
in other situations where only DNS can be relied upon to reach
the server of interest.
2. The new mechanism should not require dedicated namespaces or
other reserved values outside of the existing protocol mechanisms
for these, i.e., the OPT pseudo-RR. In particular, it should not
propagate the existing drawback of requiring support for a CLASS
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and top level domain in the authoritative server (or the querying
tool) to be useful.
3. Support for the identification functionality should be easy to
implement and easy to enable. It must be easy to disable and
should lend itself to access controls on who can query for it.
4. It should be possible to return a unique identifier for a server
without requiring the exposure of information that may be non-
public and considered sensitive by the operator, such as a
hostname or unicast IP address maintained for administrative
5. It should be possible to authenticate the received data by some
mechanism analogous to those provided by DNSSEC. In this
context, the need could be met by including encryption options in
the specification of a new mechanism.
6. The identification mechanism should not be implementation-
4. IANA Considerations
This document proposes no specific IANA action. Protocol extensions,
if any, to meet the requirements described are out of scope for this
document. A proposed extension, specified and adopted by normal IETF
process, is described in [NSID], including relevant IANA action.
5. Security Considerations
Providing identifying information as to which server is responding to
a particular query from a particular location in the Internet can be
seen as information leakage and thus a security risk. This motivates
the suggestion above that a new mechanism for server identification
allow the administrator to disable the functionality altogether or
partially restrict availability of the data. It also suggests that
the server identification data should not be readily correlated with
a hostname or unicast IP address that may be considered private to
the nameserver operator's management infrastructure.
Propagation of protocol or service meta-data can sometimes expose the
application to denial of service or other attack. As the DNS is a
critically important infrastructure service for the production
Internet, extra care needs to be taken against this risk for
designers, implementors, and operators of a new mechanism for server
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Both authentication and confidentiality of server identification data
are potentially of interest to administrators -- that is, operators
may wish to make such data available and reliable to themselves and
their chosen associates only. This constraint would imply both an
ability to authenticate it to themselves and to keep it private from
arbitrary other parties, which leads to characteristics 4 and 5 of an
improved solution.
6. Acknowledgements
The technique for host identification documented here was initially
implemented by Paul Vixie of the Internet Software Consortium in the
Berkeley Internet Name Daemon package. Comments and questions on
earlier versions were provided by Bob Halley, Brian Wellington,
Andreas Gustafsson, Ted Hardie, Chris Yarnell, Randy Bush, and
members of the ICANN Root Server System Advisory Committee. The
newest version takes a significantly different direction from
previous versions, owing to discussion among contributors to the
DNSOP working group and others, particularly Olafur Gudmundsson, Ed
Lewis, Bill Manning, Sam Weiler, and Rob Austein.
7. References
7.1. Normative References
[RFC1034] Mockapetris, P., "Domain Names - Concepts and Facilities",
STD 13, RFC 1034, November 1987.
[RFC1035] Mockapetris, P., "Domain Names - Implementation and
Specification", STD 13, RFC 1035, November 1987.
[RFC3258] Hardie, T., "Distributing Authoritative Name Servers via
Shared Unicast Addresses", RFC 3258, April 2002.
7.2. Informative References
[BIND] ISC, "BIND 9 Configuration Reference".
[NSID] Austein, R., "DNS Name Server Identifier Option (NSID)",
Work in Progress, June 2006.
[RFC4033] Arends, R., Austein, R., Larson, M., Massey, D., and S.
Rose, "DNS Security Introduction and Requirements", RFC
4033, March 2005.
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Authors' Addresses
Suzanne Woolf
Internet Systems Consortium, Inc.
950 Charter Street
Redwood City, CA 94063
Phone: +1 650 423-1333
David Conrad
4676 Admiralty Way
Marina del Rey, CA 90292
Phone: +1 310 823 9358
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Woolf & Conrad Informational [Page 8]
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