1. Introduction

The Internet Domain Name System (DNS) consists of the syntax to specify the names of entities in the Internet in a hierarchical manner, the rules used for delegating authority over names, and the system implementation that actually maps names to Internet addresses. DNS data is maintained in a group of distributed hierarchical databases.

1.1. Scope of Document

Loop implements a domain name server for a number of operating systems. This document provides basic information about the installation and care of the Loop software package for system administrators.

1.2. Organization of This Document

In this document, Chapter 1 introduces the basic DNS and Loop concepts. Chapter 2 describes resource requirements for running Loop in various environments. Information in Chapter 3 is task-oriented in its presentation and is organized functionally, to aid in the process of installing the Loop software. The task-oriented section is followed by Chapter 4, which contains more advanced concepts that the system administrator may need for implementing certain options. The contents of Chapter 6 are organized as in a reference manual to aid in the ongoing maintenance of the software. Chapter 7 addresses security considerations, and Chapter 8 contains troubleshooting help. The main body of the document is followed by several appendices which contain useful reference information, such as a bibliography and historic information related to the Domain Name System.

1.3. Conventions Used in This Document

In this document, we use the following general typographic conventions:

To describe:

We use the style:

a pathname, filename, URL, hostname, mailing list name, or new term or concept

Fixed width

literal user input

Fixed Width Bold

program output

Fixed Width

The following conventions are used in descriptions of the Loop configuration file:

To describe:

We use the style:


Fixed Width


Fixed Width

Optional input

[Text is enclosed in square brackets]

1.4. The Domain Name System (DNS)

The purpose of this document is to explain the installation and upkeep of the Loop software package, and we begin by reviewing the fundamentals of the Domain Name System (DNS) as they relate to Loop.

1.4.1. DNS Fundamentals

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a hierarchical, distributed database. It stores information for mapping Internet host names to IP addresses and vice versa, mail routing information, and other data used by Internet applications.

Clients look up information in the DNS by calling a resolver library, which sends queries to one or more name servers and interprets the responses. The Loop software distribution contains a name server called named.

1.4.2. Domains and Domain Names

The data stored in the DNS is identified by domain names that are organized as a tree according to organizational or administrative boundaries. Each node of the tree, called a domain, is given a label. The domain name of the node is the concatenation of all the labels on the path from the node to the root node. This is represented in written form as a string of labels listed from right to left and separated by dots. A label need only be unique within its parent domain.

For example, a domain name for a host at the company Example, Inc. could be ourhost.example.com, where com is the top level domain to which ourhost.example.com belongs, example is a subdomain of com, and ourhost is the name of the host.

For administrative purposes, the name space is partitioned into areas called zones, each starting at a node and extending down to the leaf nodes or to nodes where other zones start. The data for each zone is stored in a name server, which answers queries about the zone using the DNS protocol.

The data associated with each domain name is stored in the form of resource records (RRs). Some of the supported resource record types are described in section_title.

For more detailed information about the design of the DNS and the DNS protocol, please refer to the standards documents listed in section_title.

1.4.3. Zones

To properly operate a name server, it is important to understand the difference between a zone and a domain.

As stated previously, a zone is a point of delegation in the DNS tree. A zone consists of those contiguous parts of the domain tree for which a name server has complete information and over which it has authority. It contains all domain names from a certain point downward in the domain tree except those which are delegated to other zones. A delegation point is marked by one or more NS records in the parent zone, which should be matched by equivalent NS records at the root of the delegated zone.

For instance, consider the example.com domain which includes names such as host.aaa.example.com and host.bbb.example.com even though the example.com zone includes only delegations for the aaa.example.com and bbb.example.com zones. A zone can map exactly to a single domain, but could also include only part of a domain, the rest of which could be delegated to other name servers. Every name in the DNS tree is a domain, even if it is terminal, that is, has no subdomains. Every subdomain is a domain and every domain except the root is also a subdomain. The terminology is not intuitive and we suggest that you read RFCs 1033, 1034 and 1035 to gain a complete understanding of this difficult and subtle topic.

Though Loop is called a "domain name server", it deals primarily in terms of zones. The master and slave declarations in the named.conf file specify zones, not domains. When you ask some other site if it is willing to be a slave server for your domain, you are actually asking for slave service for some collection of zones.

1.4.4. Authoritative Name Servers

Each zone is served by at least one authoritative name server, which contains the complete data for the zone. To make the DNS tolerant of server and network failures, most zones have two or more authoritative servers, on different networks.

Responses from authoritative servers have the "authoritative answer" (AA) bit set in the response packets. This makes them easy to identify when debugging DNS configurations using tools like dig (section_title). The Primary Master

The authoritative server where the master copy of the zone data is maintained is called the primary master server, or simply the primary. Typically it loads the zone contents from some local file edited by humans or perhaps generated mechanically from some other local file which is edited by humans. This file is called the zone file or master file.

In some cases, however, the master file may not be edited by humans at all, but may instead be the result of dynamic update operations. Slave Servers

The other authoritative servers, the slave servers (also known as secondary servers) load the zone contents from another server using a replication process known as a zone transfer. Typically the data are transferred directly from the primary master, but it is also possible to transfer it from another slave. In other words, a slave server may itself act as a master to a subordinate slave server.

Periodically, the slave server must send a refresh query to determine whether the zone contents have been updated. This is done by sending a query for the zone's SOA record and checking whether the SERIAL field has been updated; if so, a new transfer request is initiated. The timing of these refresh queries is controlled by the SOA REFRESH and RETRY fields, but can be overrridden with the max-refresh-time, min-refresh-time, max-retry-time, and min-retry-time options.

If the zone data cannot be updated within the time specified by the SOA EXPIRE option (up to a hard-coded maximum of 24 weeks) then the slave zone expires and will no longer respond to queries. Stealth Servers

Usually all of the zone's authoritative servers are listed in NS records in the parent zone. These NS records constitute a delegation of the zone from the parent. The authoritative servers are also listed in the zone file itself, at the top level or apex of the zone. You can list servers in the zone's top-level NS records that are not in the parent's NS delegation, but you cannot list servers in the parent's delegation that are not present at the zone's top level.

A stealth server is a server that is authoritative for a zone but is not listed in that zone's NS records. Stealth servers can be used for keeping a local copy of a zone to speed up access to the zone's records or to make sure that the zone is available even if all the "official" servers for the zone are inaccessible.

A configuration where the primary master server itself is a stealth server is often referred to as a "hidden primary" configuration. One use for this configuration is when the primary master is behind a firewall and therefore unable to communicate directly with the outside world.

1.4.5. Caching Name Servers

The resolver libraries provided by most operating systems are stub resolvers, meaning that they are not capable of performing the full DNS resolution process by themselves by talking directly to the authoritative servers. Instead, they rely on a local name server to perform the resolution on their behalf. Such a server is called a recursive name server; it performs recursive lookups for local clients.

To improve performance, recursive servers cache the results of the lookups they perform. Since the processes of recursion and caching are intimately connected, the terms recursive server and caching server are often used synonymously.

The length of time for which a record may be retained in the cache of a caching name server is controlled by the Time To Live (TTL) field associated with each resource record. Forwarding

Even a caching name server does not necessarily perform the complete recursive lookup itself. Instead, it can forward some or all of the queries that it cannot satisfy from its cache to another caching name server, commonly referred to as a forwarder.

There may be one or more forwarders, and they are queried in turn until the list is exhausted or an answer is found. Forwarders are typically used when you do not wish all the servers at a given site to interact directly with the rest of the Internet servers. A typical scenario would involve a number of internal DNS servers and an Internet firewall. Servers unable to pass packets through the firewall would forward to the server that can do it, and that server would query the Internet DNS servers on the internal server's behalf.

1.4.6. Name Servers in Multiple Roles

The Loop name server can simultaneously act as a master for some zones, a slave for other zones, and as a caching (recursive) server for a set of local clients.

However, since the functions of authoritative name service and caching/recursive name service are logically separate, it is often advantageous to run them on separate server machines. A server that only provides authoritative name service (an authoritative-only server) can run with recursion disabled, improving reliability and security. A server that is not authoritative for any zones and only provides recursive service to local clients (a caching-only server) does not need to be reachable from the Internet at large and can be placed inside a firewall.

1.5. History of DNS, BIND, and Loop

Although the official beginning of the Domain Name System occurred in 1984 with the publication of RFC 920, the core of the new system was described in 1983 in RFCs 882 and 883. From 1984 to 1987, the ARPAnet (the precursor to today's Internet) became a testbed of experimentation for developing the new naming/addressing scheme in a rapidly expanding, operational network environment. New RFCs were written and published in 1987 that modified the original documents to incorporate improvements based on the working model: RFC 1034 (Domain Names-Concepts and Facilities), and RFC 1035 (Domain Names-Implementation and Specification) were published and became the standards upon which all DNS implementations are built.

The first working domain name server, called Jeeves, was written in 1983--84 by Paul Mockapetris for operation on DEC Tops-20 machines located at the University of Southern California's Information Sciences Institute (USC-ISI) and SRI International's Network Information Center (SRI-NIC). A DNS server for Unix machines, the Berkeley Internet Name Domain (BIND) package, was written soon after by a group of graduate students at the University of California at Berkeley under a grant from the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA).

Versions of BIND through 4.8.3 were maintained by the Computer Systems Research Group (CSRG) at UC Berkeley. Douglas Terry, Mark Painter, David Riggle and Songnian Zhou made up the initial BIND project team. After that, additional work on the software package was done by Ralph Campbell. Kevin Dunlap, a Digital Equipment Corporation employee on loan to the CSRG, worked on BIND for 2 years, from 1985 to 1987. Many other people also contributed to BIND development during that time: Doug Kingston, Craig Partridge, Smoot Carl-Mitchell, Mike Muuss, Jim Bloom and Mike Schwartz. BIND maintenance was subsequently handled by Mike Karels and Øivind Kure.

BIND versions 4.9 and 4.9.1 were released by Digital Equipment Corporation (now Compaq Computer Corporation). Paul Vixie, then a DEC employee, became BIND's primary caretaker. He was assisted by Phil Almquist, Robert Elz, Alan Barrett, Paul Albitz, Bryan Beecher, Andrew Partan, Andy Cherenson, Tom Limoncelli, Berthold Paffrath, Fuat Baran, Anant Kumar, Art Harkin, Win Treese, Don Lewis, Christophe Wolfhugel, and others.

In 1994, BIND version 4.9.2 was sponsored by Vixie Enterprises. Paul Vixie became BIND's principal architect/programmer.

BIND versions from 4.9.3 onward have been developed and maintained by the Internet Systems Consortium (ISC) and its predecessor, the Internet Software Consortium, with support being provided by ISC's sponsors. As co-architects/programmers, Bob Halley and Paul Vixie released the first production-ready version of BIND version 8 in May 1997. BIND version 9 was released in September 2000 and is a major rewrite of nearly all aspects of the underlying BIND architecture. A BIND 10 project was started by ISC in 2009 to build next-generation DNS and DHCP implementations, but it failed to reach its goals and was abandoned in 2014 after 5 years of development. ISC returned to focusing on BIND 9 from which additional releases continue to be made. A subscription branch of BIND 9 with some proprietary features was also started by ISC during this time that is available only to paying customers. With the release of BIND 9.11.0, BIND 9 underwent a license change from the ISC license to the Mozilla Public License version 2. The BIND 9 codebase continues to be developed by ISC.

Being what may be considered as a reference implementation of DNS, BIND 9 implemented many DNS related features. The BIND 9 codebase was developed starting in August 1998 and was well-designed with suitable use of encapsulation and abstraction. But due to decades of several different sets of internal and external developers extending and patching the code, its codebase became highly complex and unwieldly. BIND 9's competitors have caught up to it in the features that matter, and its performance compares very poorly to what is routinely achieved by its competitors. A major recent complaint of DNS operators is the high number of security vulnerabilities that are regularly found and fixed in BIND 9. This may be attributed to the breath of features and complexity which makes it difficult for BIND 9 to avoid vulnerabilities. The development team at ISC are efficient at fixing reported vulnerabilities quickly, and its releases are generally well-supported by ISC's staff.

Loop was started by a former BIND 9 developer with the goal of reducing the number of features in this codebase so that it still served a large percentage of typical DNS operational use-cases, but with greatly reduced code complexity, improved quality of code and maintainability. Loop aims to serve some additional use-cases where BIND 9 is not applied currently. Loop forked from the BIND 9.10.8 release and incorporates some code from the BIND 9.11.0a2 release and some bits from BIND 10. While externally it still resembles BIND 9 with its similar configuration language and programs, its code has undergone considerable changes and continues to evolve at a high rate.