25.6 Domain Name System (DNS)

Contributed by Chern Lee, Tom Rhodes, and Daniel Gerzo.

25.6.1 Overview

FreeBSD utilizes, by default, a version of BIND (Berkeley Internet Name Domain), which is the most common implementation of the DNS protocol. DNS is the protocol through which names are mapped to IP addresses, and vice versa. For example, a query for www.FreeBSD.org will receive a reply with the IP address of The FreeBSD Project's web server, whereas, a query for ftp.FreeBSD.org will return the IP address of the corresponding FTP machine. Likewise, the opposite can happen. A query for an IP address can resolve its hostname. It is not necessary to run a name server to perform DNS lookups on a system.

FreeBSD currently comes with BIND9 DNS server software by default. Our installation provides enhanced security features, a new file system layout and automated chroot(8) configuration.

DNS is coordinated across the Internet through a somewhat complex system of authoritative root, Top Level Domain (TLD), and other smaller-scale name servers which host and cache individual domain information.

Currently, BIND is maintained by the Internet Software Consortium http://www.isc.org/.

25.6.2 Terminology

To understand this document, some terms related to DNS must be understood.

Term Definition
Forward DNS Mapping of hostnames to IP addresses.
Origin Refers to the domain covered in a particular zone file.
named, BIND, name server Common names for the BIND name server package within FreeBSD.
Resolver A system process through which a machine queries a name server for zone information.
Reverse DNS The opposite of forward DNS; mapping of IP addresses to hostnames.
Root zone The beginning of the Internet zone hierarchy. All zones fall under the root zone, similar to how all files in a file system fall under the root directory.
Zone An individual domain, subdomain, or portion of the DNS administered by the same authority.

Examples of zones:

As one can see, the more specific part of a hostname appears to its left. For example, example.org. is more specific than org., as org. is more specific than the root zone. The layout of each part of a hostname is much like a file system: the /dev directory falls within the root, and so on.

25.6.3 Reasons to Run a Name Server

Name servers usually come in two forms: an authoritative name server, and a caching name server.

An authoritative name server is needed when:

A caching name server is needed when:

When one queries for www.FreeBSD.org, the resolver usually queries the uplink ISP's name server, and retrieves the reply. With a local, caching DNS server, the query only has to be made once to the outside world by the caching DNS server. Every additional query will not have to look to the outside of the local network, since the information is cached locally.

25.6.4 How It Works

In FreeBSD, the BIND daemon is called named for obvious reasons.

File Description
named(8) The BIND daemon.
rndc(8) Name server control utility.
/etc/namedb Directory where BIND zone information resides.
/etc/namedb/named.conf Configuration file of the daemon.

Depending on how a given zone is configured on the server, the files related to that zone can be found in the master, slave, or dynamic subdirectories of the /etc/namedb directory. These files contain the DNS information that will be given out by the name server in response to queries.

25.6.5 Starting BIND

Since BIND is installed by default, configuring it all is relatively simple.

The default named configuration is that of a basic resolving name server, ran in a chroot(8) environment. To start the server one time with this configuration, use the following command:

# /etc/rc.d/named forcestart

To ensure the named daemon is started at boot each time, put the following line into the /etc/rc.conf:


There are obviously many configuration options for /etc/namedb/named.conf that are beyond the scope of this document. However, if you are interested in the startup options for named on FreeBSD, take a look at the named_* flags in /etc/defaults/rc.conf and consult the rc.conf(5) manual page. The Section 11.7 section is also a good read.

25.6.6 Configuration Files

Configuration files for named currently reside in /etc/namedb directory and will need modification before use, unless all that is needed is a simple resolver. This is where most of the configuration will be performed. Using make-localhost

To configure a master zone for the localhost visit the /etc/namedb directory and run the following command:

# sh make-localhost

If all went well, a new file should exist in the master subdirectory. The filenames should be localhost.rev for the local domain name and localhost-v6.rev for IPv6 configurations. As the default configuration file, required information will be present in the named.conf file. /etc/namedb/named.conf

// $FreeBSD$
// Refer to the named.conf(5) and named(8) man pages, and the documentation
// in /usr/share/doc/bind9 for more details.
// If you are going to set up an authoritative server, make sure you
// understand the hairy details of how DNS works.  Even with
// simple mistakes, you can break connectivity for affected parties,
// or cause huge amounts of useless Internet traffic.

options {
    directory   "/etc/namedb";
    pid-file    "/var/run/named/pid";
    dump-file   "/var/dump/named_dump.db";
    statistics-file "/var/stats/named.stats";

// If named is being used only as a local resolver, this is a safe default.
// For named to be accessible to the network, comment this option, specify
// the proper IP address, or delete this option.
    listen-on   {; };

// If you have IPv6 enabled on this system, uncomment this option for
// use as a local resolver.  To give access to the network, specify
// an IPv6 address, or the keyword "any".
//  listen-on-v6    { ::1; };

// In addition to the "forwarders" clause, you can force your name
// server to never initiate queries of its own, but always ask its
// forwarders only, by enabling the following line:
//  forward only;

// If you've got a DNS server around at your upstream provider, enter
// its IP address here, and enable the line below.  This will make you
// benefit from its cache, thus reduce overall DNS traffic in the Internet.
    forwarders {;

Just as the comment says, to benefit from an uplink's cache, forwarders can be enabled here. Under normal circumstances, a name server will recursively query the Internet looking at certain name servers until it finds the answer it is looking for. Having this enabled will have it query the uplink's name server (or name server provided) first, taking advantage of its cache. If the uplink name server in question is a heavily trafficked, fast name server, enabling this may be worthwhile.

Warning: will not work here. Change this IP address to a name server at your uplink.

     * If there is a firewall between you and nameservers you want
     * to talk to, you might need to uncomment the query-source
     * directive below.  Previous versions of BIND always asked
     * questions using port 53, but BIND versions 8 and later
     * use a pseudo-random unprivileged UDP port by default.
     // query-source address * port 53;

// If you enable a local name server, don't forget to enter
// first in your /etc/resolv.conf so this server will be queried.
// Also, make sure to enable it in /etc/rc.conf.

zone "." {
    type hint;
    file "named.root";

zone "0.0.127.IN-ADDR.ARPA" {
    type master;
    file "master/localhost.rev";

// RFC 3152
zone "" {
    type master;
    file "master/localhost-v6.rev";

// NB: Do not use the IP addresses below, they are faked, and only
// serve demonstration/documentation purposes!
// Example slave zone config entries.  It can be convenient to become
// a slave at least for the zone your own domain is in.  Ask
// your network administrator for the IP address of the responsible
// primary.
// Never forget to include the reverse lookup (IN-ADDR.ARPA) zone!
// (This is named after the first bytes of the IP address, in reverse
// order, with ".IN-ADDR.ARPA" appended.)
// Before starting to set up a primary zone, make sure you fully
// understand how DNS and BIND works.  There are sometimes
// non-obvious pitfalls.  Setting up a slave zone is simpler.
// NB: Don't blindly enable the examples below. :-)  Use actual names
// and addresses instead.

/* An example master zone
zone "example.net" {
    type master;
    file "master/example.net";

/* An example dynamic zone
key "exampleorgkey" {
    algorithm hmac-md5;
    secret "sf87HJqjkqh8ac87a02lla==";
zone "example.org" {
    type master;
    allow-update {
        key "exampleorgkey";
    file "dynamic/example.org";

/* Examples of forward and reverse slave zones
zone "example.com" {
    type slave;
    file "slave/example.com";
    masters {;
zone "1.168.192.in-addr.arpa" {
    type slave;
    file "slave/1.168.192.in-addr.arpa";
    masters {;

In named.conf, these are examples of slave entries for a forward and reverse zone.

For each new zone served, a new zone entry must be added to named.conf.

For example, the simplest zone entry for example.org can look like:

zone "example.org" {
    type master;
    file "master/example.org";

The zone is a master, as indicated by the type statement, holding its zone information in /etc/namedb/master/example.org indicated by the file statement.

zone "example.org" {
    type slave;
    file "slave/example.org";

In the slave case, the zone information is transferred from the master name server for the particular zone, and saved in the file specified. If and when the master server dies or is unreachable, the slave name server will have the transferred zone information and will be able to serve it. Zone Files

An example master zone file for example.org (existing within /etc/namedb/master/example.org) is as follows:

$TTL 3600        ; 1 hour
example.org.    IN      SOA      ns1.example.org. admin.example.org. (
                                2006051501      ; Serial
                                10800           ; Refresh
                                3600            ; Retry
                                604800          ; Expire
                                86400           ; Minimum TTL

; DNS Servers
                IN      NS      ns1.example.org.
                IN      NS      ns2.example.org.

; MX Records
                IN      MX 10   mx.example.org.
                IN      MX 20   mail.example.org.

                IN      A

; Machine Names
localhost       IN      A
ns1             IN      A
ns2             IN      A
mx              IN      A
mail            IN      A

; Aliases
www             IN      CNAME   @

Note that every hostname ending in a “.” is an exact hostname, whereas everything without a trailing “.” is referenced to the origin. For example, www is translated into www.origin. In our fictitious zone file, our origin is example.org., so www would translate to www.example.org.

The format of a zone file follows:

recordname      IN recordtype   value

The most commonly used DNS records:


start of zone authority


an authoritative name server


a host address


the canonical name for an alias


mail exchanger


a domain name pointer (used in reverse DNS)

example.org. IN SOA ns1.example.org. admin.example.org. (
                        2006051501      ; Serial
                        10800           ; Refresh after 3 hours
                        3600            ; Retry after 1 hour
                        604800          ; Expire after 1 week
                        86400 )         ; Minimum TTL of 1 day

the domain name, also the origin for this zone file.


the primary/authoritative name server for this zone.


the responsible person for this zone, email address with “@” replaced. ( becomes admin.example.org)


the serial number of the file. This must be incremented each time the zone file is modified. Nowadays, many admins prefer a yyyymmddrr format for the serial number. 2006051501 would mean last modified 05/15/2006, the latter 01 being the first time the zone file has been modified this day. The serial number is important as it alerts slave name servers for a zone when it is updated.

       IN NS           ns1.example.org.

This is an NS entry. Every name server that is going to reply authoritatively for the zone must have one of these entries.

localhost       IN      A
ns1             IN      A
ns2             IN      A
mx              IN      A
mail            IN      A

The A record indicates machine names. As seen above, ns1.example.org would resolve to

                IN      A

This line assigns IP address to the current origin, in this case example.org.

www             IN CNAME        @

The canonical name record is usually used for giving aliases to a machine. In the example, www is aliased to the “master” machine which name equals to domain name example.org ( CNAMEs can be used to provide alias hostnames, or round robin one hostname among multiple machines.

               IN MX   10      mail.example.org.

The MX record indicates which mail servers are responsible for handling incoming mail for the zone. mail.example.org is the hostname of the mail server, and 10 being the priority of that mail server.

One can have several mail servers, with priorities of 10, 20 and so on. A mail server attempting to deliver to example.org would first try the highest priority MX (the record with the lowest priority number), then the second highest, etc, until the mail can be properly delivered.

For in-addr.arpa zone files (reverse DNS), the same format is used, except with PTR entries instead of A or CNAME.

$TTL 3600

1.168.192.in-addr.arpa. IN SOA ns1.example.org. admin.example.org. (
                        2006051501      ; Serial
                        10800           ; Refresh
                        3600            ; Retry
                        604800          ; Expire
                        3600 )          ; Minimum

        IN      NS      ns1.example.org.
        IN      NS      ns2.example.org.

1       IN      PTR     example.org.
2       IN      PTR     ns1.example.org.
3       IN      PTR     ns2.example.org.
4       IN      PTR     mx.example.org.
5       IN      PTR     mail.example.org.

This file gives the proper IP address to hostname mappings of our above fictitious domain.

25.6.7 Caching Name Server

A caching name server is a name server that is not authoritative for any zones. It simply asks queries of its own, and remembers them for later use. To set one up, just configure the name server as usual, omitting any inclusions of zones.

25.6.8 Security

Although BIND is the most common implementation of DNS, there is always the issue of security. Possible and exploitable security holes are sometimes found.

While FreeBSD automatically drops named into a chroot(8) environment; there are several other security mechanisms in place which could help to lure off possible DNS service attacks.

It is always good idea to read CERT's security advisories and to subscribe to the FreeBSD security notifications mailing list to stay up to date with the current Internet and FreeBSD security issues.

Tip: If a problem arises, keeping sources up to date and having a fresh build of named would not hurt.

25.6.9 Further Reading

BIND/named manual pages: rndc(8) named(8) named.conf(5)

This, and other documents, can be downloaded from ftp://ftp.FreeBSD.org/pub/FreeBSD/doc/.

For questions about FreeBSD, read the documentation before contacting <questions@FreeBSD.org>.
For questions about this documentation, e-mail <doc@FreeBSD.org>.