[dns-operations] Do Unix stubs round robin nameserver addresses?

Chuck Anderson cra at WPI.EDU
Fri Apr 17 22:44:48 UTC 2015

On Fri, Apr 17, 2015 at 03:06:45PM -0700, Doug Barton wrote:
> I have always believed (based on both the man pages, and what I've
> seen in the field) that Unix stub resolvers follow the behavior
> described in the man page. That is, they try the first 'nameserver'
> address listed, and if it doesn't get a response before the timeout
> value expires it then moves on to the next one in line.
> I was having a discussion with someone about that issue today who
> insists that they have empirical evidence that this is not the case,
> that they have seen stubs that round robin the addresses. So, I'm
> wondering if y'all have seen the same thing?

It is configurable.  See resolv.conf(5), specifically the "rotate"

Unix stub resolvers are a mess--it is hopeless to rely on any kind of
sane failover behavior with multiple nameservers listed in
/etc/resolv.conf.  Many servers/applications will hang if the first
listed nameserver is down, or at least take so long to failover to the
next nameserver that your service/application is effectively dead.
Usually each new incoming request will start over at the first
nameserver.  Finally, most long-running processes won't bother to
re-read /etc/resolv.conf if it changes, so even if you change the
order during an outage (see [1]), it won't help.

[1] http://kvz.io/blog/2013/03/27/poormans-way-to-decent-dns-failover/

"nsfailover" is a nice idea, but it doesn't work in practice for
long-running server processes.  It might be okay for desktop systems.

The problem results from the fact that there is no system-wide state
that is kept to maintain the status of each of the nameservers listed
in /etc/resolv.conf.  The C library keeps this state for each process
and/or thread.  If you have a server process that spawns a new thread
or process for each incoming request, each process/thread will start
over at the first nameserver and go through the timeout process until
it finds a working nameserver.  It may even be as bad as every new DNS
request in the SAME process starts over from the first one.
RES_TIMEOUT defaults to 5 seconds, and RES_DFLRETRY defaults to 2.  So
each DNS query could potentially hang for up to 10 seconds unless you
have a really smart application that does the right thing and/or
implements its own stub resolver.

Windows doesn't have a this problem because it comes with a
system-wide DNS cache by default.

OS X I'm not sure about, it may also come with a cache.

The Linux folks are working on solutions.  One attempt is

But you can't rely on such nice client-side solutions/behavior because
most Unix systems are still broken out-of-the-box.  As a DNS resolver
operator for my campus, I've come to this unfortunate conclusion after
months of research and testing.  The only sane thing to do is:

1. Run a system-wide DNS caching resolver on, and point
   /etc/resolv.conf to that.


2. Use anycast to make your multiple DNS servers appear as one IP, and
   put that one IP in /etc/resolv.conf.  You can have multiple IPs,
   but each one should still be anycasted.

I know my answer was way more than you asked for, but I had to take
this chance to get the word out :-)

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