BIND, dynamic DNS

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The task

You've got your own BIND server with a static, public IP address, and your own domain which you host on it. You've also got one or more machines on dynamic public IP addresses - perhaps your or your customers' or friends' home machines, or small offices in areas that don't offer static addresses - and you want to use your own equipment to maintain DNS records to point to the machines on dynamic addresses, rather than using third-party solutions.

Checking versions of BIND and its tools

In order to set up dynamic DNS on your server, first you need to make sure you're running BIND9 or better - as of this article, you want BIND 9.3.1.

server# which named
server# named -v
BIND 9.3.1
client# which named
client# named -v
BIND 9.3.1

Okay, good. But we also need to dig a little further, because FreeBSD systems have a nasty habit of shipping with some elderly BIND8 components higher up in the PATH than the newer BIND9 versions that go with the actual server. Specifically, we need to make sure we're using the new version of nsupdate, which we'll be using to do the dynamic updates from client to server:

client# where nsupdate

Aha - there are two copies of nsupdate on this machine! Now we need to see which one of them is higher up in the PATH (and therefore will be the one that runs if you don't specify which one you want), and whether they're both the same version or not:

client# which nsupdate
client# ls -l /usr/bin/nsupdate && ls -l /usr/sbin/nsupdate
-r-xr-xr-x  1 root  wheel  1252248 May  8  2005 /usr/bin/nsupdate
-r-xr-xr-x  1 root  wheel   245324 Jul  5  2004 /usr/sbin/nsupdate

AHA! As we suspected, there's a copy of the nsupdate from BIND8 lurking in our PATH higher up than the BIND9 version - and BIND8's nsupdate tool was completely broken and useless. So, we'll get rid of it. (Obviously, if you don't have an older version in the way, you don't need to do this step - but it's important to check and make sure, because you'll be tearing your hair out later wondering why everything looks like it's working but isn't if you have this problem but don't catch it.)

client# rm /usr/sbin/nsupdate

With that taken care of, we can start working on the subdomain we want to dynamically update. In this example, we're going to use a (fictitious) parent zone,, which is maintained by a statically-addressed FreeBSD server which we have (root) control of, and we already have functional DNS for the parent zone.

Preparing a "seed" zone file

First, we need to prepare a "seed" zone file for the subdomain we want to be able to dynamically update. In this example, our dynamic subdomain is going to be This zone file should be very minimal - we only want to put the barest amount of information in here, to define those parts of the domain that WON'T ever change. In this case, that will be the SOA record, the NS records, and the MX record. (Since MX records are based on A records, not on IP addresses, the MX record won't change even when the IP address of the mailserver itself does).

$TTL 10 ; 10 seconds   IN SOA (
                                18         ; serial
                                10800      ; refresh (3 hours)
                                3600       ; retry (1 hour)
                                604800     ; expire (1 week)
                                10         ; minimum (10 seconds)
$TTL 3600       ; 1 hour
                        MX      10


Generating a cryptographic key

While it's possible to allow zone updates without any cryptographic security, it's certainly not recommended - and implementing the crypto isn't difficult, anyway, so let's get to it. We're storing our zones in /etc/namedb/zones, and we'll park our key(s) in /etc/namedb/zones/keys.

server# mkdir /etc/namedb/zones/keys
server# cd /etc/namedb/zones/keys
server# dnssec-keygen -b 512 -a HMAC-MD5 -v 2 -n HOST
server# ls -l
-rw-------  1 root  wheel  134 May 20 19:46
-rw-------  1 root  wheel  145 May 20 19:46

And there they are - one public key, one private key. The next step is incorporating them into the named.conf file.

Setting up named.conf

First, we need to pluck the actual value of the private key out of its file to insert it directly into the zone definition.

server# cat /etc/namedb/zones/keys/
Private-key-format: v1.2
Algorithm: 157 (HMAC_MD5)
Key: omr5O5so/tZB5XeGuBBf42rrRJRQZB8I9f+uIIxxei8qm7AVgNBprxtcU+FQMzBvU/Y+nyM2xbs/C8kF3eJQUA==

That last bit of the private key is what we need. So, we copy and paste it into the new zone definition and key reference we're appending to /etc/namedb/named.conf:

key {
        algorithm "HMAC-MD5";
        secret "omr5O5so/tZB5XeGuBBf42rrRJRQZB8I9f+uIIxxei8qm7AVgNBprxtcU+FQMzBvU/Y+nyM2xbs/C8kF3eJQUA==";

zone "" {
        type master;
        file "zones/";

Now that we have the keys set up, we need to make sure nobody can read them, either in their original directory or in the line we just added to named.conf with the value of the private key:

server# chmod -R 400 /etc/namedb/zones/keys; 
server# chmod -R 400 /etc/namedb/named.conf;

And we're done. If you like, you may also chmod 400 /etc/namedb/zones, but it's not strictly necessary since everything in there is available by normal DNS query from the internet anyway. The only thing left to do on the server side is restart named and make sure it still works!

Restarting and testing BIND at the server

#server ps ax | grep named
76949  ??  Ss     0:01.03 named
#server kill 76949
#server named
#server ps ax | grep named
81230  ??  Ss     0:00.49 named

Ok, we've found and killed our previous instance of BIND (don't just use -HUP - you need to kill it all the way), then gotten it back up and confirmed it's running. Now let's see if it responds properly when we ask it about the new zone:

#server dig @localhost
; <<>> DiG 9.3.1 <<>> @localhost ANY
; (1 server found)
;; global options:  printcmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NOERROR, id: 13783
;; flags: qr aa ... \n

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