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RFC 5966 - DNS Transport over TCP - Implementation Requirements

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Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)                         R. Bellis
Request for Comments: 5966                                    Nominet UK
Updates: 1035, 1123                                          August 2010
Category: Standards Track
ISSN: 2070-1721

          DNS Transport over TCP - Implementation Requirements


   This document updates the requirements for the support of TCP as a
   transport protocol for DNS implementations.

Status of This Memo

   This is an Internet Standards Track document.

   This document is a product of the Internet Engineering Task Force
   (IETF).  It represents the consensus of the IETF community.  It has
   received public review and has been approved for publication by the
   Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG).  Further information on
   Internet Standards is available in Section 2 of RFC 5741.

   Information about the current status of this document, any errata,
   and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2010 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents
   (http://trustee.ietf.org/license-info) in effect on the date of
   publication of this document.  Please review these documents
   carefully, as they describe your rights and restrictions with respect
   to this document.  Code Components extracted from this document must
   include Simplified BSD License text as described in Section 4.e of
   the Trust Legal Provisions and are provided without warranty as
   described in the Simplified BSD License.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
   2.  Terminology Used in This Document . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
   3.  Discussion  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
   4.  Transport Protocol Selection  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
   5.  Connection Handling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
   6.  Response Reordering . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
   7.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
   8.  Acknowledgements  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
   9.  References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
     9.1.  Normative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
     9.2.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7

1.  Introduction

   Most DNS [RFC1034] transactions take place over UDP [RFC0768].  TCP
   [RFC0793] is always used for zone transfers and is often used for
   messages whose sizes exceed the DNS protocol's original 512-byte

   Section of [RFC1123] states:

      DNS resolvers and recursive servers MUST support UDP, and SHOULD
      support TCP, for sending (non-zone-transfer) queries.

   However, some implementors have taken the text quoted above to mean
   that TCP support is an optional feature of the DNS protocol.

   The majority of DNS server operators already support TCP and the
   default configuration for most software implementations is to support
   TCP.  The primary audience for this document is those implementors
   whose failure to support TCP restricts interoperability and limits
   deployment of new DNS features.

   This document therefore updates the core DNS protocol specifications
   such that support for TCP is henceforth a REQUIRED part of a full DNS
   protocol implementation.

   Whilst this document makes no specific recommendations to operators
   of DNS servers, it should be noted that failure to support TCP (or
   the blocking of DNS over TCP at the network layer) may result in
   resolution failure and/or application-level timeouts.

2.  Terminology Used in This Document

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
   document are to be interpreted as described in [RFC2119].

3.  Discussion

   In the absence of EDNS0 (Extension Mechanisms for DNS 0) (see below),
   the normal behaviour of any DNS server needing to send a UDP response
   that would exceed the 512-byte limit is for the server to truncate
   the response so that it fits within that limit and then set the TC
   flag in the response header.  When the client receives such a
   response, it takes the TC flag as an indication that it should retry
   over TCP instead.

   RFC 1123 also says:

      ... it is also clear that some new DNS record types defined in the
      future will contain information exceeding the 512 byte limit that
      applies to UDP, and hence will require TCP.  Thus, resolvers and
      name servers should implement TCP services as a backup to UDP
      today, with the knowledge that they will require the TCP service
      in the future.

   Existing deployments of DNS Security (DNSSEC) [RFC4033] have shown
   that truncation at the 512-byte boundary is now commonplace.  For
   example, a Non-Existent Domain (NXDOMAIN) (RCODE == 3) response from
   a DNSSEC-signed zone using NextSECure 3 (NSEC3) [RFC5155] is almost
   invariably larger than 512 bytes.

   Since the original core specifications for DNS were written, the
   Extension Mechanisms for DNS (EDNS0 [RFC2671]) have been introduced.
   These extensions can be used to indicate that the client is prepared
   to receive UDP responses larger than 512 bytes.  An EDNS0-compatible
   server receiving a request from an EDNS0-compatible client may send
   UDP packets up to that client's announced buffer size without

   However, transport of UDP packets that exceed the size of the path
   MTU causes IP packet fragmentation, which has been found to be
   unreliable in some circumstances.  Many firewalls routinely block
   fragmented IP packets, and some do not implement the algorithms
   necessary to reassemble fragmented packets.  Worse still, some
   network devices deliberately refuse to handle DNS packets containing
   EDNS0 options.  Other issues relating to UDP transport and packet
   size are discussed in [RFC5625].

   The MTU most commonly found in the core of the Internet is around
   1500 bytes, and even that limit is routinely exceeded by DNSSEC-
   signed responses.

   The future that was anticipated in RFC 1123 has arrived, and the only
   standardised UDP-based mechanism that may have resolved the packet
   size issue has been found inadequate.

4.  Transport Protocol Selection

   All general-purpose DNS implementations MUST support both UDP and TCP

   o  Authoritative server implementations MUST support TCP so that they
      do not limit the size of responses to what fits in a single UDP

   o  Recursive server (or forwarder) implementations MUST support TCP
      so that they do not prevent large responses from a TCP-capable
      server from reaching its TCP-capable clients.

   o  Stub resolver implementations (e.g., an operating system's DNS
      resolution library) MUST support TCP since to do otherwise would
      limit their interoperability with their own clients and with
      upstream servers.

   Stub resolver implementations MAY omit support for TCP when
   specifically designed for deployment in restricted environments where
   truncation can never occur or where truncated DNS responses are

   Regarding the choice of when to use UDP or TCP, Section of
   RFC 1123 also says:

      ... a DNS resolver or server that is sending a non-zone-transfer
      query MUST send a UDP query first.

   That requirement is hereby relaxed.  A resolver SHOULD send a UDP
   query first, but MAY elect to send a TCP query instead if it has good
   reason to expect the response would be truncated if it were sent over
   UDP (with or without EDNS0) or for other operational reasons, in
   particular, if it already has an open TCP connection to the server.

5.  Connection Handling

   Section 4.2.2 of [RFC1035] says:

      If the server needs to close a dormant connection to reclaim
      resources, it should wait until the connection has been idle for a
      period on the order of two minutes.  In particular, the server
      should allow the SOA and AXFR request sequence (which begins a
      refresh operation) to be made on a single connection.  Since the
      server would be unable to answer queries anyway, a unilateral
      close or reset may be used instead of a graceful close.

   Other more modern protocols (e.g., HTTP [RFC2616]) have support for
   persistent TCP connections and operational experience has shown that
   long timeouts can easily cause resource exhaustion and poor response
   under heavy load.  Intentionally opening many connections and leaving
   them dormant can trivially create a "denial-of-service" attack.

   It is therefore RECOMMENDED that the default application-level idle
   period should be of the order of seconds, but no particular value is
   specified.  In practise, the idle period may vary dynamically, and
   servers MAY allow dormant connections to remain open for longer
   periods as resources permit.

   To mitigate the risk of unintentional server overload, DNS clients
   MUST take care to minimize the number of concurrent TCP connections
   made to any individual server.  Similarly, servers MAY impose limits
   on the number of concurrent TCP connections being handled for any
   particular client.

   Further recommendations for the tuning of TCP stacks to allow higher
   throughput or improved resiliency against denial-of-service attacks
   are outside the scope of this document.

6.  Response Reordering

   RFC 1035 is ambiguous on the question of whether TCP queries may be
   reordered -- the only relevant text is in Section 4.2.1, which
   relates to UDP:

      Queries or their responses may be reordered by the network, or by
      processing in name servers, so resolvers should not depend on them
      being returned in order.

   For the avoidance of future doubt, this requirement is clarified.
   Client resolvers MUST be able to process responses that arrive in a
   different order to that in which the requests were sent, regardless
   of the transport protocol in use.

7.  Security Considerations

   Some DNS server operators have expressed concern that wider use of
   DNS over TCP will expose them to a higher risk of denial-of-service
   (DoS) attacks.

   Although there is a higher risk of such attacks against TCP-enabled
   servers, techniques for the mitigation of DoS attacks at the network
   level have improved substantially since DNS was first designed.

   At the time of writing, the vast majority of Top Level Domain (TLD)
   authority servers and all of the root name servers support TCP and
   the author knows of no evidence to suggest that TCP-based DoS attacks
   against existing DNS infrastructure are commonplace.

   That notwithstanding, readers are advised to familiarise themselves
   with [CPNI-TCP].

   Operators of recursive servers should ensure that they only accept
   connections from expected clients, and do not accept them from
   unknown sources.  In the case of UDP traffic, this will help protect
   against reflector attacks [RFC5358] and in the case of TCP traffic it
   will prevent an unknown client from exhausting the server's limits on
   the number of concurrent connections.

8.  Acknowledgements

   The author would like to thank the document reviewers from the DNSEXT
   Working Group, and in particular, George Barwood, Alex Bligh, Alfred
   Hoenes, Fernando Gont, Olafur Gudmondsson, Jim Reid, Paul Vixie, and
   Nicholas Weaver.

9.  References

9.1.  Normative References

   [RFC0768]   Postel, J., "User Datagram Protocol", STD 6, RFC 768,
               August 1980.

   [RFC0793]   Postel, J., "Transmission Control Protocol", STD 7,
               RFC 793, September 1981.

   [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.

   [RFC1123]   Braden, R., "Requirements for Internet Hosts -
               Application and Support", STD 3, RFC 1123, October 1989.

   [RFC2119]   Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
               Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.

   [RFC2671]   Vixie, P., "Extension Mechanisms for DNS (EDNS0)",
               RFC 2671, August 1999.

9.2.  Informative References

   [CPNI-TCP]  CPNI, "Security Assessment of the Transmission Control
               Protocol (TCP)", 2009, <http://www.cpni.gov.uk/Docs/

   [RFC2616]   Fielding, R., Gettys, J., Mogul, J., Frystyk, H.,
               Masinter, L., Leach, P., and T. Berners-Lee, "Hypertext
               Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.1", RFC 2616, June 1999.

   [RFC4033]   Arends, R., Austein, R., Larson, M., Massey, D., and S.
               Rose, "DNS Security Introduction and Requirements",
               RFC 4033, March 2005.

   [RFC5155]   Laurie, B., Sisson, G., Arends, R., and D. Blacka, "DNS
               Security (DNSSEC) Hashed Authenticated Denial of
               Existence", RFC 5155, March 2008.

   [RFC5358]   Damas, J. and F. Neves, "Preventing Use of Recursive
               Nameservers in Reflector Attacks", BCP 140, RFC 5358,
               October 2008.

   [RFC5625]   Bellis, R., "DNS Proxy Implementation Guidelines",
               BCP 152, RFC 5625, August 2009.

Author's Address

   Ray Bellis
   Nominet UK
   Edmund Halley Road
   Oxford  OX4 4DQ
   United Kingdom

   Phone: +44 1865 332211
   EMail: ray.bellis@nominet.org.uk
   URI:   http://www.nominet.org.uk/


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