Hack 37 Simplify DNS Aging and Scavenging

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Understanding the mysteries of how DNS aging/scavenging works can save you time and effort troubleshooting DNS name-resolution problems.

Dynamic DNS (DDNS, introduced in Windows 2000) brought with it a process called DNS scavenging, the automatic removal of stale DNS information. In a perfect world, DNS scavenging would not be necessary, but who lives in a perfect world? So, before you spend time reading the rest of this hack, let's see if it applies to you.

Have you pinged a machine before by name and gotten a reply, but when you attempt to connect to it, you connect to a different machine name or cannot connect at all? If you just shook your head in agreement, nodded, or mumbled something about this happening to you, then this hack might shed some light.

Still reading? Good. First, let me establish my bias: all of this information pertains to Active Directory Integrated Zones. That said, let's establish some definitions before we continue:


This record maps the name of the machine (host) to the IP address.


This record maps the IP address to the hostname.

Why Scavenge?

There are two parts of DDNS that you need to understand before we answer the question of when scavenging is necessary: DNS and DHCP.

DHCP process

Wait a second. I thought we were talking about DNS? Before we go on about DNS, we first have to understand how DDNS works and why DHCP is important in this process.

Dynamic DNS registration happens at two places: either the DHCP client or the DHCP server. It all depends on configuration and client type. For the most part, Windows 2000 clients and above handle their own hostnameregistrations, while the DHCP server handles the PTR registration (except in the case of statically assigned IP addresses, in which case the client will handle both the hostnameand PTR registrations). In other configurations, the DHCP server can be made to handle the host and PTR registrations. Other, down-level clients (NT4, 9x, etc.), do not interact with the DDNS registration process. However, the DHCP server can be set to handle registration for these clients as well.

Okay, now we have an idea of how these records are getting in DDNS. Unfortunately, how the records go in is much more efficient than how the records come out.

Read Larry Duncan's excellent article, "DNS for Active Directory: A 10 Minute Primer" (http://www.myitforum.com/articles/16/view.asp?id=3907), to understand when clients likes to refresh their DNS records.

DDNS process

There's nothing to stop two records from holding the same IP address or the same host name. This scenario is problematic for image-based workstation/laptop deployments. During a portion of the image process, the client will register as WIN2KIMAGE in DNS (for example), before having the machine name changed later in the process. Another image is started and WIN2KIMAGE is added again with a different IP address. Sooner or later, you'll end up with 50 PTR records pointing to the same name, WIN2KIMAGE. This same process happens under different situations, in which a machine will establish a different dynamic IP address, but for some reason, the old reverse-lookup record is not removed. Generally, the DHCP client and server helps clean up these records. In some configurations, the DHCP server does it all. However, real-world experience might tell you that this is not getting done effectively. When this clean-up process does not occur properly, stale records reside in DNS.

This is where scavenging comes in. Scavenging deletes stale records if they're beyond a set age. All records have an age. However, the age of a record is not considered until scavenging is turned on. Once scavenging is turned on, DNS does not calculate how old the record was prior to when scavenging was enabled.

For more information on various triggers of the StartScavenging time frame, refer to the Microsoft DNS white paper at http://www.microsoft.com/technet/treeview/default.asp?url=/TechNet/prodtechnol/windows2000serv/plan/w2kdns2.asp.

How to Use Scavenging

There are three intervals you need to understand before you set up scavenging: Scavenging Period, No-refresh Interval, and Refresh Interval. These intervals are described in the DNS GUI. Just right-click on an Active Directory Integrated zone, select Properties, choose the General tab, and click the Aging button to see the screen shown in Figure 4-2.

Figure 4-2. Configuring DNS scavenging options

If you're like me, your brain is twitching from the complex wording of the definitions. In order to understand this a little better (without needing the mental capacity to solve a Rubik's Cube in two minutes), let's break down what the definitions really mean:

Scavenging Period

This is easy enough to understand. This interval simply tells your DNS server how often to check the zones for stale records. You can only get as granular as telling DNS to check every x number of hours or x number of days. By the way, this setting applies only to the DNS server, not the zones.

No-refresh Interval

This a mechanism by which DDNS suppresses reregistration attempts. This helps keep replication of record information to a minimum. For example, using the default of seven days, after the DNS client registers with DDNS, all attempts to reregister for a period of seven days will be ignored.

Refresh Interval

This definition took awhile for me to grasp. It basically means the number of days after the No-refresh Interval expires that DDNS will wait for the client to refresh its record before the record becomes stale. Again, by default, this setting is also seven days.

Now, we'll put this all together in an example that makes sense. In this scenario, the DNS client does not reregister during the Refresh Interval period. Keep in mind, we are using the default of seven days:

  1. DNS client registers with DDNS.

  2. No-refresh Interval starts (seven days).

  3. DDNS server will not accept reregistration attempts from this client for seven days.

  4. No-refresh Interval expires.

  5. Refresh Interval starts (seven days).

  6. DNS client has seven days to refresh its records before the record is considered stale.

  7. Refresh Interval expires.

  8. Scavenging process removes record.

If the client had registered its record again, the No-refresh Interval would have started all over again. In the previous scenario, with the default settings of seven days, a record would have to be greater than 14 days old before DDNS would scavenge it. This might work if your DHCP lease times are eight days (the default). Otherwise, you might need to set the intervals closer to your DHCP lease times. Also, keep in mind the Scavenging Period runs only on the interval specified, which is also seven days by default.

Scavenging jobs will use processor time. However, the scavenging process is a low-priority thread of the DNS service. This ensures that scavenging does not use all the processing capacity, but it's horrible if your DNS servers are used heavily. As a low-priority thread on a highly used DNS server, there's a probability that the scavenging thread might never run. Also, if the server attempts to run the scavenging process during a time when the DNS server is highly used, it will miss the scheduled interval. It will not attempt to start running over and over but instead will wait until the next scheduled interval (remember the default of seven days). At the time of this writing, I haven't found a setting that can be adjusted to change which hour the scavenging process starts.

For the Advanced Pack Rat

As I mentioned earlier, the Scavenging Period setting applies only to an individual DNS server. Unlike the other settings, which are replicated by Active Directory, this setting is specific to the DNS server in question. With this in mind, not enabling this setting means that no servers are scavenging records. Aging of records is taking place (No-refresh, Refresh), but nothing else is going on. This is good for a variety of reasons. First, you don't necessarily want all of your DNS servers to scavenge. You need only one server to scavenge. It'll replicate the record deletes to the other DNS servers. This also allows for some other configuration options:

Small environment

Turn Scavenging Period on. This should be ample for you.

Larger environment

Leave the Scavenging Period setting off. In other words, you don't want DNS servers scavenging records for you. Instead, use the dnscmd command (found in the Support Tools folder on your product CD) with the /StartScavenging option and schedule it on a recurring basis, at the time frame you're looking for. It's probably reasonable to suggest that nighttime hours have little DNS registrations or queries going on.

Enterprise environment

Designate a DNS server to handle all scavenging and nothing else. This can be established by placing the DNS server in its own site so that clients do not refer to it for lookups or any Active Directory functions. If that sounds like too much work, the SRV records for this DNS server can be stripped from DNS to achieve the same effect.

See Also

  • DNS Scavenging on Windows 2000 Server (http://www.microsoft.com/windows2000/en/server/help/default.asp?url=/WINDOWS2000/en/server/help/sag_DNS_imp_ManageAgingScavenging.htm)

  • Enable Aging and Scavenging for DNS (http://www.microsoft.com/technet/treeview/default.asp?url=/technet/prodtechnol/windowsserver2003/proddocs/deployguide/dssbm_drd_dvwv.asp)

  • Scavenging Stale DNS Records (http://www.winnetmag.com/Articles/Index.cfm?ArticleID=19897)

  • Set Aging/Scavenging Properties for the DNS Server (http://www.microsoft.com/technet/treeview/default.asp?url=/technet/prodtechnol/windowsserver2003/proddocs/standard/sag_DNS_pro_SetAgeScavengeServer.asp)

  • How to Optimize the Location of a Domain Controller or Global Catalog (http://support.microsoft.com/?id=306602)

?Marcus Oh