Section 6.3. Selecting a DNS Software Package

The most popular and venerable DNS software package is BIND. Originally a graduate-student project at UC-Berkeley, BIND is now relied on by thousands of sites worldwide. The latest version of BIND, v9, was developed by Nominum Corporation under contract to the Internet Software Consortium (ISC), its official maintainers.

BIND has historically been and continues to be the reference implementation of the Internet Engineering Task Force's (IETF's) DNS standards. BIND Version 9, for example, provides the most complete implementation thus far of the IETF's new DNSSEC standards for DNS security. Due to BIND's importance and popularity, the better part of this chapter will be about securing BIND.

But BIND has its detractors. Like sendmail, BIND has had a number of well-known security vulnerabilities over the years, some of which have resulted in considerable mayhem. Also like sendmail, BIND has steadily grown in size and complexity: it is no longer as lean and mean as it once was, nor as stable. Thus, some assert that BIND is insecure and unreliable under load.

Daniel J. Bernstein is one such BIND detractor, but one who's actually done something about it: he's the creator of djbdns, a complete (depending on your viewpoint) DNS package. djbdns has some important features:


Rather than using a single monolithic daemon like BIND's named to do everything, djbdns uses different processes to fill different roles. For example, djbdns not only uses different processes for resolving names and responding to queries from other resolvers; it goes so far as to require that those processes listen on different IP addresses! This modularity results in both better performance and better security.


djbdns' adherents claim it's easier to configure than BIND, although this is subjective. At least from a programming standpoint, though, djbdns's much smaller code base implies a much simpler design.


djbdns was designed with security as a primary goal. Furthermore, its smaller code base and architectural simplicity make djbdns inherently more auditable than BIND: less code to parse means fewer overlooked bugs. To date, there have been no known security vulnerabilities in any production release of djbdns.


D. J. Bernstein claims that djbdns has much better speed and reliability, and a much smaller RAM footprint, than BIND. Several acquaintances of mine who administer extremely busy DNS servers rely on djbdns for this reason.

So, djbdns is superior to BIND in every way, and the vast majority of DNS administrators who use BIND are dupes, right? Maybe, but I doubt it. djbdns has compelling advantages, particularly its performance. If you need a caching-only nameserver but not an actual DNS authority for your domain, djbdns is clearly a leaner solution than BIND. But the IETF is moving DNS in two key directions that Mr. Bernstein apparently thinks are misguided, and, therefore, he refuses to support in djbdns.

The first is DNSSEC: for secure zone transfers, djbdns must be used with Rsync and OpenSSH, since djbdns does not support TSIGs or any other DNSSEC mechanism. The second is IPv6, which djbdns does not support in the manner recommended by the IETF (which is not to say that Mr. Bernstein is completely against IPv6; he objects to the way the IETF recommends it be used by DNS).

So, which do you choose? If performance is your primary concern, if you believe djbdns is inherently more secure than BIND (even BIND configured the way I'm about to describe!), or if you want a smaller and more modular package than BIND, I think djbdns is a good choice.

If, on the other hand, you wish to use DNSSEC, are already familiar with and competent at administering BIND, or need to interoperate with other DNS servers running BIND (and feel you can mitigate BIND's known and yet-to-be-discovered security issues by configuring it carefully and keeping current with security advisories and updates), then I don't think BIND is that bad a choice.

In other words, I think each has its own merits: you'll have to decide for yourself which better meets your needs. BIND is by far the most ubiquitous DNS software on the Internet, and most of my experience securing DNS servers has been with BIND. Therefore, a good portion of this chapter will focus on DNS security as it pertains to BIND Versions 8 and 9. My esteemed friend and colleague Bill Lubanovic has written most of the second half of the chapter, which covers the basic use of djbdns.

If neither BIND nor djbdns appeals to you and you choose something else altogether, you may wish to skip ahead to Section 6.4.5. That section applies to all DNS servers, regardless of what software they run.