Set Up Authoritative DNS Server on Ubuntu 18.04, 16.04 with BIND9

This tutorial will be showing you how to set up and run your own authoritative name server on Ubuntu 18.04/16.04 with the widely-used BIND 9 software.

What’s An Authoritative DNS Server?

If you own a domain name and want your own DNS server to handle name resolution for your domain name instead of using your domain registrar’s DNS server, then you will need to set up an authoritative DNS server.

An authoritative DNS server is used by domain name owners to store DNS records. It provides authoritative answers to DNS resolvers (like 8.8.8.8 or 1.1.1.1), which query DNS records on behalf of end users on PC, smartphone or tablet.

About BIND

BIND (Berkeley Internet Name Domain) is an open-source, flexible and full-featured DNS software widely used on Unix/Linux due to it’s stability and high quality. It’s originally developed by UC Berkeley, and later in 1994 its development was moved to Internet Systems Consortium, Inc (ISC).

BIND can act as an authoritative DNS server for a zone and a DNS resolver at the same time. A DNS resolver can also be called a recursive name server because it performs recursive lookups for local clients. However, taking two roles at the same time isn’t advantageous. It’s a good practice to separate the two roles on two different machines.

In a previous article, I explained the steps of setting up a local DNS resolver on Ubuntu 18.04/16.04. This tutorial will show you how to set up BIND9 on Ubuntu 18.04/16.04 as an authoritative-only DNS server with recursion disabled.

Prerequisites

To follow this tutorial, you should have already bought a domain name. I registered my domain name at NameCheap because the price is low and they give whois privacy protection free for life.

You also need two servers. One server is for the master DNS server and the other is for the slave DNS server. Ideally the two servers should be at different physical locations. If one DNS server is offline, the other DNS server can still response to DNS queries for your domain name.

Each server needs only 512MB RAM and here are the hosting providers that I recommend. I have used all of them.

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Once you have bought two servers, install Ubuntu on them and follow the instructions below.

Set up Authoritative DNS Server on Ubuntu 18.04/16.04 with BIND9

You need to run commands in this section on both servers.

Log into the two servers via SSH and run the following commands to install BIND 9 on Ubuntu 18.04/16.04 from the default repository. BIND 9 is the current version and BIND 10 is a dead project.

sudo apt update
sudo apt install bind9 bind9utils bind9-doc

Check version number.

named -v

Sample output:

BIND 9.11.3-1ubuntu1.3-Ubuntu (Extended Support Version) <id:a375815>

To check the version number and build options, run

named -V

BIND version number and build option

By default, BIND automatically starts after installation.You check its status with:

systemctl status bind9

bind 9 ubuntu 18.04 server

If it’s not running, then start it with:

sudo systemctl start bind9

And enable auto start at boot time:

sudo systemctl enable bind9

The BIND server will run as the bind user, which is created during installation, and listens on TCP and UDP port 53, as can be seen by running the following command:

sudo netstat -lnptu | grep named

ubuntu 18.04 bind9 setup

The BIND daemon is called named. (A daemon is a piece of software that runs in the background.) The named binary is installed by the bind9 package and there’s another important binary: rndc, the remote name daemon controller, which is installed by the bind9utils package. The rndc binary is used to reload/stop and control other aspects of the BIND daemon. Communication is done over TCP port 953.

For example, we can check the status of the BIND name server.

sudo rndc status

remote name daemon controller

The main BIND configuration file /etc/bind/named.conf sources the settings from 3 other files.

  • /etc/bind/named.conf.options
  • /etc/bind/named.conf.local
  • /etc/bind/named.conf.default-zones

Out of the box, the BIND9 server on Ubuntu provides recursive service for localhost and local network clients. Since we are setting up an authoritative DNS server, we need to disable recursion. Edit the /etc/bind/named.conf.options file.

sudo nano /etc/bind/named.conf.options

Add the following lines to this file.

 // hide version number from clients for security reasons.
 version "not currently available";

 // disable recursion on authoritative DNS server.
 recursion no;

 // enable the query log
 querylog yes;

 // disallow zone transfer
 allow-transfer { none; };

Technically speaking, you only need to add recursion no; to disable recursion, but it’s a good practice to add the other 3 directives. Save and close the file. Then restart BIND.

sudo systemctl restart bind9

Master DNS Server Configuration

Pick one of the two servers as the master DNS server. We will name it ns1.example.com.

The master DNS server holds the master copy of the zone file. Changes of DNS records are made on this server. A domain can have one or more DNS zones. Each DNS zone has a zone file which contains every DNS record in that zone. For simplicity’s sake, this article assumes that you want to use a single DNS zone to manage all DNS records for your domain name.

The /etc/bind/named.conf.default-zones file defines the root zone and localhost zone. To add a zone for your domain name, edit /etc/bind/named.conf.local file.

sudo nano /etc/bind/named.conf.local

Add the following lines to this file. Replace example.com with your own domain name. Replace 12.34.56.78 with the IP address of slave DNS server.

zone "example.com" {
      type master;
      file "/etc/bind/db.example.com";
      allow-transfer { 12.34.56.78; };
};

In the above configuration, we created a new zone with the zone clause and we specified that this is the master zone. The zone file is /etc/bind/db.example.com, where we will add DNS records. Zone transfer will be only allowed for the slave DNS server.

Instead of creating a zone file from scratch, we can use a zone template file. Copy the content of db.empty to a new file.

sudo cp /etc/bind/db.empty /etc/bind/db.example.com

A zone file can contain 3 types of entries:

  • Comments: start with a semicolon (;)
  • Directives: start with a dollar sign ($)
  • Resource Records: aka DNS records

A zone file typically consists of the following types of DNS records.

  • The SOA (Start of Authority) record: defines the key characteristics of a zone. It’s the first DNS record in the zone file and is mandatory.
  • NS (Name Server) record: specifies which servers are used to store DNS records and answer DNS queries for a domain name. There must be at least two NS record in a zone file.
  • MX (Mail Exchanger) record: specifies which hosts are responsible for email delivery for a domain name.
  • A (Address) record: Converts DNS names into IPv4 addresses.
  • AAAA (Quad A) record: Converts DNS names into IPv6 addresses.
  • CNAME record (Canonical Name): It’s used to create alias for a DNS name.
  • TXT record: SPF, DKIM, DMARC, etc.

Now let’s edit the zone file.

sudo nano /etc/bind/db.example.com

By default, it looks like this:

BIND9 zone transfer ubuntu

You can change it to this instead.

bind9 master zone file

Where

  • The $TTL directive defines the default Time to Live value for the zone, which is the time a DNS record can be cached on a DNS resolver. This directive is mandatory. The time is specified in seconds.
  • The $ORIGIN directive defines the base domain.
  • Domain names must end with a dot (.), which is the root domain. When a domain name ends with a dot, it is a fully qualified domain name (FQDN).
  • The @ symbol references to the base domain.
  • IN is the DNS class. It stands for Internet. Other DNS classes exist but are rarely used.

The first record in a zone file is the SOA (Start of Authority) record. This record contains the following information:

  • The master DNS server.
  • Email address of the zone administrator. RFC 2142 recommends the email address [email protected]. In the zone file, this email address takes this form: hostmaster.example.com because the @ symbol has special meaning in zone file.
  • Zone serial number. The serial number is a way of tracking changes in zone by the slave DNS server. By convention, the serial number takes a date format: yyyymmddss, where yyyy is the four-digit year number, mm is the month, dd is the day, and ss is the sequence number for the day. You must update the serial number when changes are made to the zone file.
  • Refresh value. When the refresh value is reached, the slave DNS server will try to read of the SOA record from the master DNS server. If the serial number becomes higher, a zone transfer is initiated.
  • Retry value. Defines the retry interval in seconds if the slave DNS server fails to connect to the master DNS server.
  • Expiry: If the slave DNS server has been failing to make contact with master DNS server for this amount of time, the slave will stop responding to DNS queries for this zone.
  • Negative cache TTL: Defines the time to live value of DNS responses for non-existent DNS names (NXDOMAIN).

TXT records are usually enclosed in double quotes. If you add DKIM record, you also need to enclose the value with parentheses.

Save and close the file. Then run the following command to check if there are syntax errors in the main configuration file. A silent output indicates no errors are found.

sudo named-checkconf

Then check the syntax of zone files.

sudo named-checkzone example.com /etc/bind/db.example.com

If no errors are found, then restart BIND9.

sudo systemctl restart bind9

If you are using the uncomplicated firewall (UFW), then open TCP and UDP port 53.

sudo ufw allow 53/tcp

sudo ufw allow 53/udp

If you are using iptables firewall directly, then run the following command.

sudo iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 53 -j ACCEPT

sudo iptables -A INPUT -p udp --dprot 53 -j ACCEPT

Slave DNS Server Configuration

Now we use the other server as the slave DNS server, which will be named ns2.example.com.

First, edit the named.conf.local file.

sudo nano /etc/bind/named.conf.local

Add a zone like below. Replace 12.34.56.78 with the IP address of the master DNS server.

zone "example.com" {
        type slave;
        file "db.example.com";
        masters { 12.34.56.78; };
};

In the above configuration, we specified that this is a slave DNS server for the example.com zone and it will accept zone transfers only from a trusted IP address.

Save and close the file. Then run the following command to check if there are syntax errors in the main configuration file.

sudo named-checkconf

If no errors are found, restart BIND9.

sudo systemctl restart bind9

The zone file on slave DNS server are loaded from a zone transfer, which is used to synchronize DNS record changes from master DNS server to slave DNS server. After BIND9 restarts, zone tranfer will start immediately. Check the BIND9 log with the following command.

sudo journalctl -eu bind9

You can see messages like below, which indicates the zone transfer is successful.

named[31518]: transfer of 'example.com/IN' from 12.34.56.78#53: Transfer completed: 1 messages, 16 records, 886 bytes, 0.004 secs (221500 bytes/sec)

The zone file will be save as /var/cache/bind/db.example.com.

If you are using the uncomplicated firewall (UFW), then open TCP and UDP port 53.

sudo ufw allow 53/tcp

sudo ufw allow 53/udp

If you are using iptables firewall directly, then run the following command.

sudo iptables -A INPUT -p tcp --dport 53 -j ACCEPT

sudo iptables -A INPUT -p udp --dprot 53 -j ACCEPT

More about Zone Transfer

The slave DNS server will contact the master again when the refresh time in SOA record is reached and if the serial number on the master is greater than that on the slave, a zone transfer will be initiated. There are two types of zone transfers:

  • Full zone transfer (AXFR): The full copy of zone file is transferred.
  • Incremental zone transfer (IXFR): Only DNS records that are changed are transferred.

Both types of zone transfer use TCP port 53. By default, BIND on the slave DNS server will request an incremental zone transfer and BIND on the master DNS server will only allow incremental zone transfer when the zone is dynamic.

The zone transfer interval is a major factor of the propagation speed of DNS record changes. Instead of waiting for the slave DNS server to make contact, the BIND master will notify the slave when changes are made to the zone. This can considerably reduce the time to propagate zone changes to the Internet.

Reverse Zone

A reverse zone contains PTR record that map an IP address to a DNS name. It is the counterpart of DNS A record. PTR record often is necessary for mail servers to pass spam filters. This record does not belong to a domain. You need to create PTR record at your hosting provider’s control panel, or ask your ISP, so I’m not going to cover creating reverse zones in BIND.

Change NS Record and Create Glue Record

Now you need to go to your domain registrar’s website to change the NS record for your domain, so the Internet would know that you are now using your own DNS server. Normally you use hostnames in the NS record like ns1.example.com and ns2.example.com.

name server 1:     ns1.example.com
name server 2:     ns2.example.com

If you have a domain name example.com and you use a subdomain for the authoritative DNS servers (ns1.example.com and ns2.example.com), then you also need to create a glue record at your domain registrar, so the Internet can know the IP address of your DNS server. The glue record is an A record for ns1.example.com and ns2.example.com.

ns1.example.com        IP-address-of-master-server
ns2.example.com        IP-address-of-slave-server

The above information will be sent to a registry operator who runs TLD DNS servers via the Extensible Provisioning Protocol (EPP), so that TLD DNS servers know the hostnames and IP addresses of the authoritative DNS servers for your domain name.

After the NS record and glue record have been propagated to the Internet, you DNS servers would be responding to DNS queries for your domain name. You can check the query log with:

sudo journalctl -eu bind9

Things to Know

  • The term master DNS server only implies that this server stores the master copy of the zone file. It has no higher priority when it comes to DNS resolution.
  • Always update the SOA serial number when you make changes to a zone file.

That’s it! I hope this tutorial helped you set up authoritative DNS server on Ubuntu 18.04 and Ubuntu 16.04 with BIND9. As always, if you found this post useful, then subscribe to our free newsletter to get more tips and tricks. Take care 🙂

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13 Responses to “Set Up Authoritative DNS Server on Ubuntu 18.04, 16.04 with BIND9

  • THANK YOU!!!!

  • Thank you

  • Thank you for the helpful doc!
    Is there such thing as “chroot” for this installation?
    cheers

  • Paul Kubu
    4 weeks ago

    When i setup an .eu Domain it works fine, but when i setup an .com Domain and then Dig this Domain with GoogleToolbox i get an ServerFail….

    Does anyone know how i could fix this?

    • Maybe you forgot to add a dot at the end of your domain name in the zone file. Maybe your didn’t add the glue record. Can you tell me what’s your domain name?

    • To add a second domain, you need to create a separate zone in /etc/bind/named.conf.local on the Master DNS server.

      zone "domain1.com" {
            type master;
            file "/etc/bind/db.domain1.com";
            allow-transfer { IP-address-of-slave-server; };
      };
      
      zone "domain2.com" {
            type master;
            file "/etc/bind/db.domain2.com";
            allow-transfer { IP-address-of-slave-server; };
      };
      

      Then create the zone file for domain2. Here we copy the domain1 zone as a template.

      sudo cp /etc/bind/db.domain1.com /etc/bind/db.domain2.com

      Modify the /etc/bind/db.domain2.com file to add DNS records.

      Restart BIND9.

      sudo systemctl restart bind9

      After that, create a separate zone in /etc/bind/named.conf.local on the slave DNS server.

      zone "domain1.com" {
              type slave;
              file "db.domain1.com";
              masters { IP-address-of-master-server; };
      };
      
      zone "domain2.com" {
              type slave;
              file "db.domain2.com";
              masters { IP-address-of-master-server; };
      };

      Then Restart BIND9.

      sudo systemctl restart bind9
  • Hello,
    First thank you for this tutorial its really great. I’ve get everything set up, with little issues. But I was hoping you could elaborate on next steps for me. Once I have these servers up, is the next step. Just to notify my registrar of my DNS’s ip addresses? Is this the glue record? Thank you again.

    • You need to go to your domain registrar’s website to change the NS record for your domain, so the Internet would know that you are now using your own DNS server. Normally you use hostname in the NS record like ns1.example.com and ns2.example.com

      You also need to create glue record at your domain registrar’s website so the Internet can know the IP address of your DNS server.

      If you don’t know how to create glue record, then create a support ticket at your domain registrar.

      I just updated the create glue record section in this article to make it more understandable.

  • Mohamed
    4 days ago

    Hello Xiao Guo An,

    Thanks for the tutorial. I have the bind9 dns server and also made the delegation. we’re using our DNS now but with recursion being enabled. if i disable recursion i can not use the internet, my dns no longer resolves the domains on the internet. I really need to disable recursion and be able to browser the internet using my own dns. what do i do? thanks again.

    • Hi, normally it’s a good practice to run authoritative dns server and dns resolver on separate boxes for large DNS query traffic.

      If you really need to run them on the same box, you can enable recursion on the authoritative DNS server. I only do this when the DNS query traffic is small.

  • This was just what I needed! Thank you for taking the time to create this easy to follow guide 🙂

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