Use of DNS Aliases for Network Services

The information below is for an old version of the document that is already published as an RFC
Document Type RFC Internet-Draft (ids WG)
Authors Russ Wright  , Martin Hamilton 
Last updated 2013-03-02 (latest revision 1997-01-31)
Stream Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
Formats plain text pdf htmlized bibtex
Stream WG state (None)
Document shepherd No shepherd assigned
IESG IESG state RFC 2219 (Best Current Practice)
Consensus Boilerplate Unknown
Telechat date
Responsible AD (None)
Send notices to (None)
IDS Working Group                                        Martin Hamilton
INTERNET-DRAFT                                   Loughborough University
                                                             Russ Wright
                                            Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory
                                                           Feburary 1997

                Use of DNS Aliases for Network Services
                Filename: draft-ietf-ids-dnsnames-02.txt

Status of this Memo

      This document is an Internet-Draft.  Internet-Drafts are working
      documents of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), its
      areas, and its working groups.  Note that other groups may also
      distribute working documents as Internet-Drafts.

      Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six
      months and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other
      documents at any time.  It is inappropriate to use Internet-
      Drafts as reference material or to cite them other than as ``work
      in progress.''

      To learn the current status of any Internet-Draft, please check
      the ``1id-abstracts.txt'' listing contained in the Internet-
      Drafts Shadow Directories on (Africa),
      (Europe), (Pacific Rim), (US East
      Coast), or (US West Coast).

      Distribution of this document is unlimited.  Editorial comments
      should be sent directly to the authors.  Technical discussion will
      take place on the IETF Integrated Directory Services mailing list,

      This Internet Draft expires August 1, 1997.


   It has become a common practice to use symbolic names (usually
   CNAMEs) in the Domain Name Service (DNS - [RFC-1034, RFC-1035]) to
   refer to network services such as anonymous FTP [RFC-959] servers,
   Gopher [RFC-1436] servers, and most notably World-Wide Web HTTP
   [RFC-1945] servers.  This is desirable for a number of reasons.  It
   provides a way of moving services from one machine to another
   transparently, and a mechanism by which people or agents may
   programatically discover that an organization runs, say, a World-Wide
   Web server.

                                                                [Page 1]
INTERNET-DRAFT                                             Feburary 1997

   Although this approach has been almost universally adopted, there is
   no standards document or similar specification for these commonly
   used names.  This document seeks to rectify this situation by
   gathering together the extant "folklore" on naming conventions, and
   proposes a mechanism for accommodating new protocols.

   It is important to note that these naming conventions do not provide
   a complete long term solution to the problem of finding a particular
   network service for a site.  There are efforts in other IETF working
   groups to address the long term solution to this problem, such as the
   Server Location Resource Records (DNS SRV) [RFC-2052] work.

1. Rationale

   In order to locate the network services offered at a particular
   Internet domain one is faced with the choice of selecting from a
   growing number of centralized databases - typically Web or Usenet
   News "wanderers", or attempting to infer the existence of network
   services from whatever DNS information may be available.  The former
   approach is not practical in some cases, notably when the entity
   seeking service information is a program.

   Perhaps the most visible example of the latter approach at work is in
   the case of World-Wide Web HTTP servers.  It is common practice to
   try prefixing the domain name of an organization with "http://www."
   in order to reach its World-Wide Web site, e.g. taking ""
   and arriving at ""  Some popular World-Wide Web
   browsers have gone so far as to provide automatic support for this
   domain name expansion.

   Ideally, the DNS or some complementary directory service would
   provide a means for programs to determine automatically the network
   services which are offered at a particular Internet domain, the
   protocols which are used to deliver them, and other technical

   Unfortunately, although much work has been done on developing "yellow
   pages" directory service technologies, and on attempting to define
   new types of DNS resource record to provide this type of information,
   there is no widely agreed upon or widely deployed solution to the
   problem - except in a small number of cases.

   The first case is where the DNS already provides a lookup capability
   for the type of information being sought after.  For example: Mail
   Exchanger (MX) records specify how mail to a particular domain should
   be routed [RFC-974], the Start of Authority (SOA) records make it
   possible to determine who is responsible for a given domain, and Name
   Server (NS) records indicate which hosts provide DNS name service for

                                                                [Page 2]
INTERNET-DRAFT                                             Feburary 1997

   a given domain.

   The second case is where the DNS does not provide an appropriate
   lookup capability, but there is some widely accepted convention for
   finding this information.  Some use has been made of Text (TXT)
   records in this scenario, but in the vast majority of cases a
   Canonical Name (CNAME) or Address (A) record pointer is used to
   indicate the host or hosts which provide the service.  This document
   proposes a slight formalization of this well-known alias approach.

   It should be noted that the DNS provides a Well Known Services (WKS)
   lookup capability, which makes it possible to determine the network
   services offered at a given domain name.  In practice this is not
   widely used, perhaps because of the absence of a suitable programming
   interface.  Use of WKS for mail routing was deprecated in the Host
   Requirements specification [RFC-1123] in favour of the MX record, and
   in the long term it is conceivable that SRV records will supercede
   both WKS and MX.

2. A generic framework

   Our approach to dealing with aliases for protocols is
   straightforward. We define a standard set of DNS aliases for the most
   popular network services that currently exist (see the "Special
   Cases" section below). For protocols that are not explicitly listed
   in this document, the protocol specification must propose a name.

3. Special cases

   This is a static list of standard aliases and will not be added to in
   the future.

   Special Cases:

        Alias     Service
        archie    archie [ARCHIE]
        finger    Finger [RFC-1288]
        ftp       File Transfer Protocol [RFC-959]
        gopher    Internet Gopher Protocol [RFC-1436]
        ldap      Lightweight Directory Access Protocol [RFC-1777]
        mail      SMTP mail [RFC-821]
        news      Usenet News via NNTP [RFC-977]
        ntp       Network Time Protocol [RFC-1305]
        ph        CCSO nameserver [PH]
        pop       Post Office Protocol [RFC-1939]
        rwhois    Referral WHOIS [RFC-1714]

                                                                [Page 3]
INTERNET-DRAFT                                             Feburary 1997

        wais      Wide Area Information Server [RFC-1625]
        whois     NICNAME/WHOIS [RFC-954]
        www       World-Wide Web HTTP [RFC-1945]

4. (Ab)Use of the DNS as a directory service

   The widespread use of these common aliases effectively means that it
   is sometimes possible to "guess" the domain names associated with an
   organization's network services, though this is becoming more
   difficult as the number of organizations registered in the DNS

   It should be understood by implementors that the existence of a DNS
   entry such as

   does not constitute a registration of a World-Wide Web service.
   There is no requirement that the domain name resolve to an IP address
   or addresses.  There is no requirement that a host be listening for
   HTTP connections, or if it is, that the HTTP server be running on
   port 80.  Finally, even if all of these things are true, there can be
   no guarantee that the World-Wide Web server will be prepared to honor
   requests from arbitrary clients.

   Having said this, the aliases do provide useful "hints" about the
   services offered.  We propose that they be taken in this spirit.

   The conventions described in this document are, essentially, only
   useful when the organization's domain name can be determined - e.g.
   from some external database.  A number of groups, including the IETF,
   have been working on ways of finding domain names given a set of
   information such as organization name, location, and business type.
   It is hoped that one or more of these will eventually make it
   possible to augment the basic lookup service which the DNS provides
   with a more generalised search and retrieval capability.

5. DNS server configuration

   In the short term, whilst directory service technology and further
   types of DNS resource record are being developed, domain name
   administrators are encouraged to use these common names for the
   network services they run.  They will make it easier for outsiders to
   find information about your organization, and also make it easier for
   you to move services from one machine to another.

   There are two conventional approaches to creating these DNS entries.

                                                                [Page 4]
INTERNET-DRAFT                                             Feburary 1997

   One is to add a single CNAME record to your DNS server's
   configuration, e.g. IN CNAME

   Note that in this scenario no information about should
   exist in the DNS other than the CNAME record.

   An alternative approach would be to create an A record for each of
   the IP addresses associated with, e.g. IN A

   Recent DNS server implementations provide a "round-robin" feature
   which causes the host's IP addresses to be returned in a different
   order each time the address is looked up.

   Network clients are starting to appear which, when they encounter a
   host with multiple addresses, use heuristics to determine the address
   to contact - e.g. picking the one which has the shortest round-trip-
   time.  Thus, if a server is mirrored (replicated) at a number of
   locations, it may be desirable to list the IP addresses of the mirror
   servers as A records of the primary server.  This is only likely to
   be appropriate if the mirror servers are exact copies of the original

6. Limitations of this approach

   Some services require that a client have more information than the
   server's domain name.  For example, an LDAP client needs to know a
   starting search base within the Directory Information Tree in order
   to have a meaningful dialogue with the server.  This document does
   not attempt to address this problem.

7. CCSO service name

   There are currently at least three different aliases in common use
   for the CCSO nameserver - e.g. "ph", "cso" and "ns".  It would appear
   to be in everyone's interest to narrow the choice of alias down to a
   single name.  "ns" would seem to be the best choice since it is the
   most commonly used name.  However, "ns" is also being used by DNS to
   point to the DNS server.  In fact, the most prevalent use of NS to
   name DNS servers.  For this reason, we suggest the use of PH as the
   best name to use for CCSO nameservers.

   Sites with existing CCSO servers using some of these aliases may find
   it desirable to use all three.  This increases the likelihood of the
   service being found.

                                                                [Page 5]
INTERNET-DRAFT                                             Feburary 1997

   As noted earlier, implementations should be resilient in the event
   that the name does not point to the expected service.

8. Security considerations

   The DNS is open to many kinds of "spoofing" attacks, and it cannot be
   guaranteed that the result returned by a DNS lookup is indeed the
   genuine information.  Spoofing may take the form of denial of
   service, such as directing of the client to a non-existent address,
   or a passive attack such as an intruder's server which masquerades as
   the legitimate one.

   Work is ongoing to remedy this situation insofar as the DNS is
   concerned [RFC-2065].  In the meantime it should be noted that
   stronger authentication mechanisms such as public key cryptography
   with large key sizes are a pre-requisite if the DNS is being used in
   any sensitive situations.  Examples of these would be on-line
   financial transactions, and any situation where privacy is a concern
   - such as the querying of medical records over the network.  Strong
   encryption of the network traffic may also be advisable, to protect
   against TCP connection "hijacking" and packet sniffing.

9. Conclusions

   The service names listed in this document provide a sensible set of
   defaults which may be used as an aid in determining the hosts which
   offer particular services for a given domain name.

   This document has noted some exceptions which are either inherently
   unsuitable for this treatment, or already have a substantial
   installed base using alternative aliases.

10. Acknowledgements

   Thanks to Jeff Allen, Tom Gillman, Renato Iannella, Thomas
   Lenggenhager, Bill Manning, Andy Powell, Sri Sataluri, Patrik
   Faltstrom, Paul Vixie and Greg Woods for their comments on draft
   versions of this document.

   This work was supported by grants from the UK Electronic Libraries
   Programme (eLib) grant 12/39/01, the European Commission's Telematics
   for Research Programme grant RE 1004, and U. S. Department of Energy
   Contract Number DE-AC03-76SF00098.

11. References

   Request For Comments (RFC) and Internet Draft documents are available
   from <URL:> and numerous mirror sites.

                                                                [Page 6]
INTERNET-DRAFT                                             Feburary 1997

         [ARCHIE]    A. Emtage, P. Deutsch. "archie - An Electronic
                     Directory Service for the Internet", Winter Usenix
                     Conference Proceedings 1992.  Pages 93-110.

         [PH]        R. Hedberg, S. Dorner, P. Pomes.  "The CCSO
                     Nameserver (Ph) Architecture", Internet Draft.
                     February 1996.

         [RFC-768]   J. Postel.  "User Datagram Protocol", RFC 768.
                     August 1980.

         [RFC-793]   J. Postel.  "Transmission Control Protocol", RFC
                     793.  September 1981.

         [RFC-821]   J. Postel, "Simple Mail Transfer Protocol", RFC
                     821. August 1982.

         [RFC-954]   K. Harrenstien, M. K. Stahl, E.J. Feinler.
                     "NICNAME/WHOIS", RFC 954.  October 1985.

         [RFC-959]   J. Postel, J. K. Reynolds.  "File Transfer Proto-
                     col", RFC 959.  October 1985.

         [RFC-974]   C. Partridge.  "Mail routing and the domain sys-
                     tem", RFC 974.  January 1986.

         [RFC-977]   B. Kantor, P. Lapsley.  "Network News Transfer Pro-
                     tocol", RFC 977.  February 1986.

         [RFC-1034]  P. V. Mockapetris. "Domain names - concepts and
                     facilities", RFC 1034.  November 1987.

         [RFC-1035]  P. V. Mockapetris. "Domain names - implementation
                     and specification", RFC 1035.  November 1987.

         [RFC-1123]  R. T. Braden.  "Requirements for Internet hosts -
                     application and support", RFC 1123. October 1989.

                                                                [Page 7]
INTERNET-DRAFT                                             Feburary 1997

         [RFC-1288]  D. Zimmerman.  "The Finger User Information Proto-
                     col", RFC 1288. December 1992.

         [RFC-1305]  D. Mills.  "Network Time Protocol (Version 3)
                     Specification, Implementation", RFC 1305.  March

         [RFC-1436]  F. Anklesaria, M. McCahill, P. Lindner, D. Johnson,
                     D. Torrey & B. Albert.  "The Internet Gopher Proto-
                     col (a distributed document search and retrieval
                     protocol)", RFC 1436.  March 1993.

         [RFC-1590]  J. Postel.  "Media Type Registration Procedure",
                     RFC 1590.  March 1994.

         [RFC-1625]  M. St. Pierre, J. Fullton, K. Gamiel, J. Goldman,
                     B. Kahle, J. Kunze, H. Morris & F. Schiettecatte.
                     "WAIS over Z39.50-1988", RFC 1625.  June 1994.

         [RFC-1700]  J. Reynolds, J. Postel.  "ASSIGNED NUMBERS", RFC
                     1700.  October 1994.

         [RFC-1714]  S. Williamson & M. Kosters.  "Referral Whois Proto-
                     col (RWhois)", RFC 1714.  November 1994.

         [RFC-1777]  W. Yeong, T. Howes, S. Kille.  "Lightweight Direc-
                     tory Access Protocol", RFC 1777.  March 1995.

         [RFC-1939]  J. Myers, M. Rose, "Post Office Protocol - Version
                     3", RFC 1939, May 1996.

         [RFC-1945]  T. Berners-Lee, R. Fielding, H. Nielsen.  "Hyper-
                     text Transfer Protocol -- HTTP/1.0", RFC 1945.  May

         [RFC-2052]  A. Gulbrandsen, P. Vixie, "A DNS RR for specifying
                     the location of services (DNS SRV)", RFC 2052,
                     October 1996.

                                                                [Page 8]
INTERNET-DRAFT                                             Feburary 1997

         [RFC-2065]  D. Eastlake, C. Kaufman, "Domain Name System Secu-
                     rity Extensions", RFC 2065, January 1997.

12. Authors addresses

   Martin Hamilton
   Department of Computer Studies
   Loughborough University of Technology
   Leics. LE11 3TU, UK


   Russ Wright
   Information & Computing Sciences Division
   Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
   1 Cyclotron Road, Berkeley
   Mail-Stop: 50A-3111
   CA 94720, USA


                This Internet Draft expires August 1, 1997.

                                                                [Page 9]