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Initializing a DNS Resolver with Priming Queries

Document Type Active Internet-Draft (individual)
Authors Peter Koch , Matt Larson , Paul E. Hoffman
Last updated 2022-11-16
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Network Working Group                                            P. Koch
Internet-Draft                                                  DENIC eG
Obsoletes: 8109 (if approved)                                  M. Larson
Intended status: Best Current Practice                        P. Hoffman
Expires: 20 May 2023                                               ICANN
                                                        16 November 2022

            Initializing a DNS Resolver with Priming Queries


   This document describes the queries that a DNS resolver should emit
   to initialize its cache.  The result is that the resolver gets both a
   current NS Resource Record Set (RRset) for the root zone and the
   necessary address information for reaching the root servers.

   This document, when published, obsoletes RFC 8109.

Status of This Memo

   This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the
   provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
   Task Force (IETF).  Note that other groups may also distribute
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   Drafts is at

   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."

   This Internet-Draft will expire on 20 May 2023.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2022 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

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   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents (
   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 Revised BSD License text as
   described in Section 4.e of the Trust Legal Provisions and are
   provided without warranty as described in the Revised BSD License.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   2
     1.1.  Changes from RFC 8109 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
     1.2.  Terminology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
   2.  Description of Priming  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     2.1.  Content of Priming Information  . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
   3.  Priming Queries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
     3.1.  Repeating Priming Queries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
     3.2.  Target Selection  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
     3.3.  DNSSEC with Priming Queries . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
   4.  Priming Responses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     4.1.  Expected Properties of the Priming Response . . . . . . .   7
     4.2.  Completeness of the Response  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   5.  Post-Priming Strategies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   6.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   7.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   8.  References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
     8.1.  Normative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
     8.2.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   Appendix A.  Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   Authors' Addresses  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9

1.  Introduction

   Recursive DNS resolvers need a starting point to resolve queries.
   [RFC1034] describes a common scenario for recursive resolvers: they
   begin with an empty cache and some configuration for finding the
   names and addresses of the DNS root servers.  [RFC1034] describes
   that configuration as a list of servers that will give authoritative
   answers to queries about the root.  This has become a common
   implementation choice for recursive resolvers, and is the topic of
   this document.

   This document describes the steps needed for this common
   implementation choice.  Note that this is not the only way to start a
   recursive name server with an empty cache, but it is the only one
   described in [RFC1034].  Some implementers have chosen other
   directions, some of which work well and others of which fail

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   (sometimes disastrously) under different conditions.  For example, an
   implementation that only gets the addresses of the root name servers
   from configuration, not from the DNS as described in this document,
   will have stale data that could cause slower resolution.

   This document only deals with recursive name servers (recursive
   resolvers, resolvers) for the IN class.

1.1.  Changes from RFC 8109

   This document obsoletes [RFC8109].  The significant changes from RFC
   8109 are:

   *  Added section on the content of priming information.

   *  Added paragraph about no expectation that the TC bit in responses
      will be set.

   *  Changed "man-in-the-middle" to "machine-in-the-middle" to be both
      less sexist and more technically accurate.

   *  Clarified that there are other effects of machine-in-the-middle

   *  Clarified language for root server domain names as "root server

   *  Added informative references to RSSAC documents.

   *  Added short discussion about this document and private DNS.

   *  Future changes noted in the current text with [[ text like this

1.2.  Terminology

   The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
   "OPTIONAL" in this document are to be interpreted as described in BCP
   14 [RFC2119] [RFC8174] when, and only when, they appear in all
   capitals, as shown here.

   See [RSSAC026v2] for terminology that relates to the root server

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2.  Description of Priming

   Priming is the act of finding the list of root servers from a
   configuration that lists some or all of the purported IP addresses of
   some or all of those root servers.  In priming, a recursive resolver
   starts with no cached information about the root servers, and
   finishes with a full list of their names and their addresses in its

   Priming is described in Sections 5.3.2 and 5.3.3 of [RFC1034].  The
   scenario used in that description, that of a recursive server that is
   also authoritative, is no longer as common.

   The configured list of IP addresses for the root servers usually
   comes from the vendor or distributor of the recursive server
   software.  This list is usually correct and complete when shipped,
   but may become out of date over time.

   The domain names for the root servers are called the "root server
   identifiers".  This list has been stable since 1997, but the IPv4 and
   IPv6 addresses for the root server identifiers sometimes change,
   Research shows that after those addresses change, some resolvers
   never get the new addresses.  Therefore, it is important that
   resolvers be able to cope with change, even without relying upon
   configuration updates to be applied by their operator.  Root server
   identifier and address changes are the main reasons that resolvers
   need to do priming instead of just going from a configured list to
   get a full and accurate list of root servers.

   See [RSSAC023v2]for a history of the root server system.

   Although this document is targeted at the global DNS, it also could
   apply to a private DNS as well.  These terms are defined in

2.1.  Content of Priming Information

   As described above, the configuration for priming is a list of IP
   addresses.  The priming information in software may be in any format
   that gives he software the addresses associated with at least some of
   the root server identifiers.

   Some software has configuration that also contains the root server
   identifiers, sometimes as comments and sometimes as data consumed by
   the software.  For example, IANA's "Root Hints File" at
   <> is derived directly from
   the root zone and contains all of the addresses of the root server
   identifiers found in the root zone, It is in DNS master file format,

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   and includes the root server identifiers.  Although there is no harm
   to adding such information, it is not useful in the root priming

3.  Priming Queries

   A priming query is a DNS query used to get the root server
   information in a resolver.  It has a QNAME of ".", a QTYPE of NS, and
   a QCLASS of IN; it is sent to one of the addresses in the
   configuration for the recursive resolver.  The priming query can be
   sent over either UDP or TCP.  If the query is sent over UDP, the
   source port SHOULD be randomly selected (see [RFC5452]).  The
   Recursion Desired (RD) bit MAY be set to 0 or 1, although the meaning
   of it being set to 1 is undefined for priming queries.

   The recursive resolver SHOULD use EDNS0 [RFC6891] for priming queries
   and SHOULD announce and handle a reassembly size of at least 1024
   octets [RFC3226].  Doing so allows responses that cover the size of a
   full priming response (see Section 4.2) for the current set of root
   servers.  See Section 3.3 for discussion of setting the DNSSEC OK
   (DO) bit (defined in [RFC4033]).

3.1.  Repeating Priming Queries

   The recursive resolver SHOULD send a priming query only when it is
   needed, such as when the resolver starts with an empty cache and when
   the NS RRset for the root zone has expired.  Because the NS records
   for the root are not special, the recursive resolver expires those NS
   records according to their TTL values.  (Note that a recursive
   resolver MAY pre-fetch the NS RRset before it expires.)

   [[ Need to discuss: when pre-fetching, does the resolver send the
   queries to the addresses associated with the . / NS RRset in the
   cache, or does the resolver go back to the addresses in the
   configuration? ]]

   If a priming query does not get a response, the recursive resolver
   needs to retry the query with a different target address from the

3.2.  Target Selection

   In order to spread the load across all the root server identifiers,
   the recursive resolver SHOULD select the target for a priming query
   randomly from the list of addresses.  The recursive resolver might
   choose either IPv4 or IPv6 addresses based on its knowledge of
   whether the system on which it is running has adequate connectivity
   on either type of address.

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   Note that this recommended method is not the only way to choose from
   the list in a recursive resolver's configuration.  Two other common
   methods include picking the first from the list, and remembering
   which address in the list gave the fastest response earlier and using
   that one.  There are probably other methods in use today.  However,
   the random method listed above SHOULD be used for priming.

3.3.  DNSSEC with Priming Queries

   [[ This section talks about sending the DO bit, but does not actually
   talk about validating the response to the priming query.  This became
   important after the root KSK rollover in 2018 because some resolvers
   apparently were validating and only had the old KSK, but were still
   sending RFC 8145 telemetry even after failing to validate their
   priming response. ]]

   The resolver MAY set the DNSSEC OK (DO) bit.  At the time of
   publication, there is little use to performing DNSSEC validation on
   the priming query.  Currently, all root name server names end in
   "" and the AAAA and A RRsets for the root server
   names reside in the "" zone.  All root servers are
   also authoritative for this zone, allowing priming responses to
   include the appropriate root name server A and AAAA RRsets.  But,
   because the "" zone is not currently signed, these
   RRsets cannot be validated.

   A machine-in-the-middle attack on the priming query could direct a
   resolver to a rogue root name server.  Note, however, that a
   validating resolver will not accept responses from rogue root name
   servers if they are different from the real responses because the
   resolver has a trust anchor for the root and the answers from the
   root are signed.  Thus, if there is a machine-in-the-middle attack on
   the priming query, the results for a validating resolver could be a
   denial of service, or the attacker seeing queries while returning
   good answers, but not the resolver's accepting the bad responses.

   If the "" zone is later signed, or if the root
   servers are named in a different zone and that zone is signed, having
   DNSSEC validation for the priming queries might be valuable.

4.  Priming Responses

   A priming query is a normal DNS query.  Thus, a root name server
   cannot distinguish a priming query from any other query for the root
   NS RRset.  Thus, the root server's response will also be a normal DNS

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4.1.  Expected Properties of the Priming Response

   The priming response is expected to have an RCODE of NOERROR, and to
   have the Authoritative Answer (AA) bit set.  Also, it is expected to
   have an NS RRset in the Answer section (because the NS RRset
   originates from the root zone), and an empty Authority section
   (because the NS RRset already appears in the Answer section).  There
   will also be an Additional section with A and/or AAAA RRsets for the
   root name servers pointed at by the NS RRset.

   Resolver software SHOULD treat the response to the priming query as a
   normal DNS response, just as it would use any other data fed to its
   cache.  Resolver software SHOULD NOT expect exactly 13 NS RRs
   because, historically, some root servers have returned fewer.

4.2.  Completeness of the Response

   There are currently 13 root servers.  All have one IPv4 address and
   one IPv6 address.  Not even counting the NS RRset, the combined size
   of all the A and AAAA RRsets exceeds the original 512-octet payload
   limit from [RFC1035].

   In the event of a response where the Additional section omits certain
   root server address information, re-issuing of the priming query does
   not help with those root name servers that respond with a fixed order
   of addresses in the Additional section.  Instead, the recursive
   resolver needs to issue direct queries for A and AAAA RRsets for the
   remaining names.  Currently, these RRsets would be authoritatively
   available from the root name servers.

   If the Additional section is truncated, there is no expectation that
   the TC bit in the response will be set to 1.  At the time that this
   document is written, many of the root servers are not setting the TC
   bit on responses with a truncated Additional section.

5.  Post-Priming Strategies

   [[ Describe some common post-priming strategies for picking which RSI
   to use for queries sent to the root, such as "always use the
   fastest", "create buckets of fastness and pick randomly in the
   buckets", and others. ]]

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6.  Security Considerations

   Spoofing a response to a priming query can be used to redirect all of
   the queries originating from a victim recursive resolver to one or
   more servers for the attacker.  Until the responses to priming
   queries are protected with DNSSEC, there is no definitive way to
   prevent such redirection.

   An on-path attacker who sees a priming query coming from a resolver
   can inject false answers before a root server can give correct
   answers.  If the attacker's answers are accepted, this can set up the
   ability to give further false answers for future queries to the
   resolver.  False answers for root servers are more dangerous than,
   say, false answers for Top-Level Domains (TLDs), because the root is
   the highest node of the DNS.  See Section 3.3 for more discussion.

   In both of the scenarios above, a validating resolver will be able to
   detect the attack if its chain of queries comes to a zone that is
   signed, but not for those that are unsigned.

7.  IANA Considerations

   This document does not require any IANA actions.

8.  References

8.1.  Normative References

   [RFC1034]  Mockapetris, P. and RFC Publisher, "Domain names -
              concepts and facilities", STD 13, RFC 1034,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC1034, November 1987,

   [RFC1035]  Mockapetris, P. and RFC Publisher, "Domain names -
              implementation and specification", STD 13, RFC 1035,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC1035, November 1987,

   [RFC2119]  Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
              Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC2119, March 1997,

   [RFC3226]  Gudmundsson, O. and RFC Publisher, "DNSSEC and IPv6 A6
              aware server/resolver message size requirements",
              RFC 3226, DOI 10.17487/RFC3226, December 2001,

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   [RFC4033]  Arends, R., Austein, R., Larson, M., Massey, D., Rose, S.,
              and RFC Publisher, "DNS Security Introduction and
              Requirements", RFC 4033, DOI 10.17487/RFC4033, March 2005,

   [RFC5452]  Hubert, A., van Mook, R., and RFC Publisher, "Measures for
              Making DNS More Resilient against Forged Answers",
              RFC 5452, DOI 10.17487/RFC5452, January 2009,

   [RFC6891]  Damas, J., Graff, M., Vixie, P., and RFC Publisher,
              "Extension Mechanisms for DNS (EDNS(0))", STD 75,
              RFC 6891, DOI 10.17487/RFC6891, April 2013,

   [RFC8109]  Koch, P., Larson, M., Hoffman, P., and RFC Publisher,
              "Initializing a DNS Resolver with Priming Queries",
              BCP 209, RFC 8109, DOI 10.17487/RFC8109, March 2017,

   [RFC8174]  Leiba, B., "Ambiguity of Uppercase vs Lowercase in RFC
              2119 Key Words", BCP 14, RFC 8174, DOI 10.17487/RFC8174,
              May 2017, <>.

   [RFC8499]  Hoffman, P., Sullivan, A., Fujiwara, K., and RFC
              Publisher, "DNS Terminology", BCP 219, RFC 8499,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC8499, January 2019,

8.2.  Informative References

              "History of the Root Server System", 2016,

              "RSSAC Lexicon", 2020,

Appendix A.  Acknowledgements

   RFC 8109 was the product of the DNSOP WG and benefitted from the
   reviews done there.

Authors' Addresses

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   Peter Koch
   Kaiserstrasse 75-77
   60329 Frankfurt
   Phone: +49 69 27235 0
   Email: pk@DENIC.DE

   Matt Larson

   Paul Hoffman

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