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Survey of Domain Verification Techniques using DNS

Document Type Active Internet-Draft (individual)
Authors Shivan Kaul Sahib , Shumon Huque , Paul Wouters
Last updated 2022-03-07
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Network Working Group                                           S. Sahib
Internet-Draft                                            Brave Software
Intended status: Informational                                  S. Huque
Expires: 8 September 2022                                     Salesforce
                                                              P. Wouters
                                                            7 March 2022

           Survey of Domain Verification Techniques using DNS


   Many services on the Internet need to verify ownership or control of
   a domain in the Domain Name System (DNS) [RFC1034] [RFC1035].  This
   verification is often done by requesting a specific DNS record to be
   visible in the domain.  This document surveys various techniques in
   wide use today, the pros and cons of each, and proposes some
   practises to avoid known problems.

Discussion Venues

   This note is to be removed before publishing as an RFC.

   Source for this draft and an issue tracker can be found at

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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   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
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   material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

   This Internet-Draft will expire on 8 September 2022.

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Copyright Notice

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

   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  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
   2.  Conventions and Definitions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
   3.  Verification Techniques . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
     3.1.  TXT based . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
       3.1.1.  Examples  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     3.2.  CNAME based . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
       3.2.1.  Examples  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
     3.3.  Common Patterns . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
       3.3.1.  Name  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
       3.3.2.  RDATA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
   4.  Recommendations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     4.1.  Targeted Domain Verification  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     4.2.  Targeted Service Verification . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
     4.3.  TXT vs CNAME  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
     4.4.  Time-bound checking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   5.  Email sending authorization . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   6.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   7.  Operational Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   8.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   9.  References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
     9.1.  Normative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
     9.2.  Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
   Authors' Addresses  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11

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1.  Introduction

   Many providers of internet services need domain owners to prove that
   they control a particular domain before they can operate a services
   or grant some privilege to the associated domain.  For instance,
   certificate authorities like Let's Encrypt [LETSENCRYPT] ask
   requesters of TLS certificates to prove that they operate the domain
   they are requesting the certificate for.  Providers generally allow
   for several different ways of proving domain control.  This document
   describes and recommends common practises with using DNS based
   techniques for domain verification.  Other techniques such as email
   or HTTP(S) based verification are out-of-scope.

   In practice, DNS-based verification takes the form of the provider
   generating a random value visible only to the requester, and then
   asking the requester to create a DNS record containing this random
   value and placing it at a location within the domain that the
   provider can query for.  Generally only one temporary DNS record is
   sufficient for proving domain ownership, although sometimes the DNS
   record must be kept in the zone to prove continued ownership of the

2.  Conventions and Definitions

   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.

   Provider: an internet-based provider of a service, for e.g., Let's
   Encrypt provides a certificate authority service or GitHub provides
   code-hosting services.  These services often require a user to verify
   that they control a domain.

3.  Verification Techniques

3.1.  TXT based

   TXT record-based DNS domain verification is usually the default
   option for DNS verification.  The service provider asks the user to
   add a DNS TXT record (perhaps through their domain host or DNS
   provider) at the domain with a certain value.  Then, the service
   provider does a DNS TXT query for the domain being verified and
   checks that the value exists.  For example, this is what a DNS TXT
   verification record could look like:   IN   TXT   "foo-verification=bar-237943648324687364"

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   Here, the value "bar-237943648324687364" for the attribute "foo-
   verification" serves as the randomly-generated TXT value being added
   to prove ownership of the domain to Foo provider.  Although the
   original DNS protocol specifications did not associate any semantics
   with the DNS TXT record, [RFC1464] describes how to use them to store
   attributes in the form of ASCII text key-value pairs for a particular
   domain.  In practice, there is wide variation in the content of DNS
   TXT records used for domain verification, and they often do not
   follow the key-value pair model.  Even so, the rdata portion of the
   DNS TXT record has to contain the value being used to verify the
   domain.  The value is usually a randomly-generated token in order to
   guarantee that the entity who requested that the domain be verified
   (i.e. the person managing the account at Foo provider) is the one who
   has (direct or delegated) access to DNS records for the domain.  The
   generated token typically expires in a few days.  The TXT record is
   placed at the domain being verified ("" in the example
   above).  After a TXT record has been added, the service provider will
   usually take some time to verify that the DNS TXT record with the
   expected token exists for the domain.

   The same domain name can have multiple distinct TXT records (a TXT
   Record Set), where each TXT record may be associated with a distinct
   service.  Having many of these may cause operational issues, and it
   is RECOMMENDED that providers use a prefix (eg "")
   instead of using the top of the domain ("APEX") directly, such as:  IN   TXT    "bar-237943648324687364"

3.1.1.  Examples  Let's Encrypt

   Let's Encrypt [LETSENCRYPT] has a challenge type DNS-01 that lets a
   user prove domain ownership in accordance with the ACME protocol
   [RFC8555].  In this challenge, Let's Encrypt asks you to create a TXT
   record with a randomly-generated token at _acme-
   challenge.<YOUR_DOMAIN>.  For example, if you wanted to prove domain
   ownership of, Let's Encrypt could ask you to create the
   DNS record:  IN  TXT "cE3A8qQpEzAIYq-T9DWNdLJ1_YRXamdxcjGTbzrOH5L"

   [RFC8555] (section 8.4) places requirements on the random value.

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   [GOOGLE-WORKSPACE-TXT] asks the user to sign in with their
   administrative account and obtain their verification token as part of
   the setup process for Google Workspace.  The verification token is a
   68-character string that begins with "google-site-verification=",
   followed by 43 characters.  Google recommends a TTL of 3600 seconds.
   The owner name of the TXT record is the domain or subdomain neme
   being verified.  GitHub

   GitHub asks you to create a DNS TXT record under _github-challenge-
   organization name [GITHUB-TXT].  The code is a numeric code that
   expires in 7 days.

3.2.  CNAME based

   Less commonly than TXT record verification, service providers also
   provide the ability to verify domain ownership via CNAME records.
   One reason for using CNAME is for the case where the user cannot
   create TXT records.  One common reason is that the domain name may
   already have CNAME record that aliases it to a 3rd-party target
   domain.  CNAMEs have a technical restriction that no other record
   types can be placed along side them at the same domain name
   ([RFC1034], Section 3.6.2).. The CNAME based domain verification
   method typically uses a randomized label prepended to the domain name
   being verified.

3.2.1.  Examples  Google

   [GOOGLE-WORKSPACE-CNAME] lets you specify a CNAME record for
   verifying domain ownership.  The user gets a unique 12-character
   string that is added as "Host", with TTL 3600 (or default) and
   Destination an 86-character string beginning with "gv-" and ending
   with "".

   To verify a subdomain, the unique 12-character string is appended
   with the subdomain name for "Host" field for e.g.
   JLKDER712AFP.subdomain where subdomain is the subdomain being

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   To get issued a certificate by AWS Certificate Manager (ACM), you can
   create a CNAME record to verify domain ownership [ACM-CNAME].  The
   record name for the CNAME looks like:

 `\_<random-token1>   IN   CNAME \`

   Note that if there are more than 5 CNAMEs being chained, then this
   method does not work.

3.3.  Common Patterns

3.3.1.  Name

   ACME and GitHub have a suffix of _PROVIDER_NAME-challenge in the Name
   field of the TXT record challenge.  For ACME, the full Host is _acme-
   challenge.<YOUR_DOMAIN>, while for GitHub it is _github-challenge-
   ORGANIZATION-<YOUR_DOMAIN>.  Both these patterns are useful for doing
   targeted domain verification, as discussed in section (#targeted-
   domain-verification) because if the provider knows what it is looking
   for (domain in the case of ACME, organization name + domain in case
   of GitHub) it can specifically do a DNS query for that TXT record, as
   opposed to having to do a TXT query for the apex.

   ACME does the same name construction for CNAME records.

3.3.2.  RDATA

   One pattern that quite a few providers follow (Dropbox, Atlassian) is
   constructing the rdata of the TXT DNS record in the form of PROVIDER-
   SERVICE-domain-verification= followed by the random value being
   checked for.  This is in accordance with [RFC1464] which mandates
   that attributes must be stored as key-value pairs.

4.  Recommendations

4.1.  Targeted Domain Verification

   The TXT record being used for domain verification is most commonly
   placed at the domain name being verified.  For example, if is being verified, then the DNS TXT record will have in the Name section.  Unfortunately, this practise does
   not scale very well.

   Many services are now attempting to verify domain names, causing many
   of these TXT records to be placed at that same location at the top of
   the domain (the APEX).

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   When a DNS administrator sees 15 DNS TXT records for their domain
   based on only random letters, they can no longer determine for which
   service or vendor the DNS TXT records were added.  This causes
   administrators to leave all DNS TXT records in there, as they want to
   avoid breaking a service.  Over time, the domain ends up with a lot
   of no longer needed, unknown and untracable DNS TXT records.

   An operational issue arises from the DNS protocol only being able to
   query for "all TXT records" at a single location.  If multiple
   services all require TXT records, this can cause the DNS answer for
   TXT records to become very large.  It has been observed that some
   well known domains had so many services deployed that their DNS TXT
   answer did not fit in a single UDP DNS packet.  This results in
   fragmentation which is known to be vulnerable to various attacks
   draft-ietf-dnsop-avoid-fragmentation-06.  It can also lead to UDP
   packet truncation, causing a retry over TCP.  Not all networks
   properly transport DNS over TCP and some DNS software mistakenly
   believe TCP support is optional draft-ietf-dnsop-dns-tcp-

4.2.  Targeted Service Verification

   One malicious service that promises to deliver something after domain
   verification could surreptitiously ask another service provider to
   start processing or sending mail for the target domain and then
   present the victim domain administrator with this DNS TXT record
   pretending to be for their service.  Once the administrator has added
   the DNS TXT record, instead of getting their service, their domain is
   now certifying another service of which they are not aware they are
   now a consumer.

   If services use a clear description and name attribution in the
   required DNS TXT record, this can be avoided.  For example by
   requiring a DNS TXT record at instead of at, a malicious service could no longer replay this without
   the DNS administrator noticing this.  The LetsEncrypt ACME challenge
   uses this method.

4.3.  TXT vs CNAME

   The inherent problem of a CNAME is that it cannot co-exist with any
   other data.  What happens when both a CNAME and other data such as a
   TXT record or NS record exist depends on the DNS implementation.  But
   most likely, either the CNAME or the other records will be silently
   ignored.  The user interface for adding a record might not check for
   this.  It might also break in unexpected ways.  If a CNAME is added
   for continuous authorization, and for another service a TXT record is
   added, the TXT record might work but the CNAME record might break.

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   Operational experience has also shown a vendor that provides two
   difference services, one requiring a CNAME and one requiring a TXT
   record for authorization that needed to be deployed at the same
   location.  If both services would have used a TXT record, this would
   not have caused any problems.

   Another issues with CNAME records is that they MUST NOT point to
   another CNAME.  But where this might be true in an initial
   deployment, if the target that the CNAME points to is changed from a
   non-CNAME record to a CNAME record, some DNS software might no longer
   resolve this as expected.

   Early web based DNS administration tools did not always have the TXT
   record available in a pulldown menu for DNS record types, while CNAME
   would be available.  However as many anti-spam meassures now require
   TXT records, this support is now generally available.  It is
   recommended that the CNAME method is only used for delegating
   authorization to an actual subdomain, for example:   IN   CNAME

4.4.  Time-bound checking

   After domain verification is done, there is no need for the TXT or
   CNAME record to continue to exist as the presence of the domain-
   verifying DNS record for a service only implies that a user with
   access to the service also has DNS control of the domain at the time
   the code was generated.  It should be safe to remove the verifying
   DNS record once the verification is done and the service provider
   doing the verification should specify how long the verification will
   take (i.e. after how much time can the verifying DNS record be
   deleted).  However, despite this, some services ask the record to
   exist in perpetuity [ATLASSIAN-VERIFY].

   If a provider will use the DNS TXT record only for a one-time
   verification, it is RECOMMENDED that they clearly indicate this in
   the RDATA of the TXT record, so a DNS administrator at the target
   domain can easilly spot an obsolete record in the future.  For
   example:  IN TXT "type=activation_only
   expiry=2023-10-12 token=TOKENDATA"

   If a provider requires the continued precense of the TXT record as
   proof that the domain owner is still authorizing the service, this
   should also be clear from the TXT record RDATA.  For example:

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   expiry=never token=TOKENDATA"

5.  Email sending authorization

   Some vendors use a hosted service that wants to generate emails that
   appear to be from the customer.  When a customer has deployed anti-
   spam meassures such as DKIM [RFC6376], DMARC [RFC7489] or SPF
   [RFC7208], the vendor's mail service needs to be added to the list of
   allowed mail servers.  However, some customers might not want to give
   permission for a vendor to send emails from their entire domain.  It
   is recommended that a vendor uses a subdomain.  If the vendor's
   domain is, and the customer domain is example-, the vendor could use the subdomain example- to send emails.  Alternatively, the
   customer could delegate a subdomain example-vendor.example- to the vendoer for email sending, as those email
   addresses would have a stronger origin appearance of being emails
   send by the customer to their clients.

   Besides requiring proof of ownership of the domain, the customer
   needs to authorize the hosted service to send email on their behalf.

6.  Security Considerations

   Both the provider and the service being authenticated and authorized
   should be obvious from the TXT content to prevent malicious services
   from misleading the domain owner into certifying a different provider
   or service.

   It is RECOMMENDED that DNSSEC [RFC4033] is employed by the domain
   owner.  A service provider MUST enable DNSSEC validation when
   verifying doman name challanges to protect against domain name

7.  Operational Considerations

   It is often consumers of the provider services that are not DNS
   experts that need to relay information from a provider's website to
   their local DNS administrators.  The exact DNS record type, content
   and location is often not clear when the DNS administrator receives
   the information.  It is RECOMMENDED that providers offer extremely
   detailed help pages, that are accessible without needing a login on
   the provider website, as the DNS adminstrator often has no login
   account on the provider service website.  It is recommended that any
   instructions given by the provider contains the entire DNS record
   using a Fully Qualified Domain Name (FQDN).

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8.  IANA Considerations

   This document has no IANA actions.

9.  References

9.1.  Normative References

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

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

   [RFC1464]  Rosenbaum, R., "Using the Domain Name System To Store
              Arbitrary String Attributes", RFC 1464,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC1464, May 1993,

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

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

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

9.2.  Informative References

              AWS, "Option 1: DNS Validation", n.d.,

              Atlassian, "Verify over DNS", n.d.,

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              GitHub, "Verifying your organization's domain", n.d.,

              Google, "CNAME record values", n.d.,

              Google, "TXT record values", n.d.,

              Let's Encrypt, "Challenge Types: DNS-01 challenge", 2020,

   [RFC6376]  Crocker, D., Ed., Hansen, T., Ed., and M. Kucherawy, Ed.,
              "DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) Signatures", STD 76,
              RFC 6376, DOI 10.17487/RFC6376, September 2011,

   [RFC7208]  Kitterman, S., "Sender Policy Framework (SPF) for
              Authorizing Use of Domains in Email, Version 1", RFC 7208,
              DOI 10.17487/RFC7208, April 2014,

   [RFC7489]  Kucherawy, M., Ed. and E. Zwicky, Ed., "Domain-based
              Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance
              (DMARC)", RFC 7489, DOI 10.17487/RFC7489, March 2015,

   [RFC8555]  Barnes, R., Hoffman-Andrews, J., McCarney, D., and J.
              Kasten, "Automatic Certificate Management Environment
              (ACME)", RFC 8555, DOI 10.17487/RFC8555, March 2019,



Authors' Addresses

   Shivan Sahib
   Brave Software

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   Shumon Huque

   Paul Wouters

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