[Pdns-announce] First release candidate of dnsdist 1.8.0

Remi Gacogne remi.gacogne at powerdns.com
Thu Feb 23 11:01:05 UTC 2023


We are very happy to release the first candidate of what will become 
dnsdist 1.8.0!

This release contains a significant amount of changes since the last 
major release, 1.7.0, which was released a bit over a year ago. We try 
to stick to a major release every six months, but this one took a bit 
longer than expected as we tackled a few challenges:

Low-end devices friendly

We know, based on the feedback we get from the users that interact with 
us, that dnsdist is used in a lot of different environments, from very 
large installations dealing with millions of queries per second to very 
small computers running in a closet somewhere! While we have until now 
been more focused on the first case, we have been getting a lot of 
interest coming from the very-low end of the spectrum: low-end devices, 
like customer premises equipment (CPEs), with very few resources. We 
realized that while other open-source components do a good job of 
providing traditional DNS services in that world, there is a need for 
software providing DNS over TLS and DNS over HTTPS support, to protect 
the confidentiality and integrity in the first mile of the internet access.

We knew that dnsdist was already successfully used on small devices, 
like raspberry pis, and that our memory and CPU usage was quite low, so 
we were surprised to learn that people were struggling to meet the very 
stringent requirements of some devices, and decided to have a look. This 
was a very interesting journey into flash-based filesystems of a few 
dozen megabytes, proportional set size memory usage, and low-powered CPUs.

Long story short, we managed to drastically reduce our memory usage and 
our CPU consumption, especially with very low QPS rates. We developed a 
new way of doing health-checking for these environments, only doing an 
actual active health-check after detecting failures from normal traffic. 
We also introduced a few options to reduce our binary size where it 
matters, like on OpenWrt builds.

OpenWrt integration

We wrote the necessary code to make dnsdist play nicely with OpenWrt's 
native configuration format, Unified Configuration Interface (UCI), so 
that it is easy to set up dnsdist via the usual interfaces, including 
the Web UI.

We also provide DHCP integration, so that dnsdist can learn about 
devices on the local network and provide native DNS resolution for these 

This integration is not yet merged into the OpenWrt tree as it requires 
some features that will only be available once 1.8.0 final has been 
released. Stay tuned, or reach out if you want a quick peak!

Hostile networks

We also realized that we could no longer rely on the network path 
between dnsdist and its backend to be trusted: while this is true when 
dnsdist is deployed on the same box, rack or datacenter as the backend, 
this no longer is when it is deployed on a CPE and instructed to forward 
its queries to a remote recursive resolver like Quad9.

Of course we strongly advise using DNS over TLS and/or DNS over HTTPS to 
secure that path, but this is unfortunately not always possible. We 
learned the hard way that in some countries ISPs are not only providing 
DNS over plain UDP only, without even supporting plain TCP, they are 
also still blocking attempts to connect to an external resolver via a 
more secure channel.

To work around that issue, we implemented new features to make dnsdist 
suitable as a proxy with an untrusted network path to the resolver, 
using well-known methods: random ports and random IDs. These are not 
enabled by default because they come at a cost, which we don't want to 
impose when it is not necessary.

Discovery of Designated Resolvers

It's one thing to support DNS over TLS and DNS over HTTPS both inbound 
and outbound, but it really does not help if the client does not know 
that you do, or if the configuration does not tell dnsdist that the 
backend does.

The IETF has been working for quite some time now on a new mechanism 
that leverages the SVCB record type to actually advertise that a secure, 
encrypted endpoint is available for use: Discovery of Designated 
Resolvers (DDR) [1].

Since 1.7.0 dnsdist has been able to advertise DoT and DoH support to 
the client via SVCB records, but that requires writing a few lines of 
Lua to configure it. In 1.8.0, we have integrated that process into the 
OpenWrt configuration, requiring a single click to enable DDR 
advertisement to all the local clients, allowing Android and iOS devices 
to automatically upgrade to a secure channel.

We also taught dnsdist how to use DDR to detect whether a given backend 
can be upgraded from plain Do53 to DoT and DoH, so that we switch to a 
secure channel as soon as it becomes available, and fallback to Do53 if 

Faster TLS

To be able to keep pushing for broader adoption of DoT and DoH, it is 
crucial to reduce the overhead of the encryption compared to plain old 
Do53. To do so, we have added support for:

- hardware-accelerated TLS via OpenSSL engines, like Intel Quick-Assist 
Technology (QAT) [2]

- Linux's kernel TLS acceleration [3], eliminating the need to copy data 
into user space and back for TLS operations

The technologies are still evolving quickly, and for now are marked as 
experimental in dnsdist but yields very promising results.

Second-chance lookups

The ability to act on a Server Failure, Refused, or any specific type of 
responses to trigger a second DNS lookup is a feature that regularly 
came up. It was not easy to implement given the existing design of 
dnsdist, but we refactored a fair amount of code in this release to be 
able to process queries and responses in an asynchronous way, paving the 
way for external lookups without blocking dnsdist and degrading performance.

This refactoring allowed us to finally implement that second-chance 
lookup, so that a query can be re-sent to a different pool of servers if 
the obtained response is not good enough.

User-defined metrics

It is now possible to define custom counters and gauges, that can be 
manipulated via the Lua API and are exported via the API and prometheus 
like built-in metrics.

New compilations options, Link-Time optimizations

We introduced several new compile-time options:

- Link-Time Optimizations (LTO): GCC, clang and the associated linkers 
now support a new mode of building a binary, where information about all 
the individuals components, called compilation units, is made available 
to the linker so that it can make better optimization decisions. We have 
now enabled these optimizations in our own packages, via the 
--enable-lto option.

- For a long time, we have been automatically detecting if the compiler 
has support for the FORTIFY_SOURCE=2 hardening option, enabling it 
whenever possible. Recently a stronger version of that option has been 
supported by GCC and clang, FORTIFY_SOURCE=3. This stronger version can 
be enabled by passing either --enable-fortify-source=3 or 
--enable-fortify-source=auto to our configure, with the latter always 
selecting the best supported version. We have enabled the stronger 
version in our test suites, but not yet in our production builds, as we 
are not yet sure of the actual impact

- C++, as opposed to other languages, does not initialize its variables 
by default. This had led to a fair amount of security issues in the 
past, ranging from information disclosure to the ability to execute 
arbitrary code. We now have a new option, --enable-auto-var-init=zero, 
that can be used to zero-initialize all variables that are allocated on 
the stack. We have not yet enabled this option in our production builds, 
but we have enabled instead, in our test suites, a variant that 
increases the likelihood of detecting bugs by initializing the variables 
with specific patterns: --enable-auto-var-init=pattern

Users that can trade a bit of performance for stronger security 
guarantees are invited to enable both --enable-fortify-source=auto and 

And many other improvements

- A lot of new functionalities are now accessible via Lua: helpers to 
interface with the system network configuration, to get the MAC address 
of a client, to inspect and edit queries and responses

- The scalability of MaxQPSIPRule [4] has been improved on multi-core setups

- The handling of multiple Carbon servers was lacking, allowing a 
misbehaving Carbon server to impact other servers: this has now been fixed

- We introduced a new chain of rules, triggered after cache insertion

- Our eBPF and XDP code has been greatly improved by Pierre Grié, Y7n05h 
and Yogesh Singh

Security audit

In the second part of 2022 we have mandated a security audit from the 
Nixu team, to have a strong look at the new features we introduced in 
1.8.0 in particular (DDR, DNS over HTTPS, OpenWrt integration). This is 
the second audit of the dnsdist code-base realized by Nixu, and they 
were able to quickly focus on the new features. They went above and 
beyond what we expected, as they did last time, and found a potential 
issue in the way our ACL interacted with the OpenWrt system, in our not 
yet released UCI integration. In short, we were relying a bit too much 
on the OpenWrt firewall, and it might have opened access to the Do53, 
DoT and DoH ports from unintended network interfaces in some deployment 
scenarios where the firewall was not effective. We fixed that by being 
more restrictive in our default ACL.

Please see the dnsdist website [5] for the more complete changelog [6] 
and the current documentation. The upgrade guide is also available there 

Please send us all feedback and issues you might have via the mailing 
list, or in case of a bug, via GitHub [8].

We are immensely grateful to the PowerDNS community for the reporting of 
bugs, issues, feature requests, and especially to the submitters of 
fixes and implementations of features.

The release tarball [9] and its signature [10] are available on the 
downloads website, and packages for several distributions are available 
from our repository [11].

Best regards,

[1]: https://datatracker.ietf.org/doc/draft-ietf-add-ddr/
[3]: https://docs.kernel.org/networking/tls-offload.html
[4]: https://dnsdist.org/rules-actions.html?#MaxQPSIPRule
[5]: https://dnsdist.org
[6]: https://dnsdist.org/changelog.html#change-1.7.2
|7]: https://dnsdist.org/upgrade_guide.html#x-to-1-8-0
[8]: https://github.com/PowerDNS/pdns/issues/new/choose
[11]: https://repo.powerdns.com

Remi Gacogne
PowerDNS.COM BV - https://www.powerdns.com/

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