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I was reading about DNS some days ago and learned how the requests are processed. If you surf to www.example.com, then a request will go to the Root Name Servers to see who owns that .com address, then another request will go to another, more local, DNS server to see who owns the example.com address and so on.

How is it technically possible that the 13 Root Name Servers can handle all requests done by earth's billions of Internet users simultaneosly without beeing ddos:ed?

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By the way, your summary of the way the DNS works is wrong. The question asked to the root name server is not "who owns .com?" but "what is the IP address of www.example.com?" (the root name server replies by a reference to the owner of .com). The root name server sees the entire query (which is useful for statistics, data mining, etc). –  bortzmeyer Mar 3 '13 at 8:45

4 Answers 4

up vote 43 down vote accepted

They're 13 highly available clusters of servers, not simply 13 servers.

Among other things, root nameserver operators are required to have enough capacity to handle three times their normal traffic load (RFC 2870). This leads to rather large clusters.

However, the root nameservers only serve responses for the top level domains themselves, i.e. com., net., uk., ae., etc., and the nameservers which query the root can cache this information up to 48 hours, which dramatically reduces the load at the root nameservers. This leads to smaller clusters.

The root nameservers are in over 130 physical locations in 53 countries; with only 13 server names, this is done through the magic of IPv4 anycast.

The root nameservers also have their own web site, which you may find interesting reading.

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48 h is the TTL of the NS records at the root. But it can be overriden by the name servers of the TLD itself. For instance, for .jp, it is only 24 h. –  bortzmeyer Mar 3 '13 at 8:46
    
Well, we are talking about the root nameservers here. :) –  Michael Hampton Mar 3 '13 at 8:47
    
RFC 2870 is quite outdated today. Because of the dDoS attacks, a root name server has to be ready to answer much more than three times its normal traffic. –  bortzmeyer Mar 3 '13 at 8:47
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53 countries? is it a coincidence or they chose it just like the DNS query port?? :D –  amyassin Mar 3 '13 at 13:34

They don't. The root nameservers just have to tell you what nameservers handle com. From then on, you don't need to go to them to handle any domain inside com. The root nameservers have no idea who owns example.com. They're root nameservers, not com nameservers.

What slimsuperhero said is also true. Many high-volume nameservers use anycast to have a single IP address served by a number of servers around the world.

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But if 1 billion users were surfing to different .com adresses at the same second, would the root name servers handle all requests? –  Rox Mar 3 '13 at 8:27
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No. For one thing, users only talk to recursive nameservers (those that connect to other nameservers to get answers) and the root nameservers aren't recursive (they only serve local information they already know). Users talk to their own nameservers (usually provided by their ISP) who only need to ask the root nameservers once for the servers that handle com. –  David Schwartz Mar 3 '13 at 8:29
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@DavidSchwartz is correct - so instead of one billion requests from one billion users they'd only get roughly one million requests from one million ISPs, each of which serves a thousand users. –  Shadur Mar 3 '13 at 11:08
    
@Shadur: Now, the nameservers for com on the other hand must take a much more massive beating. –  David Schwartz Mar 3 '13 at 11:16
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And I'm fairly sure they're scaled and clustered appropriately. –  Shadur Mar 3 '13 at 11:18

Each root server is not actually a server, they are huge clusters of servers. In addition to this, DNS answers are cached so not every request reaches the root server.

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Note that you do not use the root servers. You usually use the DNS server provided by your Internet Service Provider which usually can respond immediately if the information you need is in their local cache. Only if not cached, their upstream DNS server is asked and only eventually is the root server asked (and that response is then cached)

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