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Some years ago I had to do several DNS changes over the course of several weeks as I moved bits of equipment from one data center to the other. At the time that I did this, about 95% of the nameservers in the world seemed to respect the TTL value, and about 5% ignored ours and made up their own. In other words, 95% of the traffic moved within the 15-minute TTL that we defined. Another 3% made it in the first hour, 1% in the first day, and a few stragglers took up to three days.

(Yes, OK, I'm confusing percentage of traffic with percentage of nameservers. Please insert handwaving.)

This was in about 2001, though, and we were using dinosaurs to transmit packets through the tubes. My guess is that today's nameservers are better-behaved, and there will be less of a problem with stragglers. Does anyone have a feel for what percentage of traffic will switch within the defined TTL these days? Are there still many nameservers out there that ignore TTL?

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I have no idea, but my gut feeling is that today it will be even worse then in the past. – Zoredache Oct 8 '09 at 0:19
I would've loved to have them all done in 3 days! I did a major change about that time (might've been 2002), and after two weeks, we finally realized that 1/3 of the root name servers were looking at a couple of development DNS servers that one of the other sysadmins had exposed to the outside world. (I still have no idea how the root servers knew about them). – Joe H. Oct 8 '09 at 19:12
up vote 12 down vote accepted

We moved recently and had all sorts of problems with DNS.

When we did the swing over most customers started hitting the new IPs right away. But some were still hitting the old IPs for weeks. We left a server up for a month or so. Eventually we went through the IIS logs on the old machine and called the customers telling them to flush DNS on there company or ISP DNS servers. That got the last of them moved over.

It was a small number of people that kept with the old IPs. Out of 20k customers, maybe 50 had issues after the first day.

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Thanks! That's about what I expected. A quarter of a percent isn't too bad for some types of traffic, though it's certainly very bad for others. – user10501 Oct 8 '09 at 19:05

(Very) long TTL values of weeks are in May 2011 honoured by most DNS resolving nameservers up to 2 weeks.

In a test using, having 50 global distributed active measuring point, with an A record TTL set to 99.999.999 = 165 weeks (precise: 165 weeks 2 days 9 hours 46 minutes 39 seconds), and a default TTL of 2 weeks (= SOA + NS TTL).

First lookup returns:

  • a TTL of 1 week, for 3 out of 50 measuring points
  • a TTL of 165 weeks, for 47 out of 50 measuring points

Consecutive lookups return (converted in to original TTL value):

  • a TTL of 1 week, for 3 out of 50 measuring points
  • a TTL of 2 weeks, for 46 out of 50 measuring points
  • a TTL of 165 weeks, for 1 out of 50 measuring points

A second test (using a different domain) where default TTL is set to 4 weeks (= SOA + NS TTL) results are below.

First lookup returns:

  • a TTL of 1 week, for 3 out of 50 measuring points
  • a TTL of 2 weeks, for 1 out of 50 measuring points
  • a TTL of 165 weeks, for 46 out of 50 measuring points

Consecutive lookups return (converted to full TTL length):

  • a TTL of 1 week, for 3 out of 50 measuring points
  • a TTL of 2 weeks, for 47 out of 50 measuring points
  • a TTL of 165 weeks, for 0 out of 50 measuring points

From the most well known/best connected public resolver services:

  • Google public DNS [ and] reduce to 1 day.
  • UltraDNS [rdns(1|2)] honour full 165 weeks.
  • Sprintlink [ns(1|2|3)] honour full 165 weeks.
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Personally, I would be much more concerned about whether short TTL settings are honored. Have you done similar research on this? For example, if TTL is set to 3600 seconds, will the cached records really expire after an hour? This is highly relevant to a cutover situation. The thought that a 165-week TTL would be honored is actually pretty scary, particularly when thinking about situations wherein I've been called in to clean up after someone else's mistakes. – Skyhawk May 8 '11 at 17:04
I think completely ignores ttl and just uses 24h. It certainly doesn't honor at least some lower ttls. Now I gotta find something to do for 24h. – Steven Parkes Jul 23 '11 at 2:30

I recently moved DNS for a few domains that host my personal site and project sites from GoDaddy to in-house DNS (yeah, literally my house). Overall, every site that I have remote access to respected the TTL and made the transition well. The same was reported by every friend I could ask to check, both via landline and mobile. The only problem, ironically, were the main caching DNS servers at $University where I work, which seemed to totally disregard TTL for cached queries (and even disregard the TTL value they were assigning to the cached result).

Seems like, overall, TTL should be well-respected. 56% of servers authoritative for .com and .net domains are running BIND, which obviously plays well with the standards. Cablevision/Optimum (at least in NJ) seems to be using Nominum CNS, which also respects TTLs.

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