[NOTE: The solution of this question is perfect, by something stray away from what the title indicates.]

I'm facing a small problem with Windows Server 2003 DNS service. In my corporation, I'm running Microsoft DNS server( to do name resolution to my company intranet(domain name ends in dev.nls. resolving to IP 172.16..), and it is also configured as a DNS forwarder to forward other domain names(e.g. *.google.com , *.sf.net) to Internet real DNS servers. This internal DNS server never tends to serve users from outside world.

And, we are running a mail server(serving incoming mail for a real Internet domain @nlscan.com) inside company firewall which can be accessed in either way:

  1. by connecting to from within intranet.
  2. by connecting to mail.nlscan.com(resolved to from Internet.

Note that and is not the same physical machine. The 202 one is a firewall machine who do port forwarding of port 25 and 110 to intranet address .

Now my question: If users inside corporate LAN want to resolve mail.nlscan.com, it resolves to That's correct and workable, BUT NOT GOOD, because the mail traffic goes to the firewall machine then bounces to . I hope that our internal DNS server can intercept the name mail.nlscan.com and resolve it to . So, I hope that I can write an entry in "hosts" file on to do this. But, how can Microsoft DNS server recognize this "hosts" file?

Maybe you suggest, why not have intranet user use to access my mail server? I have to say it is inconvenient, suppose a user(employee) works on his laptop, daytime in office and nighttime at home. When he is at home, he cannot use

Creating a zone for nlscan.com on our internal DNS server is not feasible, because the name server for nlscan.com domain is on our ISP, and it is responsible for resolving other host names and sub-domains under nlscan.com.


As WesleyDavid suggested, I follow the solution of simply create a zone named mailserver.nlscan.com and place a nameless A record in that zone . Time proves this works well.

  • +1 because this is exactly what I do. My internal DNS resolver points mail.example.com to 192.168... even though my primary DNS points mail.example.com to its internet IP for everyone else. I'd like to hear any downsides to this.
    – Cory J
    Apr 21, 2010 at 2:23
  • Hi, Cory, I'm afraid you don't get the fact right. Like joeqwerty says in this topic later: The hosts file is used by the DNS client resolver component, not the DNS server component. So, editing hosts on does not help the Microsoft DNS service.
    – Jimm Chen
    Apr 23, 2010 at 1:19
  • Jun, you can mark an answer as accepted so that others will know what the solution was. Glad it worked out for you! =)
    – Wesley
    Apr 23, 2010 at 3:41

5 Answers 5


The latter part of this post is wrong. I was under the impression, based on some stuff I had read on the web (if it's on the web, it must be true!) that part of the Windows DNS Server Service's tasks for creating its cache was to also load its host file into cache along with its local zone data. I searched around and couldn't find hard evidence of this. I tested the theory on my own Server 2008 R2 machine and found that the hosts file was not used to build the DNS Server's Cache.

However, I believe I have a slightly more elegant solution that Massimo. Instead of creating an authoritative zone for the entire nlscan.com zone, simply create a zone named mailserver.nlscan.com and place a nameless A record in that zone. The nameless A record will have the same name as the zone itself and you can give it the IP address that you want. All other domains underneath nlscan.com as well as nlscan.com itself will resolve by public DNS.

I just tested this out on my own Server 2008 R2 DNS server and was able to make my friend's website (nessus.nl) resolve via public DNS servers but the specific subdomain (blog.nessus.nl) resolve to an Apple.com IP address. Try it and see if it works for you.

Older, wrong post commences:

If my understanding is correct (EDIT: and it is not), when the DNS cache is built in the Server 2003 machine it pulls in entries from the hosts file as well as it's zone data. Placing mailserver.nlscan.com in your Server 2003 machine's hosts file should solve the problem. Restart your DNS services after changing your hosts file.

Use ipconfig /displaydns on any Windows machine (specifically, your Server 2003 DNS machine) to see your host file entries. Also keep in mind that negative responses are cached in your clients so always run ipconfig /flushdns on the clients that you're experimenting with. Otherwise you'll end up abusing yourself against various hard objects as you wonder why your clients can't resolve a name you just entered into a zone / hosts file. =)

Have you tried this and failed?

  • 2
    Windows Server 2003's DNS will not use the hosts file to resolve names. It will use its own data, forwarders or recursive queries, but not the local hosts file.
    – Massimo
    Apr 21, 2010 at 7:59
  • @Massimo you're right! I tested it out and failed. However, I think I took your suggestion and simplified it further to be a bit more elegant. Tell me what you think.
    – Wesley
    Apr 21, 2010 at 20:12
  • Removed the downvote :-)
    – Massimo
    Apr 21, 2010 at 20:21
  • @Massimo TY. And thanks for spurring me to test this out for myself. I learned a new thing. Always fun. =)
    – Wesley
    Apr 21, 2010 at 20:37
  • 1
    Dunno why you got dinged again, seems like a neat solution to a problem I come across regularly and it's a lot simpler than setting up shadowing for the entire (public) internet zone.
    – Helvick
    Apr 22, 2010 at 0:00

The desire to have internal users get internal IPs for resources while external users get external IPs for those same resources is common. It is referred to as split brain DNS. You have one DNS server that faces the internet and another internal DNS server for local users. Internal users use DHCP on your network and an your DHCP server you advertise the internal DNS server. When your users are away from the office, their DHCP server will assign them to a DNS server that will only know about the external zone.

You seem to want split brain DNS without actually hosting the zone internally. You suggest that hosting the zone internally is problematic because you don't want users to get the internal IP when they are working from home but that doesn't make sense because when they are at home they are getting their IP from a different DHCP server that isn't going to advertise your internal DNS server. It is going to advertise their ISP's DNS server which will only know about your external zone and will thus only provide them with external IP addresses.

Finally, I don't think you'll have success with asking a DNS server to serve records from the hosts file on the DNS server. A DNS server serves records from its zone files. The local hosts file on that DNS server propagates entries into the local client resolve cache which is applicable only to lookups on that machine. Those entries aren't served by the DNS server which is a different mechanism.

Read up on split brain DNS - it is the normal way to handle this situation.

  • "but that doesn't make sense" -- sorry, you get me wrong. Currently, I intend to have company staff at their home to resolve mail.nlscan.com correctly to, but not expect them to resolve somehomt.dev.nls at home(unless I set up an VPN server). And thank you for pointing out split-brain DNS. Since I only want a tweak for the name mail.nlscan.com in my company intranet, setting up split-brain DNS may not be so convenient.
    – Jimm Chen
    Apr 23, 2010 at 5:16

Wes: I'm not sure who dinged you but I'd like to clarify the use of the hosts file: The hosts file is used by the DNS client resolver component, not the DNS server component. An entry in the hosts file on a DNS server will be used by the DNS server when it's acting as a DNS client. For instance, an entry in my W2K8 DNS server's hosts file like this: test.test.com

is loaded into the DNS server's DNS client cache (not it's server cache). If I ping test.test.com from my DNS server it returns as expected. If I then run nslookup on the DNS server and ask it for test.test.com it returns the correct public ip address registered for test.test.com as the DNS client component on the DNS server is now asking the DNS server component for resolution (just the way any other DNS client would). It's a confusing idea to wrap your head around, but the DNS server is also a DNS client and when the DNS client component is called into action it acts as any other DNS client does by looking at it's own DNS client cache, including any entries pre-loaded from the hosts file. Only when the DNS client component uses the DNS server component (by querying the DNS server(s) configured in it's TCP\IP properties, which should be pointed to itself) will the DNS server's cache get populated with the correct information.

Any DNS client querying the DNS server will always get the "real" answer and not the hosts entry because the DNS server's DNS client cache is used by the server itself (as a DNS client) and not by the DNS server component.

  • Your tests and results mirrored my quest this afternoon exactly. For some reason I thought I had read that the DNS server service also used the hosts file to seed it's cache, not just the resolver. Just call us Savage and Hyneman! =)
    – Wesley
    Apr 22, 2010 at 0:58
  • Savage and Hyneman, that is awesome! But who's who? Please don't tell me I have to grow a walrus moustache and start wearing a beret. ;)
    – joeqwerty
    Apr 22, 2010 at 1:46

As far as I know, there is no way to make Windows DNS use the hosts file to handle name resolution; but this is not needed.

You can safely create a zone on your internal DNS server with the same name as a public Internet zone; what will happen is, your server will handle requests for names in that zone using its own data, instead of forwarding those requests to the authoritative name servers for that zone; this is sometimes called "shadowing", because it makes the "real" public zone unavailable to internal client, answering instead with "fake" data.

What you should be careful about is, you should populate this internal zone with all the names you will need, even using public IP addresses where needed; otherwise, internal clients wil be unable to resolve those names.

Let's say your public zone looks like this:


You want internal clients to resolve mail.nlscan.com as; that's ok, so you create a "nlscan.com" zone on your internal DNS server and put "mail.nlscan.com ->" in it.
But now your internal clients can't resolve "www.nlscan.com", because the server thinks it's authoritative for that zone, so it won't answer the query (because it doesn't know about that host), but it also won't forward it to anyone.
To solve this, you need to put "www.nlscan.com" too inside your internal zone; it can point to its real public IP address if you want your clients to access it that way, or you could use the same redirecting you're using for "mail.nlscan.com", if "www" is also being forwarded by your firewall to some internal server.
The same principle applies to any name in the zone.

This setup will not have any impact on external clients, or on any of your users which is temporarily outside your network, because that internal "shadow" zone will never be visible from the Internet.

  • 1
    I don't think you need to make an authoritative zone for the entire nlscan.com domain. I think you can make a subdomain: mailserver.nlscan.com and then create a nameless A record. See my post for more detail.
    – Wesley
    Apr 21, 2010 at 20:13
  • Yes, that would work; and would actually be simpler... if you only need to redirect a single host; if you need to redirect some of them, a full zone would be better.
    – Massimo
    Apr 21, 2010 at 20:18
  • add nlscan.com to your conditional forwarder folder in the DNS server
    – user322693
    Nov 17, 2015 at 14:10

Nevermind the hostfile, just add a new zone in the DNS mail.domain.com and add a a host in the zone. leave the name blank (it will automatically use the name of the zone) and enter the IP address of the local mail server ;-)

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