I'm working on a setup with two datacenters linked by a MAN (bridged) and everything is doubled between them, in fail-over mode with RedHat Cluster, DRBD and that kinf of things.

I have one DNS server for each location, but it turns out that having both in /etc/resolv.conf doesn't help much; if one goes down, the client waits 10s or so half of the time. In other words, it's using them for load balancing, not fail-over. So I configured the two servers to use a VIP with ucarp (≈VRRP).

Is there a way to have my two DNS servers both be up and, for example, respond to the same IP, all the time? It's no big deal if one NS resquest gets two answers.

Is there a way to do this with Anycast / Multicast and so on?

Edit: turns out anycast won't do me any good in my scenario, I have only static routes, and most traffic is actually through a bridge.

What would be interesting would be a way to have two DNS servers answer to requests on the same IP, if that's somehow possible.

  • 2
    Watch out for RedHat Cluster. Basically it's a joke. For example, their documentation says "Troubleshooting: Call support". They don't support redundant heartbeat networks and support doesn't understand why this is desirable. If the cluster manager freezes due to a bug, there can be no way to recover (sadly I ran into such bugs -many- times). If a fencing operation fails, there can be no way to recover, leaving the cluster manager totally unresponsive.
    – carlito
    Jun 4 '09 at 5:36

11 Answers 11


Anycast DNS would allow you to configure one resolver IP in all your clients; client requests would be forwarded to the 'closest' (from a network routing perspective) server.

If you tied the advertisement of the anycast VIP to a healthcheck (e.g. requesting the A record for a well known domain), then should one of your servers fail its route would be withdrawn. Once the network reconverged, all requests would be forwarded to the other device without any manual reconfiguration.

In terms of implementation, this can be done either through the use of hardware appliances (e.g. F5 Big IP, Citrix Netscaler), or through your own configuration. You can either run a routing daemon (e.g. Quagga) running on your DNS servers, or have some custom scripts that log in to your routers in order to change the state of each anycast VIP.

  • Thanks for the answer. It's clear that it's not what I'm looking for, though.
    – niXar
    May 31 '09 at 10:06
  • Could you clarify? I'm not sure that you can actually get a DNS request forwarded to multiple hosts unless you use Zeroconf/Bonjour with MDNS; at which point your DNS becomes decentralised anyway. Anycast with a healthcheck will give you failover in the same amount of time it takes for your network to reconverge around a lost link. May 31 '09 at 10:18
  • Well I can already do that with ucarp/VRRP and a VIP, no need to fiddle with the routing. Note that this is a private server, for internal use between our two DCs, not a public one.
    – niXar
    May 31 '09 at 10:37
  • Fair enough - out of interest, what are you using as your health check for ucarp/VRRP? A DNS request, or just ICMP reachability? May 31 '09 at 10:46
  • ucarp uses its own protocol (UDP multicast if I'm not mistaken) for that purpose. I'm not monitoring the DNS server itself for that purpose, it's monitored by our nagios anyway. I'm more concerned here about network failures, I want the other side to have DNS when the MAN goes down for example.
    – niXar
    May 31 '09 at 12:45

You can massively mitigate problems by setting a couple of options in your resolv.conf:

options rotate timeout:2

rotate makes the resolver pick one of your nameservers at random, rather than using the first one unless it times out. timeout:2 reduces the dns timeout to two seconds, rather than the default value.

(NB: this was tested on Debian/Ubuntu, but I don't think this is a Debian specific change)

  • Ah thank you that was very helpful, somehow 'timeout' had escaped me
    – niXar
    Jun 4 '09 at 13:24

Fix the client - use a better resolver.

lwresd is part of Bind. It runs as a local service. You configure libc to use it via /etc/nsswitch.conf, so using it is transparent to all but statically compiled programs.

lwresd monitors the performance and availability of configured name servers (this is standard Bind behaviour). Should a host become unavailable, lwresd will back off from a server and send all queries to other configured servers. As it runs locally on each host, it should normally send all queries to the closest server.


I run an internal BGP anycast recursive DNS Cluster on two Linux Virtual Server (IPVS) Loadbalancers and it works like a charm.

The basic setup is described here: great: sorry, new users aren't allowed to add hyperlinks... (see for link below and later then)

The Problem with using VRRP for the Service IP is that it will wander between your two servers and thus your nameserver will need to bind to it quickly in order to be able to respond to queries in the case of a failover. You could work around this by NATing just as in my IPVS setup but i'd recommend loadbalancing with active service checks so you know when something is wrong.

Please note that while there are DNS implementations that make use of multicast (Apple Bonjour/mdns for example) these are usually not well suited for reliant or high volume recursive DNS service and are also commonly limited to use within the same collision domain i.e. LAN.


The simple dumb way:

Ask your linux to be much more aggressive on dns servers in resolv.conf: options timeout:0.1 rotate

So timeout is quick and rotate make him use both to round robin the load, without any VIP/VRRP/staff to manage, just 2 dns servers doing their job...


Anycast is frequently used to solve this requirement. Anycast DNS is the use of routing and addressing policies to affect the most efficient path between a single source (DNS Client) and several geographically dispersed targets that "listen" to a service (DNS) within a receiver group. In Anycast, the same IP addresses are used to address each of the listening targets (DNS servers in this case). Layer 3 routing dynamically handles the calculation and transmission of packets from our source (DNS Client) to its most appropriate (DNS Server) target.

Please see www.netlinxinc.com for an entire series of blog posts devoted to Anycast DNS. There you will find recipes for how to configure Anycast DNS. The series has covered Anycast DNS using Static Routing, RIP, and I will be posting recipes on OSPF and BGP shortly.

  • Thanks for the very interesting link. I'll be checking this out. Any tips as to when the line is drawn in terms of network complexity that this becomes an appropriate solution? May 31 '09 at 17:09
  • That's interesting, but anycast apparently isn't useful for me. The two locations are bridged; there are several vlans/zones but only for security purposes. There is at most one hop between two hosts.
    – niXar
    May 31 '09 at 19:07
  • Matt - Good question. I must admit, I have not thought of that, b/c my target audience is larger enterprise customers with complex DNS and network environments. They need it. Other smaller firms with less complex DNS environments may not require it, but it can still be applicable and benefit them just as well.
    – netlinxman
    May 31 '09 at 21:52
  • niXar, you're right... in a bridged environment it won't help you. I was quick to read your initial question.
    – netlinxman
    May 31 '09 at 21:53

If it's acceptable to have a few seconds of DNS failure before the swapover occurs, you can create a simple shell script to do this. Non working pseudocode follows:

currentns=`cat /etc/resolv.conf | grep nameserver | awk '{print $2}'`

while 1; do
    if ping -W1 -q -c3 -i0.5 $localns > /dev/null 2>&1; then
        # Local DNS is up
        [ $currentns != $localns ] || echo "nameserver $localns" > /etc/resolv.conf
        # Local DNS is down
        [ $currentns != $remotens ] || echo "nameserver $remotens" > /etc/resolv.conf
    sleep 2 # Will detect failures in no more than 5 secs
  • 1
    I'm doing something to the same effect with ucarp, only more reliable ...
    – niXar
    May 31 '09 at 12:18

If you are using load balancers anywhere in your site, you should be able to configure them to have DNS as a virtual service.

My Kemp Loadmaster 1500s can be setup to do round-robin with failover. That would use their service checking to make sure that each DNS server is up every few seconds and divide the traffic between the two servers. If one dies, it drops out of the RR pool and only the "up" server gets queried.

You'd just have to point your resolv.conf to the VIP on the loadbalancer.

  • Which is not a bad idea, actually, and I might start doing this. Never thought of it before. Thanks for asking this question! ;-) May 31 '09 at 11:34
  • Bear in mind, however, that if your load balancers go down (e.g. through bad config that is replicated to the pair) everyone loses DNS... May 31 '09 at 12:14
  • We use software load balancers. It's the same principle. However the idea here is for the DNS servers to stand alone, we don't want them depending on one more service / device.
    – niXar
    May 31 '09 at 12:19

You want DNS to be reliable. Adding a huge amount of complexity to the setup will cause an absolute nightmare when something breaks.

Some of the proposed solutions only work when the redundant DNS servers are at the same site.

The fundamental issue is that the DNS client is broken as designed. It doesn't remember when a server was unreachable, and keeps trying to connect to the same nonresponsive server.

NIS handled this issue by having ypbind keep state. A clumsy solution, but it usually works.

The solution here is to lean on vendors to implement a reasonable solution to this problem. It's getting worse with IPV6, as the AAAA requests are adding to the length of time spent wasted on timeouts. I have seen protocols fail (e.g. an sshd connection) because they spent so much time waiting on DNS timeouts due to a single unreachable DNS server.

In the interim, as has been previously suggested, write a script that replaces resolv.conf with one that contains only valid nameservers. Share this script with vendors to demonstrate the unclean solution that you were forced to implement.

This hasn't been seriously tested, and it assumes an nslookup that parses like mine, and a grep that supports "-q".

Run this out of cron every 5 minutes or so.

I'm not seriously suggesting that anyone actually use cron and a shell script for critical failover management, the error-handling surprises are just too great. This is a proof of concept only.

To test this for real, change the "nameservers=" line at the top, change resolv_conf at the top to /etc/resolv.conf not /tmp/resolv.conf, and the default header for resolv.conf that contains example.com.

You may need to restart nscd if you replace resolv.conf.

# full list of nameservers

# resolv.conf filename, change to /etc/resolv.conf for production use

# for tracking during the test

# test loop
for nameserver in $nameservers; do
    if nslookup localhost $nameserver | grep -q 'Address.*127\.0\.0\.1'; then
        good_nameservers="$good_nameservers $nameserver"
        failed_nameservers="$failed_nameservers $nameserver"

# if none succeded, include them all
if [ -z "$good_nameservers" ]; then

# error reporting, consider writing to syslog
if [ -n "$failed_nameservers" ]; then
    echo warning: failed nameservers $failed_nameservers

# create the temporary replacement resolv.conf
echo domain example.com  > $new_rc
echo search example.com >> $new_rc
for nameserver in $good_nameservers; do
    echo nameserver $nameserver >> $new_rc

# don't deploy a corrupt resolv.conf
if ! grep -q nameserver $new_rc; then
    echo warning: sanity check on $new_rc failed, giving up
    exit 1

# keep a backup
if [ -f $resolv_conf ]; then
    rm -f $resolv_conf.previous
    ln $resolv_conf $resolv_conf.previous
# deploy the new one
mv $new_rc $resolv_conf
  • 1
    Thanks for your contribution but my current solution with ucarp is, I believe, better than this.
    – niXar
    Jun 4 '09 at 13:28

I would first try duplicating your VRRP, but with an additional VIP. For each VIP, alternate the primary and backup nodes.

DNS1 = vip1 primary, vip2 secondary DNS2 = vip2 primary, vip1 secondary

Then have each of your client machines have both ips in the resolver. That way the load is spread across the nameservers, but if one goes down, the other one just takes over the additional load.


Any chance you have loadbalancers at both sites? If not you could homegrow with LVS.

Have a dns service address at each site that is a VIP on the loadbalancer. Then active/passive loadbalance each VIP across the two dns servers, favoring the local one.

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