So my company has a number of domains with a large registrar that shall go unnamed. We are making some changes to our DNS infrastructure and the first of those is we are moving our secondary DNS from one server on site to four servers offsite. So we updated the name servers for each domain at the registrar by removing the entry for the old secondary name server and adding the four new ones. I monitored the old secondary server for requests and when I saw no new requests had been made for 24 hours I shut it down. That was this morning. I assumed at this point everything was good. Unfortunately this was my mistake. I should have gone and made sure name servers at large were returning the correct NS records.

So this afternoon we were performing maintenance on our primary DNS server and we shut it down. This is when I started getting alerts from our external monitoring. I checked and sure enough, the DNS server used there reported the only NS record for our primary domain was the primary name server. The new secondary servers were not listed and neither was the old secondary.

Is it unreasonable of me to have assumed that because the update was from




in one step at the registrar that there should be no intermediate state where the only NS record was for ns1.mydomain.com?

Going forward to be safe obviously I will always leave the old name servers alone until after I'm 100% sure the new ones have propagated and only then remove the old name servers from the registrar. However, I'd still like to know if my registrar screwed up or if my expectation was unreasonable.

  • 1
    Sorry: you say "I checked and sure enough, the DNS server used there reported the only NS record for our primary domain was the primary name server" and then ask "Is it unreasonable of me to have assumed that because the update was from [two nameservers to five]". Clearly, your expectation is unreasonable, because it was at odds with reality. Modify your expectations accordingly. – MadHatter Oct 18 '13 at 20:37
  • Certainly I agree. However I don't think it's unreasonable for the registrar to perform the updates atomically instead of in two stages. This behavior is not desirable under any scenario I can think of. It causes issues like the one I experienced not to mention it is inefficient as it makes twice as many update requests to the parent zones as necessary. – Brad Oct 18 '13 at 21:14

Is it unreasonable of me to have assumed that because the update was from <... trimmed ...>


Generally speaking, it is unreasonable for you to make ANY assumption about ANY change performed through control panel software (except the standard assumption that it's going to screw up somehow).
That includes DNS registrar management interfaces (which are usually pretty awful on the back-end).

The changes you made were probably processed as two separate transactions (one removing the old server, one adding the new ones), and someone got your DNS information after the first transaction, but before the second.

You got bit here because you kind-of Did It Wrong - though in a way that many of us do.
For the future, when decommissioning DNS servers / replacing them with new ones the safe workflow is:

  1. Build and deploy your new DNS servers. Verify they are functioning correctly.
  2. Add the new DNS servers to the registrar's list of name servers.
  3. Wait (until the change has been picked up on the internet at large.)
    TTL-Dependent, but usually 24-48 hours is a good rule.
    • At this point you should start to see queries on the new servers.
  4. Remove the old DNS server from the registrar's list of name servers.
  5. Wait again (until the change is picked up on the internet at large)
    You should stop seeing queries going to the decommissioned server.
    As in (3), 24-48 hours is a good rule to go with.
  6. Unplug the old server and dispose of it per your company's policies.

That workflow guarantees that the worst-case scenario is that someone will have an extra (lame) NS listed because they're using the "Step 2" information, but they will always have all your new secondaries, so they should always be able to find at least one working name server for your domain.

You combined steps 2, 3, 4, and 5 into one step, and on the back end the removal (4) happened before the addition (2).
Chances are that would never have caused a problem except for your maintenance happening before everyone caught up with the "addition" part of the changes. It's a classic edge case and you landed on it.

Now you know, and knowing is 7/16ths of the battle.

  • 2
    As a historical sidenote, back in the day registrars batched their updates (typically one per day at like 3AM) and this sort of thing didn't happen often because you made your changes at "normal" hours. Of course when it did happen things got ALL KINDS OF SCREWED UP, which is where the "safe workflow" above comes into play -- 24 hours of having extra name servers while you wait for an update is way better than 24 hours of only having the one name server... – voretaq7 Oct 18 '13 at 21:12
  • Yeah well we all know what assuming does...I will definitely try to do it less. In any case hopefully I can use this to make the case to finally move away from this registrar as their "solutions" for our "network" are not very good. – Brad Oct 18 '13 at 21:16
  • @Brad You would likely experience similar problems with any registrar - unless you're explicit in your workflow (like the one I've outlined above) the order in which things happen is not 100% deterministic. That said, if you're not satisfied with your registrar for other reasons it is a highly competitive market these days - certainly plenty to pick from :) – voretaq7 Oct 18 '13 at 21:20
  • Yes you're almost certainly right about that, which is why I'd never try to shortcut the migration in the future. But yeah, there are definitely other reasons we need to switch. It's just good to use this as yet another excuse to switch. – Brad Oct 18 '13 at 21:24

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