RFC 1034 requires us to assign at least two IP addresses for DNS servers. However, redundancy can already be achieved by a single IP address if we use anycast addressing. BGP anycast seems to scale well into hundreds or even thousands of servers.

If so, why do we still need multiple IP addresses for DNS servers? Does it actually enhance redundancy (contribute to availability) if we already have anycast in place, or is it just a myth?

What problems and errors can we expect to face if we only use a single IP address?

By that, I mean totally omitting secondary DNS addresses, or using a bogus IP (e.g. for the second address when some setups require at least two.


3 Answers 3


A single anycast IP address does not give you the same redundancy as two unicast IP addresses in distinct IP prefixes would.

Often the hardest problem for redundancy is not when something fails completely, but rather when it is misbehaving just enough to still pass the health checks, but not actually be functional.

I have seen an anycast DNS setup where a DNS server went down, but packets would still get routed to that DNS server. Whatever was taking care of advertising the prefix might simply not be aware, that the DNS server had gone down.

It becomes even more tricky if the DNS server in question is not an authoritative DNS server, but rather a recursive resolver.

Such a recursive resolver would need to have both the anycast address for receiving queries from clients and unicast addresses for querying authoritative DNS servers. But if the unicast addresses went down, it could easily look healthy enough that it would still be routed queries.

Anycast is a great tool for scalability and reducing latency. But for redundancy it should not stand alone.

Multiple redundant anycast pools is however a good solution for availability. A well known example is and Both are anycast addresses, but they should never be routed to the same physical DNS server (assuming Google did their job well).

If you have 10 physical DNS servers, you could configure them as 2 pools with 5 servers in each pool or 5 pools with 2 in each pool. You want to avoid having one physical DNS server be in multiple pools simultaneously.

So how many IPs should you allocate? You need to have IPs that can be configured as anycast independently of each other. That usually means you'll need to allocate an entire /24 of IPv4 address space or /48 of IPv6 address space for each pool. This may very well limit the number of pools you can have.

Additionally if we are talking authoritative servers the DNS reply with all your NS records and A and AAAA glue should fit in a single 512 byte packet. For the root servers this worked out to 13 addresses. But that did not include glue and IPv6, so the number you'd reach would be lower.

Each pool should be as geographically distributed as possible. If you have 5 servers in Europe and 5 in Noth America and 2 anycast IPs, you do not create one pool spanning each continent. You put 2 from Europe in a pool with 3 from North America, and the other 5 in the other pool.

If you have more than 2 anycast pools, you can let a physical server temporarily be in more than one pool. But you should never allow a physical server to be in all pools at the same time.

Combining anycast and unicast is possible, but care must be taken. If you have IPs for two pools, I wouldn't combine. But if you only have a single anycast IP to work with, it may make sense to also include unicast IPs. The problem is that including unicast IPs will not give you as good latency and load balancing.

If a physical server is made available by both unicast and anycast, you may risk users reaching the same server as primary and secondary and lose access if it goes down. This can be avoided by only using unicast addresses of servers not in the anycast pool or by always providing users with two unicast addresses.

The more unicast addresses you put into the mix, the less queries will be sent to the anycast address, and the less benefit you will get from anycast in terms of latency and scalability.

  • Do you mean that the best way to achieve scalability is to employ many secondary unicast addresses (a.k.a the old way of setting ns1.domain, ns2.d, ns3.d ... ns300.d) instead of using anycast?
    – Pacerier
    May 13, 2014 at 9:07
  • @Pacerier No, that is not what I mean. I'll clarify that in my answer.
    – kasperd
    May 13, 2014 at 9:10
  • +1. A routing error may even lead your unicast into hell (dead end). Having a second separate address means that you have more than one "ticket" in for that ;)
    – TomTom
    May 13, 2014 at 9:18
  • 2
    +1 I'd like to add that adding a bogus ip as second address sounds like a horrendous idea
    – Reaces
    May 13, 2014 at 9:56
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    @Pacerier you do get load balancing from using multiple unicast addresses. The problem is the latency, clients simply don't know which IPs are nearby and which are far away. It also cannot scale as far. You only get to use about 5 servers, if you want A and AAAA glue records to fit in 512 bytes. Combining one anycast and multiple unicast is problematic for load balancing, as you are likely to get more load on the unicast addresses than on the anycast address.
    – kasperd
    May 13, 2014 at 10:36

Best practice is to use at least two addresses from different prefixes and giving them a name under two different TLDs. Both those addresses can be anycast if you want. Having only one IP address will give you a single point of failure. If the routing to that address doesn't work (configuration error, an anycast instance not working correctly, the prefix being hijacked etc) then your whole domain becomes unreachable.

Every anycast address will require at least a /24 IPv4 or a /48 IPv6 prefix to be routable in BGP. Smaller (longer) prefixes will usually not be accepted in the global routing table in many places.

Never ever put in a bogus IP address as a DNS server. It will cause severe delays for resolvers.

  • Worse yet, that "bogus" IP address is somebody else's address. They would be receiving the queries. If they get annoyed with all of that traffic they could send replies with a high TTL to make it go away for a while.
    – kasperd
    May 13, 2014 at 10:44
  • @kasperd, What about special reserved IP addresses which belongs to no one?
    – Pacerier
    May 13, 2014 at 11:27
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    @Pacerier Using RFC 1918, 4193, or 6598 address space would limit the harm. But it would still cause resolution to be slowed down or even fail.
    – kasperd
    May 13, 2014 at 12:48

The RFC 1034 only states that you require two DNS servers. This isn't a mandatory requirement, but a recommendation, so do with it what you will. Regardless, if you want HA, your 2 DNS servers can be assigned the same IP using anycast, and the only thing your end users would notice when one DNS server fails, is a momentary lack of connectivity as the network reconverges.

So in summary, yes using anycast is sufficient to be RFC 1034 compliant.

  • Hmm, if a single IP address is all that's needed, why does Google offer two addresses ( and for their DNS servers? They already have anycast in place, so why not simply offer one address
    – Pacerier
    May 13, 2014 at 8:58
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    At a guess I'd say to not interrupt connectivity during network convergence? Because they're a global player and want to make sure they're as broadly scoped as possible to eliminate any possible point of failure? I'm not entirely sure, but I do know we can't all be google :)
    – Reaces
    May 13, 2014 at 9:01

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