DNS Messages

DNS Messages


Earlier in this section, we referred to DNS query and reply messages. These are the only two kinds of DNS messages. Furthermore, both query and reply messages have the same format, as shown in the figure 2.23 below.

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DNS Message Format

The semantics of the various fields in a DNS message are as follows:

  • The first 12 bytes is the header section, which has a number of fields. The first field is a 16-bit number that identifies the query. This identifier is copied into the reply message to a query, allowing the client to match received replies with sent queries. There are a number of flags in the flag field. A 1-bit query/reply flag indicates whether the message is a query (0) or a reply (1). A 1-bit authoritative flag is set in a reply message when a DNS server is an authoritative server for a queried name. A 1-bit recursion-desired flag is set when a client (host or DNS server) desired that the DNS server perform recursions when it doesn’t have the record. A 1-bit recursion available field is set in a reply if the DNS server supports recursions. In the header, there are also four number-of fields. These fields indicate the number of occurrences of the four types of data sections that follow the header.
  • The question section contains information about the query that is being made. This section includes (1) a name field that contains the name that is being queried, and (2) a type field that indicates the type of questions being asked about the name – for example, a host address associated with a name (Type A) or the mail server for a name (Type MX).
  • In a reply from a DNS server, the answer section contains the resource records for the name that was originally queries. Recall that in each resource record there is the Type (for example, A, NS, CNAME, and MX), the Value, and the TTL. A reply can return multiple RRs in the answer, since a hostname can have multiple IP addresses (for example, for replicated Web servers, as discussed in this section).
  • The authority section contains records of other authoritative servers.
  • The additional section contains other helpful records. For example, the answer field in a reply to an MX query contains a resource record providing the canonical hostname of a mail server. The additional section contains a Type A record providing the IP address for the canonical hostname of the mail server.

How would you like to send a DNS query message directly from the host you’re working on to some DNS server? This can easily be done with the nslookup program, which is available from most Windows and UNIX platforms. For example, from a Windows host, open the Command Prompt and invoke the nslookup program by simply typing “nslookup”.  After invoking the nslookup, you can send a DNS query to any DNS server (root, TLF, or authoritative). After receiving the reply message from the DNS server, nslookup will display the records included in the reply ( in a human-readable format). As an alternative to running nslookup from your own host, you can visit one of many websites that allow you to remotely employ nslookup. (Just type “nslookup” into a search engine and you’ll be brought to one of these sites.)