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V4/DNS Location Mechanism with per client override

Name: V4/DNS Location Mechanism with per client override
Ticket: #2008
Author: pspacek
Incomplete.png Pending review
Last updated: 2016-05-4 by Pvoborni


Author: Simo Sorce with help from Petr Spacek, Martin Basti, and others


This is a new proposal (Jan 2013) to support Location Based discovery in FreeIPA. It was inspired by this earlier proposal made a while ago. The main difference is that it simplifies the whole management by eliminating IP subnets and special client code while still maintaining a great deal of flexibility. The key insight being that different locations can configure the network to use different FreeIPA DNS servers, that are local to the location being considered.


Service Discovery is a process whereby a client uses information stored in the network to find servers that offer a specific service. It is useful for two reasons. First, it places the information required for the location of servers in the network, lessening the burden of client configuration. Second, it gives system and network administrators a central point of control that can be used to to define an optimized policy that determines which clients should use which server and in what order.

A standard for service discovery is defined in RFC 2782. This standard defines a DNS RR with the mnemonic SRV and usage rules around it. It allows a client to discover servers that offer a given service over a given protocol.

A drawback of SRV Records is that it assumes clients know the correct DNS domain to use as the query target. Without any further information, the client's options includes using their own DNS domain and the name of the security domain in which the client operates (such as the domain name associated to the Kerberos REALM the client refers to). Neither option is likely to yield optimal results however. One key service discovery requirement, especially in large distributed enterprises, is to choose a server that is close to a client. However in many situation binding the client name to a specific zone that is tied to a physical location is not possible. And even if it were it would not address the needs of a roaming client that moves across the networks. We cannot have the name of a client change when it move across networks as this break the Kerberos protocol that associates keys to a fixed host name for Service Principals.

The incompleteness of RFC 2782 is acknowledged by systems such as Active Directory that contain extra functionality to augment SRV lookups to make them site aware. The basic idea is to use a target in SRV service discovery that is specific to a location or "site" in AD parlance. Unfortunately AD clients rely on additional configuration or side protocols to determine the client "site" and it is quite specific to Microsoft technologies so the method they use is not easily portable and reusable in other contexts nor documented in Standards or informative IETF RFCs.

This document specifies a protocol for location discovery based exclusively on DNS. While the protocol itself can be fully implemented with a normal DNS the FreeIPA mechanism is augmented by additional 'location' awarness and will depend on additional computation done by the FreeIPA DNS plugins.


  • Clients are doing DNS SRV lookup specified in RFC 2782 to find out information about servers they should connect to.
  • There are sets of servers which are functionally equivalent but communication costs to different sets of servers vary.
  • For a client, it is 'cheap' to communicate with servers 'near' the client and it is more 'expensive' to communicate with 'remote' servers (higher latency, smaller throughput, pay-per-byte etc.).
    • Special case: Some clients are able to reach only subset of servers due to firewall restrictions etc.
  • Clients can roam among various networks so optimal set of servers changes from client's perspective. For this reason only one set of static DNS SRV records cannot suffice.
    • The DNS Locations feature will work only if TTL of DNS records is shorter than time which clients need to move between two locations.
  • Each location corresponds to a different network.
  • At least one of the FreeIPA servers in each location is a DNS enabled server.
    • In principle this might be relaxed to "DNS view per location" but then IPA needs integration with DNS views on external servers.
  • Clients in each location are configured to use local DNS server, which is (or forwards to) a local FreeIPA DNS server. In other words, the assumption is that a client in a specific location will generally query a FreeIPA server (possibly through forwarding or recursion) in the same location for location-specific information.
    • If DNS recursion is involved, we assume that recursor is intelligent enough to query nearest FreeIPA DNS server. This is commonly done by querying servers with shortest round trip time. The implicit logic in DNS recursors can be overridden by explicit forwarding configuration.
    • In principle this might be done using "DNS view per location" but then IPA needs integration with DNS views on external servers.

Current use of SRV records

Client queries for SRV records located in the domain/realm (example.com in the following example) and gets back all servers. Assuming that all DNS servers responsible for given zone are returning a static set of records, there is no way how to prioritize a server 'nearest' to the client at the moment. Consequently, all FreeIPA servers typically have the same priority (0) and weight (100):

;_ldap._tcp.example.com. IN SRV

_ldap._tcp.example.com. SRV 0 100 389 ipa-brno.example.com.
_ldap._tcp.example.com. SRV 0 100 389 ipa-london.example.com.

Use Cases

  • Roaming clients should connect to set of 'nearest' servers so communication is 'cheap'. When none of nearest servers is reachable, failover to remote servers might be desired.
  • Some clients might want to connect always to the same set of servers for some reason, i.e. server can be pinned to a location.
  • The mechanism can be re-used for non-IPA services. Generally any service which is using SRV records can be hacked in this way. This might require specifying location on per-zone basics.

Design (so-called DNAME per client)

The Discovery Protocol

The main point about this protocol is the recognition that all we really need is to find a specific (set of) server(s) that a specific client needs to find. The second point is that the client has 1 bit of information that is unequivocal: its own fully qualified name. Whether this is fixed or assigned by the network (via DHCP) is not important, what matters is that the name unequivocally identifies this specific host in the network.

Based on these two points the idea is to make the client query for a special set of SRV records keyed on the client's own DNS name. From the client perspective this is the simplest protocol possible, it requires no knowledge or hard decisions about what DNS domain name to query or how to discover it. At the same time is allows the Domain Administrators a lot of flexibility on how to configure these records per-client.

The failure mode for this protocol is to simply keep using the previous heuristics, we will not define these heuristics as they are not standardized and are implementation and deployment specific to some extent. Suffice to say that this new protocol should not impact in any way on previous heuristics and DNS setups and can be safely implemented in clients with no ill effects save for an additional initial query. Local negative caching may help in avoiding excessive queries if the administrator chooses not to configure the servers to support per client SRV Records and otherwise adds little overhead.

Client Implementation

Because currently used SRV records are multiple and to allow the case where a host may actually be using a domain name that is also already used as a zone name (ie the name X.example.com identifies both an actual host and is a sub-domain where clients Y.X.example.com normally searches for SRV records) we group all per-client location SRV records under the _location. sub name.

So for example, a client named X.example.com would search for its own per-client records for the LDAP service over the TCP protocol by using the name: _ldap._tcp._location.X.example.com

With current practices a client normally looks for _ldap._tcp.example.com instead.

It is a simple as that, the only difference between a client supporting this new mechanism and a generic client is only about what name is used as the 'base domain name'. Everything else is identical. Many clients can probably be already configured to use this new base domain. And clients that may not support it (either because the base domain is always derived in some way and not directly configurable or because clients refuse to use _location as a valid bade DNS name component due to the leading '_' character) can be easily changed. Those that can't be changed will simply fall back to use the classic SRV records on the base domain and will simply not be location aware.

The additional advantage of using this scheme is that clients can now use per-client SRV searches by default if they so choose because there is no risk of ending up using unrelated servers due to unfortunate host naming. If the administrator took the pain to configure per-client SRV records there is an overwhelming chance those are indeed the records the client is supposed to use. By using this as default it is possible to make client configuration free by default which is a real boon on networks with many hosts.

Changing defaults requires careful consideration of security implications, please read the #Security Considerations section for more information.

Server side implementation

Basic solution

The simplest way to implement this scheme on the server side is to just create a set of records for each client. However this is a very heavyweight and error prone process as it requires the creation of many records for each client.

A more rational solution

A simple but more manageable solution may be to use DNAME records as defined by RFC 6672. The administrator in this case can set up a single set of SRV records per location and then use a DNAME record to glue each client to this subtree.

This solution is much more lightweight and less error prone as each client would need one single additional record that points to a well maintained subtree.

So a client X.example.com could have a DNAME record like this: _location.X.example.com. DNAME Y._locations.example.com.

When the client X tries to search for its own per-client records for the LDAP service over the TCP protocol by using the name _ldap._tcp._location.X.example.com it would be automatically redirected to the record _ldap._tcp.Y._locations.example.com

Advanced FreeIPA solution

Although the above implementation works fine for most cases it has 2 major drawbacks. The first one is poor support for roaming clients as they would be permanently referring to a specific location even when they travel across potentially very geographically dispersed locations. The other big drawback is that admins will have to create the DNAME records for each client which is a lot of work. In FreeIPA we can have more smarts given we can influence the bind-dyndb-ldap plugin behavior.

So one first very simple yet very effective simplification would be to change the bind-dyndb-ldap plugin to create a phantom per-client location DNAME record that points to a 'default' location.

This means DNAME records wouldn't be directly stored in LDAP but would be synthesized by the driver if not present using a default configuration. However to make this more useful the plugin shouldn't just use one single default, but should have a default 'per server'.

Related tickets (incomplete list)
Roaming/Remote clients

Roaming clients or Remote clients have one big problem, although they may have a default preferred location they move across networks and the definition of 'location' and 'closest' server changes as they move. Yet their name is still fixed. With a classic Bind setup this problem can somewhat be handled by using views and changing the DNAME returned or directly the SRV records depending on the client IP address. However using source IP address is not always a good indicator. Clients may be behind a NAT or maybe IP addressing is shared between multiple logical locations within a physical network. or the client may be getting the IP address over a VPN tunnel and so on. In general relying on IP address information may or may not work. (There is also the minor issue that we do not yet support views in the bind-dyndb-ldap plugin.)

Addressing the multiple locations problem

The reason to define multiple locations is that we want to redirect clients to different servers depending on the location they belong to. This only really makes sense if each location has its own (set of) FreeIPA server(s).

Also usually a location corresponds to a different network so it can be assumed the if at least one of the FreeIPA servers in each location is a DNS enabled server and the local network configuration (DHCP) server serves this DNS server as the primary server for the client then we can make the reasonable assumption that a client in a specific location will generally query a FreeIPA server in that same location for location-specific information.

If this holds true then changing the 'default' location base on the server's own location would effectively make clients stick to the local servers (Assuming the location's SRV records are properly configured to contain only local server, which we can insure through appropriate checks in the framework)

This is another simple optimization and works for a lot of cases but not necessarily all. However this optimization leads to another problem. What if the client needs to belong to a specific location indipendetly from what server they ask to, or what if we really only have a few FreeIPA DNS servers but want to use more locations ?

One way of course is to create a fixed DNAME record for these clients, so the defaults do not kick in. However this is rather final. Maybe the clients needs a preference but that preference can be overridden in some circumstances.

Choosing the right location

So the right location for a client may be a combination of a preference and a set of requirements. One example of a requirement that can trump any preference is a bandwidth constrained location.

Assume we have a client that normally resides in a large location. This location has been segmented in small sub-locations to better distribute load so it has a preferred location. If we use a fixed DNAME to represent this preference when this client roams to a bandwidth constrained network it will try to use the slow link to call 'home' to his usual location. This may be a serious problem.

However if we generate the default location dynamically we can easily have rules on the bandwidth constrained location DNS servers that no matter what is the preference any client asking for location based SRV records will always be redirected to the local location which includes only local servers in their SRV records.

This is quite powerful and would neatly solve many issues connected with roaming clients.

DNS Slave server problem

Dynamically choosing locations may cause issues with DNS Slaves servers, as they wouldn't be able implement this dynamic mechanism.

One way to handle this problem is to operate in a 'degraded' mode where DNAME records are effectively created and the location is not dynamic per-client anymore. We can still have 'different' defaults per server if we decide to filter DNAME records from replication. However filtering DNAME records is also a problem because we would not be able to filter only location based ones, it would be an all or nothing filter, which would render DNAME records unusable for any other purpose. This restriction is a bit extreme.

Another way might be to always compute all zone DNAME records based on the available host records on the fly at DNS server startup, and then keep them cached (and updated) by the bind-dyndb-ldap plugin, which will include these records in AXFR transfers but will not write them back to the LDAP server keeping them local. This solution might be the golden egg, as it might allow all the advantages of dynamic generation, as well as response performance and solve the slave server issue and perhaps even DNSSEC related issues. It has a major drawback, it would make the code a lot more compicated and critical.

Overall implementation proposal

Given that the basic solution is relatively simple and require minimal if no client changes we should consider implementing at least part of this proposal as soon as possible. Implementing DNAME record support in bind-dyndb-ldap seem a prerequisite and adding client support in the SSSD IPA provider would allow to test at least with the basic setup. This basic support should be implemented sooner rather than later so that full dynamic support can lately be easily added to bind-dyndb-ldap support as well as adding the necessary additional schema and UI to the freeipa framework to mark and group clients and locations.

Security Considerations


Client Implementation

As always DNS replies can be spoofed relatively easily. We recommend that SRV records resolution is used only for those clients that normally use an additional security protocol to talk to network resources and can use additional mechanisms to authenticate these resources. For example a client that uses an LDAP server for security related information like user identity information should only trust SRV record discovery for the LDAP service if LDAPS or STARTTLS over LDAP are mandatory and certificate verification is fully turned on, or if SASL/GSSAPI is used with mutual authentication, integrity and confidentiality options required. Use of DNSSEC and full DNS signature verification may be considered an additional requirement in some cases.

Server Implementation

Given current integration with BIND (using bind-dyndb-ldap), the only way how to handle DNSSEC is to pre-generate all _location records for each client name at zone loading time. DNSSEC signing will then sign all the data as usual.

As a consequence, this pre-generation increases memory consumption and CPU time spent on signing by factor of ~ 2.3. Tested on zone with 10000 names using dnssec-signzone from BIND bind-9.10.3-7.P2.fc23.x86_64 with 2048 bit ZSK, 3072 KSK:

$ dnssec-keygen -a RSASHA256 -3 -b 3072 -f KSK -r /dev/urandom test.
$ dnssec-keygen -a RSASHA256 -3 -b 2048 -r /dev/urandom test.
$ time dnssec-signzone -3 0123456789 -S -K . -o test. dname.db
user	0m56.584s
$ time dnssec-signzone -3 0123456789 -S -K . -o test. nodname.db
user	0m24.881s

Zone file sizes:

23150974  dname.db.signed
10097345  nodname.db.signed


Version 1 of this proposal introduces separate sets of SRV records for each location.

Location cz will have one set of SRV records:

;_ldap._tcp.cz._locations.example.com. IN	SRV

_ldap._tcp.cz._locations.example.com. SRV 0 100 389 ipa-brno.example.com.
_ldap._tcp.cz._locations.example.com. SRV 3 100 389 ipa-london.example.com.

Location uk will have different set of SRV records (possibly with different priorities, weights, or even servers):

;_ldap._tcp.uk._locations.example.com. IN	SRV

_ldap._tcp.uk._locations.example.com. SRV 0 50 389 ipa-brno.example.com.
_ldap._tcp.uk._locations.example.com. SRV 0 200 389 ipa-london.example.com.

Clients are querying SRV records under client's FQDN prefixed with label _location name. This record contains redirection to a location into which the client is assigned. (From client's perspective is does not matter how the DNS server generated the redirection.)

;_ldap._tcp._location.client2.example.com. IN SRV

_location.client2.example.com. DNAME cz._locations.example.com.
_ldap._tcp._location.client2.example.com. CNAME _ldap._tcp.cz._locations.example.com.
_ldap._tcp.cz._locations.example.com. SRV 3 100 389 ipa-london.example.com.
_ldap._tcp.cz._locations.example.com. SRV 0 100 389 ipa-brno.example.com.

Following diagram summarizes proposed behavior (version 1): ExampleLocationsV1.svg

  • (A) The LDAP database contains records per each location ("Y.$LOCATION._location.$SUFFIX") and default records (Y.$SUFFIX)
  • (B) The DNAME record that overrides the default locations in format _location.$HOSTNAME DNAME $LOCATION._locations.$SUFFIX
  • (C) The DNS server in location using bind-dyndb-ldap generates DNAME records per host which replace client hostnames with cz location. A client from location cz will get SRV records with priority set for this location.
  • (D) The DNS server in location using bind-dyndb-ldap generates DNAME records per host which replace client hostnames with uk location. A client from location uk will get SRV records with priority set for this location. Please note DNAME record for client2 that has been overridden with the record stored in the LDAP database.
  • (E) Configuration for client2 has been overridden. The client is configured to contact location uk but DNS server returns results for location cz.
  • [1] Client is configured to use DNS locations and wants to connect to the closest LDAP server.
  • [2] Client send DNS query in format _ldap._tcp._location.$CLIENT_HOSTNAME to server in its location.
  • [3] DNAME records for each client has been dynamically created on DNS server (except override records).
  • [4] Server returns DNAME and CNAME (for old clients) records, the client has to ask server again to receive SRV records for the name returned by DNAME (CNAME).
  • [5] Server returns SRV records configured for this location (priority for servers located in CZ (Brno))

Comparison with Microsoft Active Directory Sites

Some administrators might be familiar with concept of Active Directory Sites. Please note that FreeIPA's DNS Locations are different in several aspects:

  • FreeIPA's replication topology is not affected in any way by DNS Locations
  • There is no concept of intra-site links between DNS Locations
  • Client's location is determined by DNS server used by the client for making DNS queries for records in FreeIPA primary DNS domain
    • All clients using particular DNS server always belong to one DNS Location
  • In current implementation, there is no way to statically configure a client to always use particular location
  • Clients are using standard DNS queries and generally do not need to be aware of concept of locations
    • Consequently, the facility will work with any standard-compliant client (please see #Assumptions)

One thing is common to AD Sites and FreeIPA DNS Locations:

  • Set of servers assigned to one site (in case of FreeIPA servers with highest priority) are assumed to be optimal choice for clients assigned to that particular site.

Summary of meeting 2016-02-04

  • Participants: Simo Sorce, Petr Spacek, Martin Basti
  • We will start with per sub-tree approach and deffer per-client overrides for now.
  • Keep in mind that bind-dyndb-ldap might get rid of GSSAPI. LDAPI mapping to a principal may change results from LDAP whoami.
  • LDAP schema and user interface has to be defined.
    • We should think about supporting DNS locations per (server & zone) so different zones can be assigned to different locations.











How to Test


Test Plan

DNS Location Mechanism with per client override V4.4 test plan


SRV Records: RFC 2782

DNAME Records: RFC 6672