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Part 2: Querying a DNS Server

As indicated in the Figure 1, the client queries a preferred DNS server. The actual server used during the initial client/server query part of the process is selected from a global list.

When the DNS server receives a query, it first checks to see if it can answer the query authoritatively, based on resource record information contained in a locally configured zone on the server. If the queried name matches a corresponding resource record in local zone information, the server answers authoritatively, using this information to resolve the queried name.

If no zone information exists for the queried name, the server then checks to see if it can resolve the name using locally cached information from previous queries. If a match is found here, the server answers with this information. Again, if the preferred server can answer with a positive matched response from its cache to the requesting client, the query is completed.

If the queried name does not find a matched answer at its preferred server—either from its cache or zone information—the query process can continue, using recursion to fully resolve the name. This involves assistance from other DNS servers to help resolve the name. By default, the DNS client service asks the server to use a process of recursion to fully resolve names on behalf of the client before returning an answer. In most cases, the DNS server is configured by default to support the recursion process, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2

By default, the DNS server is configured to support the recursion process.

In order for the DNS server to do recursion properly, it first needs some helpful contact information about other DNS servers in the DNS domain namespace. This information is provided in the form of root hints, a list of preliminary resource records that can be used by the DNS service to locate other DNS servers that are authoritative for the root of the DNS domain namespace tree. Root servers are authoritative for the domain root and top-level domains in the DNS domain namespace tree.

By using root hints to find root servers, a DNS server is able to complete the use of recursion. In theory, this process enables any DNS server to locate the servers that are authoritative for any other DNS domain name used at any level in the namespace tree.

For example, consider the use of the recursion process to locate the name "hostb.example.microsoft.com." when the client queries a single DNS server. The process occurs when a DNS server and client are first started and have no locally cached information available to help resolve a name query. It assumes that the name queried by the client is for a domain name about which the server has no local knowledge, based on its configured zones.

First, the preferred server parses the full name, and determines that it needs the location of the server that is authoritative for the top-level domain, "com". It then uses an iterative query to the "com" DNS server to obtain a referral to the "microsoft.com" server. Next, a referral answer comes from the "microsoft.com" server to the DNS server for "example.microsoft.com".

Finally, the "example.microsoft.com." server is contacted. Because this server contains the queried name as part of its configured zones, it responds authoritatively back to the original server that initiated recursion. When the original server receives the response indicating that an authoritative answer was obtained to the requested query, it forwards this answer back to the requesting client, and the recursive query process is completed.

Although the recursive query process can be resource-intensive, it has some performance advantages for the DNS server. For example, during the recursion process, the DNS server performing the recursive lookup obtains information about the DNS domain namespace. This information is cached by the server, and can be used again to help speed the answering of subsequent queries that use or match it. Over time, this cached information can grow to occupy a significant portion of server memory resources, although it is cleared whenever the DNS service is cycled on and off.

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