Wandering Thoughts archives


Why DNS blocklists return information as IP addresses

Especially in light of the difficulties that they present in returning multiple bits of information, you might sensibly ask why DNS blocklists opt to return information as IP addresses, instead of something more flexible. A related question is why DNSBLs are queried in such an odd way, by reversing the octets of the host address you're interested in.

The IP address thing is simple: everyone has has gethostbyname() or its equivalent in their standard library. Especially if you just want a yes or no answer (and that's what DNSBLs started as and are still mostly used for), gethostbyname() gives you a simple and basically hassle-free basic interface. It also has the right failure mode for a cautious system; if you can't talk to the DNSBL for any reason, the lookup fails and you assume that the host isn't blocklisted.

Using any other DNS record type to return information requires people to write much more involved custom code to do direct DNS queries, which is usually much more complicated even if you have a high level library to handle a bunch of the details, and really more complicated if you don't. (Trust me, decoding DNS response packets is not fun for any part of the family.)

The reversed octets query format is for historical reasons. The first DNSBL was mostly aimed at listing entire bad networks and subnets, not individual hosts, and was probably not using a custom nameserver. If you want to list a lot of things with bind you want to use wildcard records, but wildcards can only come at the start of a DNS name (at the end of the lookups, which go right to left), not in the middle. So if you are going to use wildcard records to cover subnets, you need to reverse the octets so you can put the wildcard in the right place, letting you list by just creating a *.10.24.your.dnsbl PTR record.

(These days none of this applies any more; most DNSBLs that people use list individual hosts instead of subnets, and I believe that most of them use custom nameservers because loading several hundred thousand records into bind doesn't work too well.)

spam/WhyDNSBLsUseIPAddresses written at 01:08:18; Add Comment

Page tools: See As Normal.
Login: Password:
Atom Syndication: Recent Pages, Recent Comments.

This dinky wiki is brought to you by the Insane Hackers Guild, Python sub-branch.