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The many possible results of turning an IP address into a 'hostname'

One of the things that you can do with the DNS is ask it to give you the DNS name for an IP address, in what is called a reverse DNS lookup. A full and careful reverse DNS lookup is more complex than it looks and has more possible results than you might expect. As a result, it's common for system administrators to talk about validated reverse DNS lookups versus plain or unvalidated reverse DNS lookups. If you care about the results of the reverse DNS lookup, you want to validate it, and this validation is where most of the extra results come in to play.

(To put the answer first, a validated reverse DNS lookup is one where the name you got from the reverse DNS lookup also exists in DNS and lists your initial IP address as one of its IP addresses. This means that the organization responsible for the name agrees that this IP is one of the IPs for that name.)

The result of a plain reverse DNS lookup can be zero, one, or even many names, or a timeout (which is in effect zero results but which takes much longer). Returning more than one name from a reverse DNS lookup is uncommon and some APIs for doing this don't support it at all, although DNS does. However, you cannot trust the name or names that result from reverse DNS, because reverse DNS lookups is done using a completely different set of DNS zones than domain names use, and as a result can be controlled by a completely different person or organization. I am not Google, but I can make reverse DNS for an IP address here claim to be a Google hostname.

(Even within an organization, people can make mistakes with their reverse DNS information, precisely because it's less used than the normal (forward) DNS information. If you have a hostname that resolves to the wrong IP address, people will notice right away; if you have an IP address that resolves to the wrong name, people may not notice for some time.)

So for each name you get in the initial reverse DNS lookup, there are a number of possibilities:

  • Tha name is actually an (IPv4, generally) IP address in text form. People really do this even if they're not supposed to, and your DNS software probably won't screen these out.

  • The name is the special DNS name used for that IP address's reverse DNS lookup (or at least some IP's lookup). It's possible for such names to also have IP addresses, and so you may want to explicitly screen them out and not consider them to be validated names.

  • The name is for a private or non-global name or zone. People do sometimes leak internal DNS names into reverse DNS records for public IPs.
  • The name is for what should be a public name but it doesn't exist in the DNS, or it doesn't have any IP addresses associated with it in a forward lookup.

    In both of these cases we can say the name is unknown. If you don't treat 'the name is an IP address' specially, such a name will also turn up as unknown here if you make a genuine DNS query.

  • The name exists in DNS with IP addresses, but the IP address you started with is not among the IP addresses returned for it in a forward lookup. We can say that the name is inconsistent.

  • The name exists in DNS with IP addresses, and one of those IP addresses is the IP address you started with. The name is consistent and the reverse DNS lookup is valid; the IP address you started with is really called that name.

(There may be a slight bit of complexity in doing the forward DNS lookup.)

If a reverse DNS lookup for an IP address gave you more than one name, you may only care whether there is one valid name (which gives you a name for the IP), you may want to know all of the valid names, or you may want to check that all names are valid and consider it an error if any of them aren't. It depends on why you're doing the reverse DNS lookup and validation. And you might also care about why a name doesn't validate for an IP address, or that an IP address has no reverse DNS lookup information.

Of course if you're trying to find the name for an IP address, you don't necessarily have to use a reverse DNS lookup. In some sense, the 'name' or 'names' for an IP address are whatever DNS names point to it as (one of) their IP address(es). If you have an idea what those names might be, you can just directly check them all to see if you find the IP you're curious about.

If you're writing code that validates IP address reverse DNS lookups, one reason to specifically check for and care about a name that is an IP address is that some languages have 'name to IP address' APIs that will helpfully give you back an IP address if you give them one in text form. If you don't check explicitly, you can look up an IP address, get the IP address in text form, feed it into such an API, get the IP address back again, and conclude that this is a validated (DNS) name for the IP.

It's extremely common for IP addresses to have names that are unknown or inconsistent. It's also pretty common for IP addresses to not have any names, and not uncommon for reverse DNS lookups to time out because the people involved don't operate DNS servers that return timely answers (for one reason or another).

PS: It's also possible to find out who an IP address theoretically belongs to, but that's an entire different discussion (or several of them). Who an IP address belongs to can be entirely separate from what its proper name is. For example, in common colocation setups and VPS services, the colocation provider or VPS service will own the IP, but its proper name may be a hostname in the organization that is renting use of the provider's services.

tech/DNSIpLookupsManyPossibilities written at 23:07:31; Add Comment

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