5 min read

DNS Lookups in Kubernetes

In this post, I'll talk about how I learnt about FQDN, Search Paths and ndots to tackle slow DNS resolution in Kubernetes

One of the primary advantages of deploying workloads in Kubernetes is seamless application discovery. Intra cluster communication becomes easy with the concept of Service which represents a Virtual IP backing a set of Pod IPs. For example, if vanilla service needs to talk to a chocolate service, it can directly use the Virtual IP for chocolate. Now the question is who resolves the DNS query for chocolate and how?

DNS resolution is configured in Kubernetes cluster through CoreDNS. The kubelet configures each Pod's /etc/resolv.conf to use the coredns pod as the nameserver. You can see the contents of /etc/resolv.conf inside any pod, they'll look something like:

search hello.svc.cluster.local svc.cluster.local cluster.local
options ndots:5

This config is used by DNS clients to forward the DNS queries to a DNS server. resolv.conf is the resolver configuration file which has information about:

  • nameserver : Where the DNS queries are forwarded to. In our case this is the address of CoreDNS service.

  • search: Represents the search path for a particular domain. Interestingly google.com or mrkaran.dev is not FQDN (fully qualified domain name). A standard convention that most DNS resolvers follow is that if a domain ends with . (representing the root zone), the domain is considered to be FQDN. Some resolvers try to act smart and append the . themselves. So mrkaran.dev. is an FQDN but mrkaran.dev is not.

  • ndots: This is the most interesting value and is the highlight of this post. ndots represents the threshold value of the number of dots in a query name to consider it as a "fully qualified" domain name. More on this later, as we discover the flow of DNS lookup.


Let's check what happens when we query for mrkaran.dev in a pod.

$ nslookup mrkaran.dev

Non-authoritative answer:
Name: mrkaran.dev
Name: mrkaran.dev
Address: 2400:6180:0:d1::519:6001

For this experiment, I've also turned on CoreDNS logging level to all which makes it highly verbose. Let's look at the logs of coredns pod:

[INFO] - 11131 "A IN mrkaran.dev.hello.svc.cluster.local. udp 53 false 512" NXDOMAIN qr,aa,rd 146 0.000263728s
[INFO] - 36853 "A IN mrkaran.dev.svc.cluster.local. udp 47 false 512" NXDOMAIN qr,aa,rd 140 0.000214201s
[INFO] - 29482 "A IN mrkaran.dev.cluster.local. udp 43 false 512" NXDOMAIN qr,aa,rd 136 0.000156107s
[INFO] - 45814 "A IN mrkaran.dev. udp 29 false 512" NOERROR qr,rd,ra 56 0.110263459s
[INFO] - 2463 "AAAA IN mrkaran.dev. udp 29 false 512" NOERROR qr,rd,ra 68 0.145091744s

Whew. So 2 things piqued my interest here:

  • The query iterates through all search paths until the answer contains a NOERROR code (which the DNS clients understand and store it as the result). NXDOMAIN simply indicates no record found for that domain name. Since mrkaran.dev isn't an FQDN (according to ndots=5 setting), the resolver looks at search path and determines the order of query.

  • A and AAAA records are fired parallelly. This is because single-request option in /etc/resolv.conf has a default configuration to perform parallel IPv4 and IPv6 lookups. You can disable this using single-request option.

Note: glibc can be configured to send these requests sequentially but musl cannot, so Alpine users must take note.

Playing around with ndots

Let's play around with ndots a bit more and see how it behaves. The idea is simple, for the DNS client to know whether a domain is an absolute one or not is through this ndots setting. For example, if you query for google simply, how will the DNS client know if this is an absolute domain. If you set ndots as 1, the DNS client will say "oh, google doesn't have even one 1 dot, let me try going through search list. However, if you query for google.com, the search list will be completely ignored since the query name satisfies the ndots threshold (At least one dot).

We can see this by actually doing it:

$ cat /etc/resolv.conf
options ndots:1
$ nslookup mrkaran

** server can't find mrkaran: NXDOMAIN

CoreDNS logs:

[INFO] - 2606 "A IN mrkaran.hello.svc.cluster.local. udp 49 false 512" NXDOMAIN qr,aa,rd 142 0.000524939s
[INFO] - 57522 "A IN mrkaran.svc.cluster.local. udp 43 false 512" NXDOMAIN qr,aa,rd 136 0.000368277s
[INFO] - 4863 "A IN mrkaran.cluster.local. udp 39 false 512" NXDOMAIN qr,aa,rd 132 0.000355344s
[INFO] - 41678 "A IN mrkaran. udp 25 false 512" NXDOMAIN qr,rd,ra 100 0.034629206s

Since mrkaran didn't specify any . so the search list was used to find the answer.

Note: ndots value is silently capped to 15 and is 5 in Kubernetes as default.

Handling this in Production

If your application is of the nature that makes a lot of external network calls, the DNS can become a bottleneck in case of heavy traffic since a lot of extra queries are made before the real DNS query is even fired. It's quite uncommon to see applications appending the root zone in the domain names, but that can be considered as a hack. So instead of using api.twitter.com, you can hardcode your application to include api.twitter.com. which would force the DNS clients to do an authoritative lookup directly on the absolute domain.

Alternatively, since K8s 1.14, the dnsConfig and dnsPolicy feature gates have become stable. So while deploying a pod you can specify ndots setting to something lesser, say 3 or if you want to be really aggressive you can turn it down to 1. The consequences of this will be that every intra-node communication now has to include the full domain. This is one of the classic tradeoffs where you have to choose between performance and portability. If the app doesn't demand super low latencies, I guess you need not worry about this at all since DNS results are cached internally too.


I got to know about this peculiarity first, in a K8s meetup which I went to, last weekend where the folks mentioned about having to deal with this.

Here are some additional links you can read on the web:

Note: I'm particularly not using dig in this post. dig apparently automatically adds a . (root zone identifier) to make the domain an FQDN one without even first going through the search path. I've mentioned about this briefly in one of my older posts. Nonetheless, it's quite surprising to see that you need to give a flag to make it behave in what seems to be a standard way.

It's always DNS, isn't it ;)




In case you want to play around with ndots and DNS more, I've worked on a DNS Client which lets you tweak these params on the fly. Feel free to checkout doggo if interested!