Tag Archives: dns

I go Mozilla

Mozilla dinosaur head logo

In January 2014, I start working for Mozilla

I’ve worked in open source projects for some 20 years and I’ve maintained curl and libcurl for over 15 years. I’m an internet protocol geek at heart and Mozilla seems like a perfect place for me to continue to explore this interest of mine and combine it with real open source in its purest form.

I plan to use my experiences from all my years of protocol fiddling and making stuff work on different platforms against random server implementations into the networking team at Mozilla and work on improving Firefox and more.

I’m putting my current embedded Linux focus to the side and I plunge into a worldwide known company with worldwide known brands to do open source within the internet protocols I enjoy so much. I’ll be working out of my home, just outside Stockholm Sweden. Mozilla has no office in my country and I have no immediate plans of moving anywhere (with a family, kids and all established here).

I intend to bring my mindset on protocols and how to do things well into the Mozilla networking stack and world and I hope and expect that I will get inspiration and input from Mozilla and take that back and further improve curl over time. My agreement with Mozilla also gives me a perfect opportunity to increase my commitment to curl and curl development. I want to maintain and possibly increase my involvement in IETF and the httpbis work with http2 and related stuff. With one foot in Firefox and one in curl going forward, I think I may have a somewhat unique position and attitude toward especially HTTP.

I’ve not yet met another Swedish Mozillian but I know I’m not the only one located in Sweden. I guess I now have a reason to look them up and say hello when suitable.

Björn and Linus will continue to drive and run Haxx with me taking a step back into the shadows (Haxx-wise). I’ll still be part of the collective Haxx just as I was for many years before I started working full-time for Haxx in 2009. My email address, my sites etc will remain on haxx.se.

I’m looking forward to 2014!

Fixed name to dynamic IP with CNAME

Notice: this is not an advanced nor secret trickery. This is just something I’ve found even techsavvy people in my surrounding not having done so its worth being highlighted.

When I upgraded to fiber from ADSL, I had to give up my fixed IPv4 address that I’ve been using for around 10 years and switch to a dynamic DNS service .

In this situation I see lots of people everywhere use dyndns.org and similar services that offer dynamicly assigning a new IP to a fixed host name so that you and your computer illiterate friends still can reach your home site.

I suggest a minor variation of this, that still avoids having to run your own dyndns server on your server. It only requires that you admin and control a DNS domain already, but who doesn’t these days?

  1. Get that dyndns host name at the free provider that makes the name hold your current IP. Let’s call it home.dyndns.org.
  2. In your own DNS zone for your domain (example.com) you add an entry for your host ‘home.example.com‘ as a CNAME, pointing over to home.dyndns.org
  3. Now you can ping or ssh or whatever to ‘home.example.com‘ and it will remain your home IP even when it moves.
  4. Smile and keep using that host name in your own domain to your dynamic IP

getaddrinfo with round robin DNS and happy eyeballs

This is not news. This is only facts that seem to still be unknown to many people so I just want to help out documenting this to help educate the world. I’ll dance around the subject first a bit by providing the full background info…

round robin basics

Round robin DNS has been the way since a long time back to get some rough and cheap load-balancing and spreading out visitors over multiple hosts when they try to use a single host/service with static content. By setting up an A entry in a DNS zone to resolve to multiple IP addresses, clients would get different results in a semi-random manner and thus hitting different servers at different times:

server  IN  A
server  IN  A
server  IN  A

For example, if you’re a small open source project it makes a perfect way to feature a distributed service that appears with a single name but is hosted by multiple distributed independent servers across the Internet. It is also used by high profile web servers, like for example www.google.com and www.yahoo.com.

host name resolving

If you’re an old-school hacker, if you learned to do socket and TCP/IP programming from the original Stevens’ books and if you were brought up on BSD unix you learned that you resolve host names with gethostbyname() and friends. This is a POSIX and single unix specification that’s been around since basically forever. When calling gethostbyname() on a given round robin host name, the function returns an array of addresses. That list of addresses will be in a seemingly random order. If an application just iterates over the list and connects to them in the order as received, the round robin concept works perfectly well.

but gethostbyname wasn’t good enough

gethostbyname() is really IPv4-focused. The mere whisper of IPv6 makes it break down and cry. It had to be replaced by something better. Enter getaddrinfo() also POSIX (and defined in RFC 3943 and again updated in RFC 5014). This is the modern function that supports IPv6 and more. It is the shiny thing the world needed!

not a drop-in replacement

So the (good parts of the) world replaced all calls to gethostbyname() with calls to getaddrinfo() and everything now supported IPv6 and things were all dandy and fine? Not exactly. Because there were subtleties involved. Like in which order these functions return addresses. In 2003 the IETF guys had shipped RFC 3484 detailing Default Address Selection for Internet Protocol version 6, and using that as guideline most (all?) implementations were now changed to return the list of addresses in that order. It would then become a list of hosts in “preferred” order. Suddenly applications would iterate over both IPv4 and IPv6 addresses and do it in an order that would be clever from an IPv6 upgrade-path perspective.

no round robin with getaddrinfo

So, back to the good old way to do round robin DNS: multiple addresses (be it IPv4 or IPv6 or both). With the new ideas of how to return addresses this load balancing way no longer works. Now getaddrinfo() returns basically the same order in every invoke. I noticed this back in 2005 and posted a question on the glibc hackers mailinglist: http://www.cygwin.com/ml/libc-alpha/2005-11/msg00028.html As you can see, my question was delightfully ignored and nobody ever responded. The order seems to be dictated mostly by the above mentioned RFCs and the local /etc/gai.conf file, but neither is helpful if getting decent round robin is your aim. Others have noticed this flaw as well and some have fought compassionately arguing that this is a bad thing, while of course there’s an opposite side with people claiming it is the right behavior and that doing round robin DNS like this was a bad idea to start with anyway. The impact on a large amount of common utilities is simply that when they go IPv6-enabled, they also at the same time go round-robin-DNS disabled.

no decent fix

Since getaddrinfo() now has worked like this for almost a decade, we can forget about “fixing” it. Since gai.conf needs local edits to provide a different function response it is not an answer. But perhaps worse is, since getaddrinfo() is now made to return the addresses in a sort of order of preference it is hard to “glue on” a layer on top that simple shuffles the returned results. Such a shuffle would need to take IP versions and more into account. And it would become application-specific and thus would have to be applied to one program at a time. The popular browsers seem less affected by this getaddrinfo drawback. My guess is that because they’ve already worked on making asynchronous name resolves so that name resolving doesn’t lock up their processes, they have taken different approaches and thus have their own code for this. In curl’s case, it can be built with c-ares as a resolver backend even when supporting IPv6, and c-ares does not offer the sort feature of getaddrinfo and thus in these cases curl will work with round robin DNSes much more like it did when it used gethostbyname.


The downside with all alternatives I’m aware of is that they aren’t just taking advantage of plain DNS. In order to duck for the problems I’ve mentioned, you can instead tweak your DNS server to respond differently to different users. That way you can either just randomly respond different addresses in a round robin fashion, or you can try to make it more clever by things such as PowerDNS’s geobackend feature. Of course we all know that A) geoip is crude and often wrong and B) your real-world geography does not match your network topology.

happy eyeballs

During this period, another connection related issue has surfaced. The fact that IPv6 connections are often handled as a second option in dual-stacked machines, and the fact is that IPv6 is mostly present in dual stacks these days. This sadly punishes early adopters of IPv6 (yes, they unfortunately IPv6 must still be considered early) since those services will then be slower than the older IPv4-only ones.

There seems to be a general consensus on what the way to overcome this problem is: the Happy Eyeballs approach. In short (and simplified) it recommends that we try both (or all) options at once, and the fastest to respond wins and gets to be used. This requires that we resolve A and AAAA names at once, and if we get responses to both, we connect() to both the IPv4 and IPv6 addresses and see which one is the fastest to connect.

This of course is not just a matter of replacing a function or two anymore. To implement this approach you need to do something completely new. Like for example just doing getaddrinfo() + looping over addresses and try connect() won’t at all work. You would basically either start two threads and do the IPv4-only route in one and do the IPv6 route in the other, or you would have to issue non-blocking resolver calls to do A and AAAA resolves in parallel in the same thread and when the first response arrives you fire off a non-blocking connect() …

My point being that introducing Happy Eyeballs in your good old socket app will require some rather major remodeling no matter what. Doing this will most likely also affect how your application handles with round robin DNS so now you have a chance to reconsider your choices and code!

libcurl’s name resolving

Recently we’ve put in some efforts into remodeling libcurl’s code that handles name resolves, and then in particular the two asynchronous name resolver backends that we support: c-ares and threaded.

Name resolving in general in libcurl

libcurl can be built to do name resolves using different means. The primary difference between them is that they are either synchronous or asynchronous. The synchronous way makes the operation block during name resolves and there’s no “decent” way to abort the resolves if they take longer time than the program wants to allow it (other than using signals and that’s not what we consider a decent way).

Asynch resolving in libcurl

This is done using one of two ways: by building libcurl with c-ares support or by building libcurl and tell it to use threads to solve the problem. libcurl can be built using either mechanism on just about all platforms, but on Windows the build defaults to using the threaded resolver.

The c-ares solution

c-ares’ primary benefit is that it is an asynchronous name resolver library so it can do name resolves without blocking without requiring a new thread. It makes it use less resources and remain a perfect choice even if you’d scale up your application up to and beyond an insane number of simultaneous connections. Its primary drawback is that since it isn’t based on the system default name resolver functions, they don’t work exactly like the system name resolver functions and that causes trouble at times.

The threaded solution

By making sure the system functions are still used, this makes name resolving work exactly as with the synchronous solution, but thanks to the threading it doesn’t block. The downside here is of course that it uses a new thread for every name resolve, which in some cases can become quite a large number and of course creating and killing threads at a high rate is much more costly than sticking with the single thread.


Now we’ve made sure that we have an internal API that both our asynchronous name resolvers implement, and all code internally use this API. It makes the code a lot cleaner than the previous #ifdef maze for the different approaches, and it has the side-effect that it should allow much easier pluggable backends in case someone would like to make libcurl support another asynchronous name resolver or system.

This is all brand new in the master branch so please try it out and help us polish the initial quirks that may still exist in the code.

There is no current plan to allow this plugging to happen run-time or using any kind of external plugins. I don’t see any particular benefit for us to do that, but it would give us a lot more work and responsibilities.


localhost hack on Windows

There's no place like of my blog and friends in general know that I’m not really a Windows guy. I never use it and I never develop things explicitly for windows – but I do my best in making sure my portable code also builds and runs on windows. This blog post is about a new detail that I’ve just learned and that I think I could help shed the light on, to help my fellow hackers. The other day I was contacted by a user of libcurl because he was using it on Windows and he noticed that when wanting to transfer data from the loopback device (where he had a service of his own), and he accessed it using “localhost” in the URL passed to libcurl, he would spot a DNS request for the address of that host name while when he used regular windows tools he would not see that! After some mails back and forth, the details got clear:

Windows has a default /etc/hosts version (conveniently instead put at “c:\WINDOWS\system32\drivers\etc\hosts”) and that default  /etc/hosts alternative used to have an entry for “localhost” in it that would point to

When Windows 7 was released, Microsoft had removed the localhost entry from the /etc/hosts file. Reading sources on the net, it might be related to them supporting IPv6 for real but it’s not at all clear what the connection between those two actions would be.

getaddrinfo() in Windows has since then, and it is unclear exactly at which point in time it started to do this, been made to know about the specific string “localhost” and is documented to always return “all loopback addresses on the local computer”.

So, a custom resolver such as c-ares that doesn’t use Windows’ functions to resolve names but does it all by itself, that has been made to look in the /etc/host file etc now suddenly no longer finds “localhost” in a local file but ends up asking the DNS server for info about it… A case that is far from ideal. Most servers won’t have an entry for it and others might simply provide the wrong address.

I think we’ll have to give in and provide this hack in c-ares as well, just the way Windows itself does.

Oh, and as a bonus there’s even an additional hack mentioned in the getaddrinfo docs: On Windows Server 2003 and later if the pNodeName parameter points to a string equal to “..localmachine”, all registered addresses on the local computer are returned.

C-ares, now and ahead!

The project c-ares started many years ago (March 2004) when I decided to fork the existing ares project to get the changes done that I deemed necessary – and the original project owner didn’t want them.

I did my original work on c-ares back then primarily to get a good asynchronous name resolver for libcurl so that we would get around the limitation of having to do the name resolves totally synchronously as the libc interfaces mandate. Of course, c-ares was and is more than just name resolving and not too surprisingly, there have popped up other projects that are now using c-ares.

I’m maintaining a bunch of open source projects, and c-ares was never one that I felt a lot of love for, it was mostly a project that I needed to get done and when things worked the way I wanted them I found myself having ended up as maintainer for yet another project. I’ve repeatedly mentioned on the c-ares mailing list that I don’t really have time to maintain it and that I’d rather step down and let someone else “take over”.

After having said this for over 4 years, I’ve come to accept that even though c-ares has many users out there, and even seems to be appreciated by companies and open source projects, there just isn’t any particular big desire to help out in our project. I find it very hard to just “give up” a functional project, so I linger and do my best to give it the efforts and love it needs. I very much need and want help to maintain and develop c-ares. I’m not doing a very good job with it right now.

Threaded name resolves competes

I once thought we would be able to make c-ares capable of becoming a true drop-in replacement for the native system name resolver functions, but over the years with c-ares I’ve learned that the dusty corners of name resolving in unix and Linux have so many features and fancy stuff that c-ares is still a long way from that. It has also made me turn around somewhat and I’ve reconsidered that perhaps using a threaded native resolver is the better way for libcurl to do asynchronous name resolves. That way we don’t need any half-baked implementations of the resolver. Of course it comes at the price of a new thread for each name resolve, which turns really nasty of you grow the number of connections just a tad bit, but still most libcurl-using applications today hardly use more than just a few (say less than a hundred) simultaneous transfers.


I don’t think the future has any radical changes or drastically new stuff in the pipe for c-ares. I think we should keep polishing off bugs and add the small functions and features that we’re missing. I believe we’re not yet parsing all records we could do, to a convenient format.

As usual, a project is not about how much we can add but about how much we can avoid adding and how much we can remain true to our core objectives. I wish the growing popularity will make more people join the project and then not only to through a single patch at us, but to also hand around a while and help us somewhat more.

Hopefully we will one day be able to use c-ares instead of a typical libc-based name resolver and yet resolve the same names.

Join us and help us give c-ares a better future!