Internet DRAFT - draft-lewis-dns-wildcard-clarify
Internet Engineering Task Force E. Lewis
February 4, 2003 Expires: August 4, 2003
Clarifying the Role of Wild Card Domains
in the Domain Name System
Status of this Memo
This document is an Internet-Draft and is in full conformance with all
provisions of Section 10 of RFC2026.
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The definition of wild cards is recast from the original in RFC 1034,
in words that are more specific and in line with RFC 2119. This document
is meant to supplement the definition in RFC 1034 and to alter neither
the spirit nor intent of that definition.
The first section of this document will give a crisp overview of what
is begin defined, as well as the motivation for what amounts to a
simple rewording of an original document. An example is included to
help orient the reader.
Wild card domain names are defined in Section 4.3.3. of RFC 1034 as
"instructions for synthesizing RRs." [RFC1034] The meaning of this is
that a specific, special domain name is used to construct responses in
instances in which the query name is not otherwise represented in a zone.
A wild card domain name has a specific range of influence on query names
(QNAMEs) within a given class, which is rooted at the domain name
containing the wild card label, and is limited by explicit entries, zone
cuts and empty non-terminal domains (see section 1.3 of this document).
Note that a wild card domain name has no special impact on the search
for a query type (QTYPE). If a domain name is found that matches the
QNAME (exact or a wild card) but the QTYPE is not found at that point,
the proper response is that there is no data available. The search
does not continue on to seek other wild cards that might match the QTYPE.
To illustrate, a wild card owning an MX RR does not 'cover' other names
in the zone that own an A RR.
Why is this document needed? Empirical evidence suggests that the
words in RFC 1034 are not clear enough. There exist a number of
implementations that have strayed from the definition. There also
exists a misconception of operators that the wild card can be used to
add a specific RR type to all names, such as the MX RR example listed
above. This document is also needed as input to efforts to extend
DNS, such as the DNS Security Extensions [RFC 2535]. Lack of a clear
base specification has proven to result in extension documents that
have unpredictable consequences. (This is true in general, not just
The notion that a domain name 'exists' will arise numerous times in this
discussion. RFC 1034 raises the issue of existence in a number of places,
usually in reference to non-existence and often in reference to processing
involving wild card domain names. RFC 1034 does contain algorithms that
describe how domain names impact the preparation of an answer and does
define wild cards as a means of synthesizing answers.
To help clarify the topic of wild cards, a positive definition of existence
is needed. To complicate matters, though, there needs to be a recognition
that existence is relative. To an authoritative server, a domain name
exists if the domain name plays a role following the algorithms of
preparing a response. To a resolver, a domain name exists if there is
any data available corresponding to the name. The difference between the
two is the synthesis of records according to a wild card.
For the purposes of this document, the point of view of an authoritative
server is adopted. A domain name is said to exist if it plays a role in
the execution of the algorithms in RFC 1034.
1.2 An Example
For example, consider this wild card domain name: *.example. Any query
name under example. is a candidate to be matched (answered) by this wild
card. Although any name is a candidate, not all queries will match.
To further illustrate this, consider this example:
@ IN SOA
* TXT "this is a wild card"
MX 10 mailhost.example.
host1 A 10.0.0.1
The following queries would be synthesized from the wild card:
QNAME=host3.example. QTYPE=MX, QCLASS=IN
the answer will be a "host.example. IN MX ..."
QNAME=host3.example. QTYPE=A, QCLASS=IN
the answer will be a "host.example. IN NXT ..."
because there is no A RR set at '*'
The following queries would not be synthesized from the wild card:
QNAME=host1.example., QTYPE=MX, QCLASS=IN
because host1.example. exists
QNAME=_telnet._tcp.host1.example., QTYPE=SRV, QCLASS=IN
because _tcp.host1.example. exists (without data)
QNAME=_telnet._tcp.host2.example., QTYPE=SRV, QCLASS=IN
because host2.example. exists (without data)
QNAME=host.subdel.example., QTYPE=A, QCLASS=IN
because subdel.example. exists and is a zone cut
To the server, the following domains are considered to exist in the zone:
*, host1, _tcp.host1, _ssh._tcp.host1, host2, _tcp.host2, _ssh._tcp.host2,
and subdel. To a resolver, many more domains appear to exist via the
synthesis of the wild card.
1.3 Empty Non-terminals
Empty non-terminals are domain names that have no data but have
subdomains. This is defined in section 3.1 of RFC 1034:
# The domain name space is a tree structure. Each node and leaf on the
# tree corresponds to a resource set (which may be empty). The domain
# system makes no distinctions between the uses of the interior nodes and
# leaves, and this memo uses the term "node" to refer to both.
The parenthesized "which may be empty" specifies that empty non-terminals
are explicitly recognized. According to the definition of existence in
this document, empty non-terminals do exist at the server.
Carefully reading the above paragraph can lead to an interpretation that
all possible domains exist - up to the suggested limit of 255 octets for
a domain name [RFC 1035]. For example, www.example. may have an A RR, and
as far as is practically concerned, is a leaf of the domain tree. But the
definition can be taken to mean that sub.www.example. also exists, albeit
with no data. By extension, all possible domains exist, from the root
down. As RFC 1034 also defines "an authoritative name error indicating
that the name does not exist" in section 4.3.1, this is not the intent
of the original document.
RFC1034's wording is to be clarified by adding the following paragraph:
A node is considered to have an impact on the algorithms of 4.3.2
if it is a leaf node with any resource sets or an interior node,
with or without a resource set, that has a subdomain that is a leaf
node with a resource set. A QNAME and QCLASS matching an existing
node never results in a response return code of authoritative name
As an aside, an "authoritative name error" has been called NXDOMAIN in
some RFCs, such as RFC 2136 [RFC 2136]. NXDOMAIN is the mnemonic assigned
to such an error by at least one implementation of DNS.
The key words "MUST", "MUST NOT", "REQUIRED", "SHALL", "SHALL NOT",
"SHOULD", "SHOULD NOT", "RECOMMENDED", "MAY", and "OPTIONAL" in this
document are to be interpreted as described in the document entitled
"Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels." [RFC2119]
Requirements are denoted by paragraphs that begin with with the following
2 Defining the Wild Card Domain Name
A wild card domain name is defined by having the initial label be:
0000 0001 0010 1010 (binary) = 0x01 0x2a (hexadecimal)
This defines domain names that may play a role in being a wild card, that
is, being a source for synthesized answers. Domain names conforming to
this definition that appear in queries and RDATA sections do not have
any special role. These cases will be described in more detail in
R2.1 A domain name that is to be interpreted as a wild card MUST begin
with a label of '0000 0001 0010 1010' in binary.
The first octet is the normal label type and length for a 1 octet long
label, the second octet is the ASCII representation [RFC 20] for the
'*' character. In RFC 1034, ASCII encoding is assumed to be the character
In the master file formats used in RFCs, a "*" is a legal representation
for the wild card label. Even if the "*" is escaped, it is still
interpreted as the wild card when it is the only character in the label.
R2.2. A server MUST treat a wild card domain name as the basis of
synthesized answers regardless of any "escape" sequences in
the input format.
RFC 1034 and RFC 1035 ignore the case in which a domain name might be
"the*.example.com." The interpretation is that this domain name in a
zone would only match queries for "the*.example.com" and not have any
Note: By virtue of this definition, a wild card domain name may have a
subdomain. The subdomain (or sub-subdomain) itself may also be a wild
card. E.g., *.*.example. is a wild card, so is *.sub.*.example.
More discussion on this is given in Appendix A.
3 Defining Existence
As described in the Introduction, a precise definition of existence is
R3.1 An authoritative server MUST treat a domain name as existing during
the execution of the algorithms in RFC 1034 when the domain name
conforms to the following definition. A domain name is defined
to exist if the domain name owns data and/or has a subdomain that
Note that at a zone boundary, the domain name owns data, including the
NS RR set. At the delegating server, the NS RR set is not authoritative,
but that is of no consequence here. The domain name owns data, therefore,
R3.2 An authoritative server MUST treat a domain name that has neither
a resource record set nor a subdomain as nonexistent when executing
the algorithm in section 4.3.2. of RFC 1034.
4 Impact of a Wild Card Domain In a Query Message
When a wild card domain name appears in a question, e.g., the query name
is "*.example.", the response in no way differs from any other query.
In other words, the wild card label in a QNAME has no special meaning,
and query processing will proceed using '*' as a literal query name.
R4.1 A wild card domain name acting as a QNAME MUST be treated as any
other QNAME, there MUST be no special processing accorded it.
If a wild card domain name appears in the RDATA of a CNAME RR or any
other RR that has a domain name in it, the same rule applies. In the
instance of a CNAME RR, the wild card domain name is used in the same
manner of as being the original QNAME. For other RR's, rules vary
regarding what is done with the domain name(s) appearing in them,
in no case does the wild card hold special meaning.
R4.2 A wild card domain name appearing in any RR's RDATA MUST be treated
as any other domain name in that situation, there MUST be no special
processing accorded it.
5 Impact of a Wild Card Domain On a Response
The description of how wild cards impact response generation is in RFC
1034, section 4.3.2. That passage contains the algorithm followed by a
server in constructing a response. Within that algorithm step 3, part
'c' defines the behavior of the wild card. The algorithm is directly
quoted in lines that begin with a '#' sign. Commentary is interleaved.
[Note that are no requirements specifically listed in this section. The
text here is explanatory and interpretative. There is no change to
the algorithm specified in RFC 1034.]
The context of part 'c' is that the search is progressing label by label
through the QNAME. (Note that the data being searched is the authoritative
data in the server, the cache is searched in step 4.) Step 3's part 'a'
covers the case that the QNAME has been matched in full, regardless of the
presence of a CNAME RR. Step 'b' covers crossing a cut point, resulting
in a referral. All that is left is to look for the wild card.
Step 3 of the algorithm also assumes that the search is looking in the
zone closest to the answer, i.e., in the same class as QCLASS and as
close to the authority as possible on this server. If the zone is not
the authority, then a referral is given, possibly one indicating lameness.
# c. If at some label, a match is impossible (i.e., the
# corresponding label does not exist), look to see if a
# the "*" label exists.
The above paragraph refers to finding the domain name that exists in the
zone and that most encloses the QNAME. Such a domain name will mark the
boundary of candidate wild card domain names that might be used to
synthesize an answer. (Remember that at this point, if the most enclosing
name is the same as the QNAME, part 'a' would have recorded an exact
match.) The existence of the enclosing name means that no wild card name
higher in the tree is a candidate to answer the query.
Once the closest enclosing node is identified, there's the matter of what
exists below it. It may have subdomains, but none will be closer to the
QNAME. One of the subdomains just might be a wild card. If it exists,
this is the only wild card eligible to be used to synthesize an answer
for the query. Even if the closest enclosing node conforms to the syntax
rule in section 2 for being a wild card domain name, the closest enclosing
node is not eligible to be a source of a synthesized answer.
The only wild card domain name that is a candidate to synthesize an answer
will be the "*" subdomain of the closest enclosing domain name. Three
possibilities can happen. The "*" subdomain does not exist, the "*"
subdomain does but does not have an RR set of the same type as the QTYPE,
or it exists and has the desired RR set.
For the sake of brevity, the closest enclosing node can be referred to as
the "closest encloser."
To illustrate, using the example in section 1.2 of this document, the
following chart shows QNAMEs and the closest enclosers. In Appendix A
there is another chart showing unusual cases.
QNAME Closest Encloser Wild Card Source
host3.example. example. *.example.
_telnet._tcp.host1.example. _tcp.host1.example. no wild card
_telnet._tcp.host2.example. host2.example. no wild card
_telnet._tcp.host3.example. example. *.example.
_chat._udp.host3.example. example. *.example.
Note that host1.subdel.example. is in a subzone, so the search for it ends
in a referral in part 'b', thus does not enter into finding a closest
The fact that a closest encloser will be the only superdomain that
can have a candidate wild card will have an impact when it comes to
designing authenticated denial of existence proofs. (This concept
is not introduced until DNS Security Extensions are considered in
# If the "*" label does not exist, check whether the name
# we are looking for is the original QNAME in the query
# or a name we have followed due to a CNAME. If the name
# is original, set an authoritative name error in the
# response and exit. Otherwise just exit.
The above passage says that if there is not even a wild card domain name
to match at this point (failing to find an explicit answer elsewhere),
we are to return an authoritative name error at this point. If we were
following a CNAME, the specification is unclear, but seems to imply that
a no error return code is appropriate, with just the CNAME RR (or sequence
of CNAME RRs) in the answer section.
# If the "*" label does exist, match RRs at that node
# against QTYPE. If any match, copy them into the answer
# section, but set the owner of the RR to be QNAME, and
# not the node with the "*" label. Go to step 6.
This final paragraph covers the role of the QTYPE in the process. Note
that if no resource record set matches the QTYPE the result is that no data
is copied, but the search still ceases ("Go to step 6.").
6 Authenticated Denial and Wild Cards
In unsecured DNS, the only concern when there is no data to return to
a query is whether the domain name from which the answer comes exists or
not, whether or not a name error is indicated in the return code. In
either case the answer section is empty or contained just a sequence of
CNAME RR sets.
In securing DNS, authenticated denial of existence is a service that is
provided. The chosen solution to provide this service is to generate
resource records indicating what is protected in a zone and to digitally
The resource records that do this, as defined in RFC 2535, are NXT RRs.
There are three points to consider when clarifying the topic of wild card
domain names. One is the construction of the records. The second is
the inclusion of records in responses. The third is the interpretation
of the records in a response by the resolver.
6.1 Preparing Wild Card Domain Name Owned Non-existence Proofs
During the creation of the authenticated denial records, the wild card
domain name plays no special role, in the same manner as the wild card
domain name playing no special role in a query.
There is one consideration with regards to preparing non-existence
R6.1 Any mechanism used to provide authenticated denial MUST reveal the
closest enclosing existing domain for the query. If this is not
provided, the resolver will not be able to ascertain the identity
of an appropriate wild card domain name.
6.2 Role of Wild Cards in Answers
There are three cases to address. The first is synthesizing from wild card
domain name with data, the second is negatively synthesizing from an
existing wild card, and the third is denying that neither an exact match,
referral, nor wild card exist to answer the query.
6.2.1 Synthesizing From a Wild Card
When preparing an answer from a wild card domain name, the answer needs
to include proof that the exact match of the QNAME and QCLASS does not
exist. This is needed because synthesis of the answer replaces the "*"
label with the QNAME without securing the result. The resolver will
realize that the answer was derived from a wild card, but cannot
detect whether an exact match was maliciously omitted.
R6.2 When synthesizing a positive answer from a wild card domain name, the
answer MUST include proof that the exact match for the QNAME and
QCLASS does not exist.
6.2.2. Synthesizing Negatively From a Wild Card
When synthesizing a negative answer that is derived from a wild card,
meaning that a wild card matched the QNAME (no exact match happened for
QNAME) but that there is no match for QTYPE there, two negative answers
are needed, possibly one. As in 6.2.1, a proof that the exact match
failed is needed. A second proof is needed to show that the wild card
domain name does not have the QTYPE. Depending on the method of
authenticated denial, these this could be possible with one statement.
R6.3 When synthesizing a negative answer from a wild card domain name,
the answer MUST include proof that the exact match of the QNAME
and QCLASS does not exist and that the QTYPE matches no RR set at
the wild card. If this answer can be optimized, an implementation
SHOULD reduce the number of records included in the response.
6.2.3. Answering With an Authoritative Name Error
When answering with a result code of a name error, the answer needs to
provide proof that neither the exact match for QNAME and QCLASS exists
nor that a wild card domain name exists as a subdomain of the closest
enclosing domain name.
R6.4 When preparing a reply with an authoritative name error, the answer
MUST include proof that the exact match for the QNAME and QCLASS
does not exist and that no wild card is available to provide a match.
6.2.4. The Remaining Case
When answering negatively because there is a match for QNAME and QCLASS
but no match for the QTYPE, only a proof for that is needed. Just as
the search does not proceed onto a search for the wild card in this
case, neither does the construction of the negative answer proof.
R6.5 When preparing a reply in which there is an exact match of the
QNAME and QCLASS, but there is no RR set matching the QTYPE,
the reply SHOULD NOT contain any proof regarding the wild card
6.3 Interpreting Negative Answers Involving Wild Cards
There are two requirements for resolvers when it comes to handling
negative answers generated as described in section 6.2.
R6.6 A resolver MUST be able to identify negative answer data that
indicate when a match for QNAME and QCLASS does not exist.
R6.7 From a negative answer, a resolver MUST be able to determine
the closest enclosing domain name in a negative answer and
MUST be able to process a negative answer involving the one
wild card domain name that is a candidate to provide a
6.4 Authenticated Denial, Wild Card Domain Names, and Opt-In
When considering the Opt-In proposal [WIP], it is wise to not combine
a zone that adheres to both opt-in and that has a wild card domain
name. The reason is rooted in that the synthesis of an answer is done
by substituting the QNAME for the wild card domain name in the answer.
Because this is unsecured, and the is ambiguity regarding whether a
negative proof can be provided for the exact match (when it is outside
the opt-in secured area), a definitive proof of authenticated denial
is not possible.
7 Security Considerations
This document is refining the specifications to make it more likely that
security can be added to DNS. No functional additions are being made,
just refining what is considered proper to allow the system, security
of the system, and extending the system more predictable.
[RFC 20] ASCII Format for Network Interchange, V.G. Cerf, Oct-16-1969
[RFC 1034] Domain Names - Concepts and Facilities, P.V. Mockapetris,
[RFC 1035] Domain Names - Implementation and Specification, P.V
[RFC 2119] Key Words for Use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels, S
Bradner, March 1997
[RFC 2136] Dynamic Updates in the Domain Name System (DNS UPDATE), P. Vixie,
Ed., S. Thomson, Y. Rekhter, J. Bound, April 1997
[RFC 2535] Domain Name System Security Extensions, D. Eastlake, March 1999
[WIP] DNSSEC Opt-In, Internet Draft, R. Arends, M. Kosters, D. Blacka, 2002
9 Other Contributing to This Document
Others who have directly caused text to appear in the document: Paul Vixie
and Olaf Kolkman. Many others have indirect influences on the content.
Name: Edward Lewis
Title: Research Engineer
Appendix A: Subdomains of Wild Card Domain Names
In reading the definition of section 2 carefully, it is possible to
rationalize unusual names as legal. In the example given, *.example.
could have subdomains of *.sub.*.example. and even the more direct
*.*.example. (The implication here is that these domain names own
explicit resource records sets.) Although defining these names is not
easy to justify, it is important that implementations account for the
possibility. This section will give some further guidance on handling
The first thing to realize is that by all definitions, subdomains of
wild card domain names are legal. In analyzing them, one realizes
that they cause no harm by their existence. Because of this, they are
allowed to exist, i.e., there are no special case rules made to disallow
them. The reason for not preventing these names is that the prevention
would just introduce more code paths to put into implementations.
The concept of "closest enclosing" existing names is important to keep in
mind. It is also important to realize that a wild card domain name can
be a closest encloser of a query name. For example, if *.*.example. is
defined in a zone, and the query name is a.*.example., then the closest
enclosing domain name is *.example. Keep in mind that the closest
encloser is not eligible to be a source of synthesized answers, just the
subdomain of it that has the first label "*".
To illustrate this, the following chart shows some matches. Assume that
the names *.example., *.*.example., and *.sub.*.example. are defined
in the zone.
QNAME Closest Encloser Wild Card Source
a.example. example. *.example.
b.a.example. example. *.example.
a.*.example. *.example. *.*.example.
b.a.*.example. *.example. *.*.example.
b.a.*.*.example. *.*.example. no wild card
a.sub.*.example. sub.*.example. *.sub.*.example.
b.a.sub.*.example. sub.*.example. *.sub.*.example.
a.*.sub.*.example. *.sub.*.example. no wild card
*.a.example. example. *.example.
a.sub.b.example. example. *.example.
Recall that the closest encloser itself cannot be the wild card. Therefore
the match for b.a.*.*.example. has no applicable wild card.
Finally, if a query name is sub.*.example., any answer available will come
from an exact name match for sub.*.example. No wild card synthesis is
performed in this case.
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ARIN Research Engineer