systemd-resolved.service supports routing lookups for specific domains to specific
interfaces. This is useful for hooking up VPN software with systemd-resolved
and making sure the exact right lookups end up on the VPN and on the other
For a verbose explanation of
systemd-resolved.service’s domain routing logic,
see its man
document is supposed to provide examples to use the concepts for the specific
purpose of managing VPN DNS configuration.
Let’s first define two distinct VPN use-cases:
Corporate VPNs, i.e. VPNs that open access to a specific set of additional hosts. Only specific domains should be resolved via the VPN’s DNS servers, and everything that is not related to the company’s domain names should go to regular, non-VPN DNS instead.
Privacy VPNs, i.e. VPNs that should be used for basically all DNS traffic, once they are up. If this type of VPN is used, any regular, non-VPN DNS servers should not get any traffic anymore.
Then, let’s briefly introduce three DNS routing concepts that software managing a network interface may configure.
Search domains: these are traditional DNS configuration parameters and are
used to suffix non-qualified domain names (i.e. single-label ones), to turn
them into fully qualified domain names. Traditionally (before
systemd-resolved.service), search domain names are attached to a system’s
IP configuration as a whole, in
systemd-resolved.service they are
associated to individual interfaces instead, since they are typically
acquired through some network associated concept, such as a DHCP, IPv6RA or
PPP lease. Most importantly though: in
systemd-resolved.service they are
not just used to suffix single-label domain names, but also for routing
domain name lookups: if a network interface has a search domain
configured on it, then any lookups for names ending in
.foo.com (or for
foo.com itself) are preferably routed to the DNS servers configured on the
same network interface.
Routing domains: these are very similar to search domains, but are purely about DNS domain name lookup routing — they are not used for qualifying single-label domain names. When it comes to routing assigning a routing domain to a network interface is identical to assigning a search domain to it.
Why the need to have both concepts, i.e. search and routing domains?
Mostly because in many cases the qualifying of single-label names is not
desirable (since security-sensitive), but needs to be supported for specific
use-cases. Routing domains are a concept
introduced, while search domains are traditionally available and are part of
DHCP/IPv6RA/PPP leases and thus universally supported. In many cases routing
domains are probably the more appropriate concept, but not easily available,
since not part of DHCP/IPv6RA/PPP.
Routing domains for
systemd-resolved.service are usually presented along
with search domains in mostly the same way, but prefixed with
differentiate them. i.e.
~foo.com is a configured routing domain, while
foo.com would be a configured search domain.
One routing domain is particularly interesting:
~. — the catch-all routing
domain. (The dot domain
. is how DNS denotes the “root” domain, i.e. the
parent domain of all domains, but itself.) When used on an interface any DNS
traffic is preferably routed to its DNS servers. (A search domain – i.e.
~. — would have the same effect, but given that it’s mostly
pointless to suffix an unqualified domain with
., we generally declare it
as a routing domain, not a search domain).
Routing domains also have particular relevance when it comes to the reverse
lookup DNS domains
.ip6.arpa. An interface that has
these (or sub-domains thereof) defined as routing domains, will be preferably
used for doing reverse IP to domain name lookups. e.g. declaring
~168.192.in-addr.arpa on an interface means that all lookups to find the
domain names for IPv4 addresses 192.168.x.y are preferable routed to it.
default-route boolean. This is a simple boolean value that may be set
on an interface. If true (the default), any DNS lookups for which no
matching routing or search domains are defined are routed to interfaces
marked like this. If false then the DNS servers on this interface are not
considered for routing lookups to except for the ones listed in the
search/routing domain list. An interface that has no search/routing domain
associated and also has this boolean off is not considered for any
One more thing to mention: in
systemd-resolved.service if lookups match the
search/routing domains of multiple interfaces at once, then they are sent to
all of them in parallel, and the first positive reply used. If all lookups fail
the last negative reply is used. This means the DNS zones on the relevant
interfaces are “merged”: domains existing on one but not the other will “just
work” and vice versa.
And one more note: the domain routing logic implemented is a tiny bit more
complex that what described above: if there two interfaces have search domains
that are suffix of each other, and a name is looked up that matches both, the
interface with the longer match will win and get the lookup routed to is DNS
servers. Only if the match has the same length, then both will be used in
parallel. Example: one interface has
~foo.example.com as routing domain, and
example.com has search domain. A lookup for
waldo.foo.example.com is the exclusively routed to the first interface’s DNS
server, since it matches by three suffix labels instead of just two. The fact
that the matching length is taken into consideration for the routing decision
is particularly relevant if you have one interface with the
~. routing domain
and another one with
~corp.company.example — both suffixes match a lookup for
foo.corp.company.example, but the latter interface wins, since the match is
for four labels, while the other is for zero labels.
Let’s discuss how the three DNS routing concepts above are best used for a reasonably complex scenario consisting of:
One VPN interface of the corporate kind, maybe called
company0. It makes
available a bunch of servers, all in the domain
One VPN interface of the privacy kind, maybe called
privacy0. When it is
up all DNS traffic shall preferably routed to its DNS servers.
One regular WiFi interface, maybe called
wifi0. It has a regular DNS
server on it.
Here’s how to best configure this for
company0 should get a routing domain
configured. (A search domain
corp.company.example would work too, if
qualifying of single-label names is desired or the VPN lease information
does not provide for the concept of routing domains, but does support search
domains.) This interface should also set
default-route to false, to ensure
that really only the DNS lookups for the company’s servers are routed there
and nothing else. Finally, it might make sense to also configure a routing
~2.0.192.in-addr.arpa on the interface, ensuring that all IPv4
addresses from the 192.0.2.x range are preferably resolved via the DNS
server on this interface (assuming that that’s the IPv4 address range the
company uses internally).
privacy0 should get a routing domain
~. configured. The setting of
default-route for this interface is then irrelevant. This means: once the
interface is up, all DNS traffic is preferably routed there.
wifi0 should not get any special settings, except possibly whatever the
local WiFi router considers suitable as search domain, for example
fritz.box. The default
true setting for
default-route is good too.
With this configuration if only
wifi0 is up, all DNS traffic goes to its DNS
server, since there are no other interfaces with better matching DNS
privacy0 is then upped, all DNS traffic will exclusively go
to this interface now — with the exception of names below the
domain, which will continue to go directly to
wifi0, as the search domain
there says so. Now, if
company0 is also upped, it will receive DNS traffic
for the company’s internal domain and internal IP subnet range, but nothing
privacy0 is then downed again,
wifi0 will get the regular DNS
traffic again, and
company0 will still get the company’s internal domain and
IP subnet traffic and nothing else. Everything hence works as intended.
Most likely you want to expose a boolean in some way that declares whether a specific VPN is of the corporate or the privacy kind:
If managing a corporate VPN, you configure any search domains the user or
the VPN contact point provided. And you set
default-route to false. If you
have IP subnet information for the VPN, it might make sense to insert
~….ip6.arpa reverse lookup routing domains for it.
If managing a privacy VPN, you include
~. in the routing domains, the
default-route is actually irrelevant, but I’d set it to true. No
need to configure any reverse lookup routing domains for it.
(If you also manage regular WiFi/Ethernet devices, just configure them as
traditional, i.e. with any search domains as acquired, do not set
and do not disable
Now we determined how we want to configure things, but how do you actually get
the configuration to
systemd-resolved.service? There are three relevant
Ideally, you use D-Bus and talk to
SetLinkDomains() to set the per-interface search and routing
domains on the interfaces you manage, and
SetLinkDefaultRoute() to manage
default-route boolean, all on the
interface of the
If that’s not in the cards, you may shell out to
which is a thin wrapper around the D-Bus interface mentioned above. Use
resolvectl domain <iface> … to set the search/routing domains and
resolvectl default-route <iface> … to set the
Example use from a shell callout of your VPN software for a corporate VPN:
resolvectl domain corporate0 '~corp-company.example' '~2.0.192.in-addr.arpa' resolvectl default-route corporate0 false resolvectl dns corporate0 192.0.2.1
Example use from a shell callout of your VPN software for a privacy VPN:
resolvectl domain privacy0 '~.' resolvectl default-route privacy0 true resolvectl dns privacy0 184.108.40.206
If you don’t want to use any
systemd-resolved commands, you may use the
resolvconf wrapper we provide.
resolvectl is actually a multi-call
binary and may be symlinked to
resolvconf, and when invoked like that
behaves in a way that is largely compatible with FreeBSD’s and
tool. When the
-x switch is specified, the
~. routing domain is
automatically appended to the domain list configured, as appropriate for a
privacy VPN. Note that the
resolvconf interface only covers privacy
VPNs and regular network interfaces (such as WiFi or Ethernet) well. The
corporate kind of VPN is not well covered, since the interface cannot
default-route boolean, nor can be used to configure the
~.ip6.arpa routing domains.
When configuring per-interface DNS configuration settings it is wise to
configure everything before actually upping the interface. Once the interface
systemd-resolved.service might start using it, and hence it’s important
to have everything configured properly (this is particularly relevant when
LLMNR or MulticastDNS is enabled, since that works without any explicitly
configured DNS configuration). It is also wise to configure search/routing
domains and the
default-route boolean before configuring the DNS servers,
as the former without the latter has no effect, but the latter without the
former will result in DNS traffic possibly being generated, in a non-desirable
way given that the routing information is not set yet.
Many VPN implementations provide a way how VPN servers can inform VPN clients about search domains to use. In some cases it might make sense to install those as routing domains instead of search domains. Unqualified domain names usually imply a context of locality: the same unqualified name typically is expected to resolve to one system in one local network, and to another one in a different network. Search domains thus generally come with security implications: they might cause that unqualified domains are resolved in a different (possibly remote) context, contradicting user expectations. Thus it might be wise to downgrade search domains provided by VPN servers to routing domains, so that local unqualified name resolution remains untouched and strictly maintains its local focus — in particular in the aforementioned less trusted corporate VPN scenario.
To illustrate this further, here’s an example for an attack scenario using search domains: a user assumes the printer system they daily contact under the unqualified name “printer” is the network printer in their basement (with the fully qualified domain name “printer.home”). Sometimes the user joins the corporate VPN of their employer, which comes with a search domain “foocorp.example”, so that the user’s confidential documents (maybe a job application to a competing company) might end up being printed on “printer.foocorp.example” instead of “printer.home”. If the local VPN software had downgraded the VPN’s search domain to a routing domain “~foocorp.example”, this mismapping would not have happened.
When connecting to untrusted WiFi networks it might be wise to go one step further even: suppress installation of search/routing domains by the network entirely, to ensure that the local DNS information is only used for name resolution of qualified names and only when no better DNS configuration is available.