DNS over TLS

June 18, 2023

A few months ago I finally got optical internet connection with native IPv6 . This prompted me to slightly reconfigure my devices: I abandoned HE.net’s tunnel as my IPv6 outlet.

I explored my DNS hardening as well. At first I flipped a DNSSEC and DNSOverTLS on for systemd-resolved without much thought and got it to do something. The result seemed to work.

Later I noticed that netstat takes a while to resolve local IPv6 addresses back to domain names: it took 10+ seconds per printed line.

This seems to be a reproducer:

$ dig slyfox.uni.cx AAAA | grep -v '^;'
slyfox.uni.cx.          37      IN      AAAA    2a00:23c8:a613:101:7912:b70d:1c91:ab02

$ time dig -x 2a00:23c8:a613:101:7912:b70d:1c91:ab02
;; communications error to timed out
;; communications error to timed out
;; communications error to timed out

; <<>> DiG 9.18.14 <<>> -x 2a00:23c8:a613:101:7912:b70d:1c91:ab02
;; global options: +cmd
;; no servers could be reached

real    0m15.028s
user    0m0.002s
sys     0m0.005s

Reverse resolve was not only slow: it also did not return a reasonable DNS response (NXDOMAIN or similar). This means result did not get cached at all and subsequent run was as slow.

Why did slowness start happening? IPv4-only world with HE.net tunnel had no such problems.

I have effectively external IPv6 address for some internet facing resources. They are in the same subnet as my desktop! This makes local reverse resolution to be very slow.

systemd-resolved as is does not provide detailed enough logs. I had to strace it to see what DNS servers and protocols it talks to. Not very convenient.

strace revealed that systemd-resolved sends some of reverse lookup requests to link-specific DNS server which happens to be my ISP router (over DoT port which router does not support). Other requests are sent to globally configured DNS. That was a surprise.

Disabling DNSOverTLS=yes option also did not help: the router still did not want to resolve or forward the requests upstream.

On top of that systemd-resolved did not keep a TCP connection to DoT servers. As a result each (even successful) resolve takes a while due to a 3-way TCP (and TLS?) handshake. This adds about 10ms to each uncached query.

I wanted a bit more flexibility where my DNS requests go. Thus I switched over to a familiar unbound package. unbound does keep TCP connections to DoT servers (which makes even uncached DNS requests under 10ms). Debugging story is also more straightforward: specifying verbosity: ... parameter in the config is enough to see what is being resolved and how forwards happen.

On NixOS the naive switch to unbound is a few lines of service setup:

{ ... }:
  # Slow at resolving reverse loopups for IPv6, like:
  #   $ dig -x 2002:...
  services.resolved.enable = false;

  services.unbound = {
    enable = true;

    settings = {
      forward-zone = [
          name = ".";
          forward-tls-upstream = "yes";
          forward-addr = [

Most of “code” here is to specify DoT-capable recursive servers. The above expands to the following unbound configuration:

$ cat /etc/unbound/unbound.conf

  access-control: allow
  access-control: ::1/128 allow
  auto-trust-anchor-file: /var/lib/unbound/root.key
  chroot: ""
  directory: /var/lib/unbound
  do-daemonize: no
  interface: ::1
  ip-freebind: yes
  pidfile: ""
  tls-cert-bundle: /etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt
  username: unbound
  forward-addr: 2001:4860:4860::8888@853#dns.google
  forward-addr: 2001:4860:4860::8844@853#dns.google
  forward-tls-upstream: yes
  name: .
  control-cert-file: /var/lib/unbound/unbound_control.pem
  control-enable: no
  control-interface: ::1
  control-key-file: /var/lib/unbound/unbound_control.key
  server-cert-file: /var/lib/unbound/unbound_server.pem
  server-key-file: /var/lib/unbound/unbound_server.key

Now all my direct and reverse queries are nice and quick:

$ time dig -x 2a00:23c8:a613:101:7912:b70d:1c91:ab02
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NXDOMAIN, id: 6507

0.a.2.ip6.arpa.         1274    IN      SOA     pri.authdns.ripe.net. dns.ripe.net. 1687019637 3600 600 864000 3600

;; Query time: 0 msec
;; WHEN: Sat Jun 17 22:15:27 BST 2023
;; MSG SIZE  rcvd: 161

WARNING: do not use these settings as is until you fully understand the implications of abandoning your default resolver. Non-exhaustive list of things to note:

I have local workarounds for all of these. Your setup will likely be different.

When picking among DoT public servers I was choosing between:

These are all for-profit companies. Your priorities might prompt you to evaluate other DoT-capable servers.

Anyway. Of the above somehow Cloudflare latency is consistently 2x-3x slower for initial DoT setup than the other two:

$ dig +tls @ kernel.org
kernel.org.             100     IN      A
;; Query time: 50 msec

$ dig +tls @ kernel.org
kernel.org.             175     IN      A
;; Query time: 14 msec

$ dig +tls @ kernel.org
kernel.org.             289     IN      A
;; Query time: 19 msec

Maybe Cloudflare does not have a close enough TLS termination near me? mtr -4 -T -P 853 says that both and are 4.5ms away from me, while is 9ms away from me. Non-TLS queries are as performant mtr-reported values:

$ dig @ kernel.org
kernel.org.             52      IN      A

;; Query time: 5 msec

$ dig +tcp @ kernel.org
kernel.org.             92      IN      A

;; Query time: 5 msec

$ dig +tcp @ kernel.org
kernel.org.             36      IN      A

;; Query time: 9 msec

I settled on dns.google ( and backups).

Parting words

systemd-resolved needs a bit of handholding to make reverse resolves to work quickly. unbound is a bit easier to get up and running.

DoT’s latency tax is around 2-3x as it needs more RTTs supposedly for TLS-related machinery. If your resolver is close enough it’s not too bad.

In theory DNS-over-QUIC could shrink latency further down to levels of unencrypted DNS. One DoQ gains more popularity and it’s support gets added to unbound: https://github.com/NLnetLabs/unbound/issues/743.

Have fun!