SphericalKat Blog Resume

Tools of the Trade: Declarative DNS with dnscontrol


💡 A bit of context

I recently moved my site's hosting from DigitalOcean to fly.io. That's when I realized that I've been changing DNS records manually for years; go to the Cloudflare dashboard, change records, rinse-repeat...

As a programmer and self-professed automation fanatic, this rubbed me the wrong way, so I set out to do something about it. Enter DNSControl.

🤔 Hold up, what's that?

DNSControl is an opinionated platform for seamlessly managing your DNS configuration across any number of DNS hosts, both in the cloud or in your own infrastructure.

It was created by StackOverflow to manage their own domains, and was subsequently open-sourced for the rest of us (Thanks StackOverflow!).

It lets you declare your DNS records using a JavaScript-ish DSL (domain specific language); for example:

Example of a DNS configuration using dnscontrol

Okay, why should I switch?

Switching to a new tool can be scary, but here's some reasons that make DNScontrol unrivaled (in my opinion):

And much more!

🤨 Wait! I heard opinionated?

That's right. DNSControl has opinions about how to manage DNS. However, that isn't a bad thing. Let's go over their opinions and see which ones really affect us.

  1. DNS should be treated like code: Code is written in a high-level language, version controlled, commented, tested, and reviewed by a third party… and all of that happens before it goes into production.
  2. Non-experts should be able to safely make DNS changes.
  3. All DNS is lowercase for languages that have such a concept.
  4. Users should state what they want, and DNSControl should do the rest.
  5. If it is ambiguous in DNS, it is forbidden in DNSControl.
  6. Hostnames don’t have underscores.

These make total sense. To read more about the opinions and the reasons behind them, check out the documentation.

✅ Okay, I'm convinced. How do I begin?

Glad to hear it! To get started, first install DNSControl.

go install github.com/StackExchange/dnscontrol/v3@latest

Now, create a file called dnsconfig.js. This will house all the records for your site(s). Populate it with the starter boilerplate:

// Providers
var REG_NONE = NewRegistrar('none');    // No registrar.
var DNS_BIND = NewDnsProvider('bind');  // ISC BIND.

// Domains
D('example.com', REG_NONE, DnsProvider(DNS_BIND),
    A('@', '')

Next, create a file called creds.json for storing provider configurations (API tokens and other account information). For example, to use both name.com and Cloudflare, you would have:

  "cloudflare": {
    "accountid": "your-cloudflare-account-id",
    "apitoken": "your-cloudflare-api-token"
  "namecom": {
    "apikey": "key",
    "apiuser": "username"
  "none": { "TYPE": "NONE" } // the no-op provider

For a complete list of providers and how to use them, check out the provider docs.

Warning: Remember to add creds.json to your .gitignore before committing and pushing your configuration.

Now, run dnscontrol preview and make sure that it completes with no errors. The preview command is the “dry run” mode that shows what changes need to be made and never makes any actual changes. It will use APIs if needed to find out what DNS entries currently exist.

The results should look something like this:

dnscontrol preview
Initialized 1 registrars and 1 dns service providers.
******************** Domain: example.com
----- Getting nameservers from: bind
----- DNS Provider: bind... 1 correction
#1: GENERATE_ZONEFILE: example.com
 (2 records)

----- Registrar: none
Done. 1 corrections.

Next, run dnscontrol push to actually make the changes. In this case, the change will be to create a zone file where one didn’t previously exist.

dnscontrol push
Initialized 1 registrars and 1 dns service providers.
******************** Domain: example.com
----- Getting nameservers from: bind
----- DNS Provider: bind... 1 correction
#1: GENERATE_ZONEFILE: example.com
 (2 records)

CREATING ZONEFILE: zones/example.com.zone
----- Registrar: none
Done. 1 corrections.

⚙️ I already have many DNS records set up. How do I import them?

This was a problem I faced myself, and this is how you import your existing DNS configurations.

Most DNS Service Providers have an 'export to zonefile' feature. (If yours doesn't, consider moving to Cloudflare; It's free, they'll import all your records during setup, and will let you export a zonefile)

Place this zonefile inside a directory called zones in the directory where your dnsconfig.js resides. Rename the zonefile to <domain>.zone. Your directory structure should now look something like this:

├── creds.json
├── dnsconfig.js
└── zones
    └── example.com.zone

Next, run the following command:

dnscontrol get-zones --format=js --out=draft.js bind BIND example.com

Now you can copy the contents of draft.js to dnsconfig.js and modify as needed.

🚀 Lastly, some advice for running in production

I hope this tool is just as useful to you as it is to me. Stay tuned for further posts about useful tooling.