Software for providing DNS and DHCP services have typically come from ISC in the form of BIND and dhcpd. While these software packages are quite robust and, for the most part, quite secure, there are other alternatives that may work better depending on your situation. For smaller home or office networks, managing BIND and dhcpd may be overkill.
Another solution that provides both services is dnsmasq, which will cache external DNS addresses, provide local DNS names or override external DNS entries, and also provides dynamic IP addresses in the form of DHCP. It can even provide static IP addresses over DHCP, the same as dhcpd, with the only pre-requisite being the MAC address of the system to assign the static IP to.
Most Linux distributions come with dnsmasq packaged, so it is a simple apt-get, yum, or urpmi away. Otherwise, compiling from source is quite easy. Dnsmasq handles DNS setup differently than BIND and other DNS servers. Everything is configured via a single configuration file, /etc/dnsmasq.conf.
When a request comes in, dnsmasq does not look in zone or similar files; it consults /etc/hosts first and then will look externally for addresses by consulting the name server(s) defined in /etc/resolv.conf. This is a quick and easy way to override external DNS addresses by simply defining them in /etc/hosts on the system that is running dnsmasq.
Dnsmasq also provides DHCP services quite easily. To do so, uncomment and set the following options in /etc/dnsmasq.conf:
This will enable DHCP and set the network domain to "example.com." The DHCP server will offer addresses between 192.168.0.50 and 192.168.0.150 with a lease of 12 hours. Finally, dhcp-option sets the third (3) DHCP option, which sets the default route, pointing to 192.168.0.1 as the router. There are a lot of dhcp-option values; the configuration file and man pages go through them all with examples.
To set a static IP address for a client, use the dhcp-host keyword:
This will always give the host with the hardware MAC address of 11:22:33:44:55:66 the hostname foo (.example.com) and the IP address 192.168.0.10.
Another useful feature of dnsmasq is that it provides a TFTP server as well. You can enable the TFTP server, point it to the root directory of files to serve, and make use of network booting (PXE).
Dnsmasq provides a number of features that make it a compelling replacement for BIND and dhcpd, or any other DNS or DHCP server software you may be using. It can set default MX records, various caching options, a wide variety of DHCP options, SRV records to provide LDAP information, PTR records, SPF records, and even Zeroconf records.
For small office and home networks, dnsmasq is hard to beat in terms of simplicity and power. The configuration file is loaded with examples and information so, while initial setup for a larger network will require a commitment of some time, it is all very straightforward.
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Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.