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16.3. Zone Files

Zone files contain information about a namespace and are stored in the named working directory (/var/named/) by default. Each zone file is named according to the file option data in the zone statement, usually in a way that relates to the domain in question and identifies the file as containing zone data, such as


If you have installed the bind-chroot package, the BIND service will run in the /var/named/chroot environment. All configuration files will be moved there. As such, you can find the zone files in /var/named/chroot/var/named.

Each zone file may contain directives and resource records. Directives tell the nameserver to perform tasks or apply special settings to the zone. Resource records define the parameters of the zone and assign identities to individual hosts. Directives are optional, but resource records are required to provide name service to a zone.

All directives and resource records should be entered on individual lines.

Comments can be placed after semicolon characters (;) in zone files.

16.3.1. Zone File Directives

Directives begin with the dollar sign character ($) followed by the name of the directive. They usually appear at the top of the zone file.

The following are commonly used directives:


Configures named to include another zone file in this zone file at the place where the directive appears. This allows additional zone settings to be stored apart from the main zone file.


Appends the domain name to unqualified records, such as those with the hostname and nothing more.

For example, a zone file may contain the following line:


Any names used in resource records that do not end in a trailing period (.) are appended with


The use of the $ORIGIN directive is unnecessary if the zone is specified in /etc/named.conf because the zone name is used as the value for the $ORIGIN directive by default.


Sets the default Time to Live (TTL) value for the zone. This is the length of time, in seconds, that a zone resource record is valid. Each resource record can contain its own TTL value, which overrides this directive.

Increasing this value allows remote nameservers to cache the zone information for a longer period of time, reducing the number of queries for the zone and lengthening the amount of time required to proliferate resource record changes.

16.3.2. Zone File Resource Records

The primary component of a zone file is its resource records.

There are many types of zone file resource records. The following are used most frequently:


This refers to the Address record, which specifies an IP address to assign to a name, as in this example:

<host>	IN	A	<IP-address>

If the <host> value is omitted, then an A record points to a default IP address for the top of the namespace. This system is the target for all non-FQDN requests.

Consider the following A record examples for the zone file:

server1	IN	A 
		IN	A

Requests for are pointed to or


This refers to the Canonical Name record, which maps one name to another. This type of record can also be referred to as an alias record.

The next example tells named that any requests sent to the <alias-name> should point to the host, <real-name>. CNAME records are most commonly used to point to services that use a common naming scheme, such as www for Web servers.

<alias-name>	IN	CNAME	<real-name>

In the following example, an A record binds a hostname to an IP address, while a CNAME record points the commonly used www hostname to it.

server1	IN	A 
www	IN	CNAME	server1

This refers to the Mail eXchange record, which tells where mail sent to a particular namespace controlled by this zone should go.

		IN	MX	<preference-value>	<email-server-name>

Here, the <preference-value> allows numerical ranking of the email servers for a namespace, giving preference to some email systems over others. The MX resource record with the lowest <preference-value> is preferred over the others. However, multiple email servers can possess the same value to distribute email traffic evenly among them.

The <email-server-name> may be a hostname or FQDN.

      IN     MX     10       
	IN     MX     20

In this example, the first email server is preferred to the email server when receiving email destined for the domain.


This refers to the NameServer record, which announces the authoritative nameservers for a particular zone.

The following illustrates the layout of an NS record:

      IN     NS     <nameserver-name>

Here, <nameserver-name> should be an FQDN.

Next, two nameservers are listed as authoritative for the domain. It is not important whether these nameservers are slaves or if one is a master; they are both still considered authoritative.

	IN     NS
	IN     NS

This refers to the PoinTeR record, which is designed to point to another part of the namespace.

PTR records are primarily used for reverse name resolution, as they point IP addresses back to a particular name. Refer to Section 16.3.4, “Reverse Name Resolution Zone Files” for more examples of PTR records in use.


This refers to the Start Of Authority resource record, which proclaims important authoritative information about a namespace to the nameserver.

Located after the directives, an SOA resource record is the first resource record in a zone file.

The following shows the basic structure of an SOA resource record:

@     IN     SOA    <primary-name-server>	<hostmaster-email> (
	<minimum-TTL> )

The @ symbol places the $ORIGIN directive (or the zone's name, if the $ORIGIN directive is not set) as the namespace being defined by this SOA resource record. The hostname of the primary nameserver that is authoritative for this domain is the <primary-name-server> directive, and the email of the person to contact about this namespace is the <hostmaster-email> directive.

The <serial-number> directive is a numerical value incremented every time the zone file is altered to indicate it is time for named to reload the zone. The <time-to-refresh> directive is the numerical value slave servers use to determine how long to wait before asking the master nameserver if any changes have been made to the zone. The <serial-number> directive is a numerical value used by the slave servers to determine if it is using outdated zone data and should therefore refresh it.

The <time-to-retry> directive is a numerical value used by slave servers to determine the length of time to wait before issuing a refresh request in the event that the master nameserver is not answering. If the master has not replied to a refresh request before the amount of time specified in the <time-to-expire> directive elapses, the slave servers stop responding as an authority for requests concerning that namespace.

The <minimum-TTL> directive is the amount of time other nameservers cache the zone's information.

When configuring BIND, all times are specified in seconds. However, it is possible to use abbreviations when specifying units of time other than seconds, such as minutes (M), hours (H), days (D), and weeks (W). The table in Table 16.1, “Seconds compared to other time units” shows an amount of time in seconds and the equivalent time in another format.

Seconds Other Time Units
60 1M
1800 30M
3600 1H
10800 3H
21600 6H
43200 12H
86400 1D
259200 3D
604800 1W
31536000 365D

Table 16.1. Seconds compared to other time units

The following example illustrates the form an SOA resource record might take when it is populated with real values.

@     IN     SOA (
			2001062501 ; serial                     
			21600      ; refresh after 6 hours                     
			3600       ; retry after 1 hour                     
			604800     ; expire after 1 week                     
			86400 )    ; minimum TTL of 1 day

16.3.3. Example Zone File

Seen individually, directives and resource records can be difficult to grasp. However, when placed together in a single file, they become easier to understand.

The following example shows a very basic zone file.

$TTL 86400 
@	IN	SOA (
			2001062501 ; serial                     
			21600      ; refresh after 6 hours                     
			3600       ; retry after 1 hour                     
			604800     ; expire after 1 week                     
			86400 )    ; minimum TTL of 1 day  
	IN	NS       
	IN	NS        
	IN	MX	10       
	IN	MX	20        

dns1	IN	A
dns2	IN	A	

server1	IN	A        
server2	IN	A

ftp	IN	A
mail	IN	CNAME	server1
mail2	IN	CNAME	server2

www	IN	CNAME	server1

In this example, standard directives and SOA values are used. The authoritative nameservers are set as and, which have A records that tie them to and, respectively.

The email servers configured with the MX records point to server1 and server2 via CNAME records. Since the server1 and server2 names do not end in a trailing period (.), the $ORIGIN domain is placed after them, expanding them to and Through the related A resource records, their IP addresses can be determined.

FTP and Web services, available at the standard and names, are pointed at the appropriate servers using CNAME records.

This zone file would be called into service with a zone statement in the named.conf similar to the following:

zone "" IN {
	type master;
	file "";
	allow-update { none; };

16.3.4. Reverse Name Resolution Zone Files

A reverse name resolution zone file is used to translate an IP address in a particular namespace into an FQDN. It looks very similar to a standard zone file, except that PTR resource records are used to link the IP addresses to a fully qualified domain name.

The following illustrates the layout of a PTR record:

<last-IP-digit>	IN	PTR	<FQDN-of-system>

The <last-IP-digit> is the last number in an IP address which points to a particular system's FQDN.

In the following example, IP addresses through are pointed to corresponding FQDNs. It can be located in /var/named/

$TTL 86400 
@	IN	SOA (
			2001062501 ; serial                     
			21600      ; refresh after 6 hours                     
			3600       ; retry after 1 hour                     
			604800     ; expire after 1 week                     
			86400 )    ; minimum TTL of 1 day        

1	IN	PTR       



This zone file would be called into service with a zone statement in the named.conf file similar to the following:

zone "" IN {
	type master;   
	file "";   
	allow-update { none; }; 

There is very little difference between this example and a standard zone statement, except for the zone name. Note that a reverse name resolution zone requires the first three blocks of the IP address reversed followed by This allows the single block of IP numbers used in the reverse name resolution zone file to be associated with the zone.

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