Domain names - concepts and facilities
RFC 1034

Document Type RFC - Internet Standard (November 1987; Errata)
Obsoletes RFC 882, RFC 973, RFC 883
Last updated 2020-01-21
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Network Working Group                                     P. Mockapetris
Request for Comments: 1034                                           ISI
Obsoletes: RFCs 882, 883, 973                              November 1987



This RFC is an introduction to the Domain Name System (DNS), and omits
many details which can be found in a companion RFC, "Domain Names -
Implementation and Specification" [RFC-1035].  That RFC assumes that the
reader is familiar with the concepts discussed in this memo.

A subset of DNS functions and data types constitute an official
protocol.  The official protocol includes standard queries and their
responses and most of the Internet class data formats (e.g., host

However, the domain system is intentionally extensible.  Researchers are
continuously proposing, implementing and experimenting with new data
types, query types, classes, functions, etc.  Thus while the components
of the official protocol are expected to stay essentially unchanged and
operate as a production service, experimental behavior should always be
expected in extensions beyond the official protocol.  Experimental or
obsolete features are clearly marked in these RFCs, and such information
should be used with caution.

The reader is especially cautioned not to depend on the values which
appear in examples to be current or complete, since their purpose is
primarily pedagogical.  Distribution of this memo is unlimited.


This RFC introduces domain style names, their use for Internet mail and
host address support, and the protocols and servers used to implement
domain name facilities.

2.1. The history of domain names

The impetus for the development of the domain system was growth in the

   - Host name to address mappings were maintained by the Network
     Information Center (NIC) in a single file (HOSTS.TXT) which
     was FTPed by all hosts [RFC-952, RFC-953].  The total network

Mockapetris                                                     [Page 1]
RFC 1034             Domain Concepts and Facilities        November 1987

     bandwidth consumed in distributing a new version by this
     scheme is proportional to the square of the number of hosts in
     the network, and even when multiple levels of FTP are used,
     the outgoing FTP load on the NIC host is considerable.
     Explosive growth in the number of hosts didn't bode well for
     the future.

   - The network population was also changing in character.  The
     timeshared hosts that made up the original ARPANET were being
     replaced with local networks of workstations.  Local
     organizations were administering their own names and
     addresses, but had to wait for the NIC to change HOSTS.TXT to
     make changes visible to the Internet at large.  Organizations
     also wanted some local structure on the name space.

   - The applications on the Internet were getting more
     sophisticated and creating a need for general purpose name

The result was several ideas about name spaces and their management
[IEN-116, RFC-799, RFC-819, RFC-830].  The proposals varied, but a
common thread was the idea of a hierarchical name space, with the
hierarchy roughly corresponding to organizational structure, and names
using "."  as the character to mark the boundary between hierarchy
levels.  A design using a distributed database and generalized resources
was described in [RFC-882, RFC-883].  Based on experience with several
implementations, the system evolved into the scheme described in this

The terms "domain" or "domain name" are used in many contexts beyond the
DNS described here.  Very often, the term domain name is used to refer
to a name with structure indicated by dots, but no relation to the DNS.
This is particularly true in mail addressing [Quarterman 86].

2.2. DNS design goals

The design goals of the DNS influence its structure.  They are:

   - The primary goal is a consistent name space which will be used
     for referring to resources.  In order to avoid the problems
     caused by ad hoc encodings, names should not be required to
     contain network identifiers, addresses, routes, or similar
     information as part of the name.

   - The sheer size of the database and frequency of updates
     suggest that it must be maintained in a distributed manner,
     with local caching to improve performance.  Approaches that

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RFC 1034             Domain Concepts and Facilities        November 1987

     attempt to collect a consistent copy of the entire database
     will become more and more expensive and difficult, and hence
     should be avoided.  The same principle holds for the structure
     of the name space, and in particular mechanisms for creating
     and deleting names; these should also be distributed.

   - Where there tradeoffs between the cost of acquiring data, the
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