dnsmasq and racoon VPN

I’ve always used the standard dhcp3 server on my local networks (non-routable IPs). Never really knew of any other options and I didn’t look for any. As the few networks I manage have gotten larger I’ve wanted my DHCP server to be able to feed information into local DNS so I don’t have to maintain hosts files or remember IP addresses. I’ve heard horror stories about configuring BIND so I figured hooking up DHCP and BIND would be way too much work for my purposes.

After some digging I ran across dnsmasq [1]. It’s a DHCP server and a DNS proxy rolled into one. As it doles out DHCP leases it populates the DNS proxy with host names, just what I need. There are a good lot of howto’s out there for setting up dnsmasq so I won’t pollute the web with another one that’s likely not as good as the others. Frankly, dnsmasq can pretty much be configured with the information contained in its well documented example config file (provided as part of the Debian package).

What I will add to the inter-tubes is how I got dnsmasq to resolve names for VPN users connected to the racoon VPN that I’ve documented in a previous post [2] without interfering with other DNS configurations on the client. This requires a few modifications to the racoon server config and the client side up/down scripts. It also takes some resolvconf magic to finish the job.

Serving DNS info to VPN Clients

The configuration required to get racoon to send DNS information to clients as part of the mode_cfg is pretty straight forward.

    dns4 10.XXX.XXX.XXX;
    default_domain "vpn.example";

That’s it. The client side up script receives these config parameters in two new environment variables: INTERNAL_DNS4_LIST and DEFAULT_DOMAIN. The INTERNAL_DNS4_LIST reflects the fact that we can include the address of more than one DNS server. In this example we’ve only got one but we write our script such that it can handle the list.

In the up script we’ve got the DNS information now but what do we do with it? I’m no expert at building a resolv.conf files by hand and I really don’t want to be. We need a way to manage multiple DNS configurations at the same time such that when we need to resolve names for hosts on the VPN network they get routed to the DNS server configuration received from racoon. Other names we want resolved by whatever DNS configuration was in place when we brought up the VPN connection. The resolvconf program (yeah bad/confusing choice of names) almost does what we need.

Client Configuration with resolvconf

The man page for resolvconf is pretty straight forward but it leaves out one specific detail. By my reading of the man page I would think to call resolvconf as follows:

  echo -e "domain ${DEFAULT_DOMAIN}nnameserver ${DNS_IP}" | resolvconf -a ${INTERFACE}

Where INTERFACE would be the name of the interface we’re talking to the VPN through.

This doesn’t actually work though. After an hour of trying multiple configurations to see what I was doing wrong I thought to look at the script that the resolvconf package installed in my /etc/network/if-up.d directory. This script takes whatever DNS info was associated with the interface either statically in the interfaces file or dynamically over DHCP and feeds it into the resolvconf program. It does something funny though. The interface name used isn’t actually that of the interface. The script appends the address family to the interface name passed into resolvconf.

I tried using this convention for the VPN configuration scripts. I appended ‘.vpn’ to the interface name (very original I know) and this time the DNS info obtained over the VPN doesn’t stomp all over the existing DNS info (the configuration my laptop got from DHCP on the local network). The small addition to the racoon up script is as follows:

RESOLVCONF=$(which resolvconf)
INTERFACE=$(ip route get ${REMOTE_ADDR} 
    | grep --only-match 'dev[[:space:]][0-9a-zA-Z]*' | awk '{print $2}')
if [ -x ${RESOLVCONF} ]; then
    for DNS in ${INTERNAL_DNS4_LIST}
        INPUT=${INPUT}$(echo "nameserver ${DNS}")
    echo -n -e "domain ${DEFAULT_DOMAIN}n${INPUT}" 
        | resolvconf -a "${INTERFACE}.vpn" | logger -t "phaseone-up"

This is a step in the right direction but it still doesn’t work exactly as we want.

The resolv.conf file generated by resolvconf after bringing up the VPN looks like this:

nameserver 192.XXX.XXX.XXX
nameserver 10.XXX.XXX.XXX
search home.example vpn.example

Here the 192.XXX.XXX.XXX DNS server was obtained by our network interface when it was brought up using DHCP. This is the DNS server on my home network. It knows the names of devices that have registered using DHCP and when searching for a hostname that’s not qualified the suffix appended is ‘home.example’. I leave off the top level suffix to prevent the proxy from forwarding bad search requests. The 10.XXX.XXX.XXX DNS server is the one that will resolve hosts on the VPN network. Again it knows the names of devices that have registered on the VPN network using DHCP and provides the search suffix of ‘vpn.example’.

Why This Doesn’t Work

Because the home DNS server is listed before the VPN DNS server it will be queried first. When asked for a host that exists on the VPN domain the query will first be sent to the DNS server on the home.example netowrk and the query will fail. The query will fall through to the next nameserver only in the case of a timeout or an error so the VPN DNS server will not be queried in this case and we can’t resolve names on the VPN network. If we switch their order manually we’ll be able to resolve names on the vpn.example network but attempts to resolve names on the home.example network will fail.

This situation is represented graphically here:

To make this more concrete, say we want to resolve the name for ‘bob’ (like if I were to run ‘ping bob’), a system on the home.example network. We’d expect the resolver to be smart enough to search through the two available DNS servers knowing their search domains. It could ask the vpn.example DNS server for ‘bob.vpn.example’ and if I didn’t find bob there it could then ask the DNS server on home.example for ‘bob.home.example’. If only the resolver functions in libc were this smart.
NOTE: we’d be in trouble if each network has a host named ‘bob’ but how to handle that situation is out of scope for this discussion.

For configurations that are relatively advanced we have to fall back on a DNS proxy like dnsmasq. Yes we’re already running dnsmasq as a DNS proxy on these two networks but the problem we’re running into is that the resolver on the client isn’t smart enough. The smarts we need are built into dnsmasq.

dnsmasq as a Client-side DNS Proxy

Installing dnsmasq on the client is painless. It’s already tied into the resolvconf system so its notified of changes to the reslover information but it preserves the behavior of the standard libc resolver described above. We can however statically configure dnsmasq to consult a particular DNS servers for a specific domain with one configuration line:


For the network layout described we could add two lines to the dnsmasq.conf file to get the behavior we want:


Static configurations stink though (too easy) and with a little more work we can get the same effect with a short script:

# ip address from string to int                              
function inet_aton () {
    local count=3
    local int=0
    for num in $(echo $1 | sed -e 's/./ /g'); do
        let "int+=$num*256**$count"
        let "count-=1"
    echo $int
pushd "/etc/resolvconf/run/interface/" > /dev/null
FILES=$(/lib/resolvconf/list-records | sed -e '/^lo.dnsmasq$/d')
for file in $FILES; do
    ns=$(cat $file | sed -n -e 's/^[[:space:]]*nameserver[[:space:]]+//p')
    PARAMS+="uint32:$(inet_aton $ns) "
    domain=$(cat $file | sed -n -e 's/^[[:space:]]*domain[[:space:]]+//p')
    PARAMS+="string:$domain "
dbus-send --system  --dest='uk.org.thekelleys.dnsmasq' 
    /uk/org/thekelleys/dnsmasq uk.org.thekelleys.SetServers $PARAMS
popd > /dev/null

For this script to make sense it’s important to know that when the resolvconf system is passed DNS information for a particular interface it makes a file with the name of the interface in /etc/resolvconf/run/interface/. This last script is placed in the directory /etc/resolvconf/update.d/. Each script in this directory is run every time the resolvconf information is changed. In the script we extract the nameserver and domain information from each file and send it to dnsmasq through the dnsmasq dbus interface (which must be enabled in dnsmasq.conf).

That’s it. Now each time we make a connection to the VPN the racoon client scripts send the VPN DNS info into resolvconf. resolvconf then runs its update.d scripts and the new script that we’ve provided takes this DNS information and sends it through to dnsmasq through a dbus interface. That was a lot of work, but now my VPN works the way I want it to. Well worth the effort IMHO.

I’m no dbus expert but I don’t really like the dnsmasq dbus interface. All functionality for manipulating the servers is packed into one function. As you can see from the above script it’s just “SetServers”. The interface would be much more effective and much easier to use if this one function were broken up into several, like an “AddServer”, “RemoveServer” etc. The full documentation for the dnsmasq dbus interface can be found here [3]. Proposing a few patches to fix this up would be a fun summer project šŸ™‚

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