How PowerDNS translates DNS queries into backend queries

A DNS query is not a straightforward lookup. Many DNS queries need to check the backend for additional data, for example to determine if an unfound record should lead to an NXDOMAIN (‘we know about this domain, but that record does not exist’) or an unauthoritative response.

Simplified, without CNAME processing, wildcards, referrals and DNSSEC, the algorithm is like this:

When a query for a qname/qtype tuple comes in, PowerDNS queries backends to find the closest matching SOA, thus figuring out what backend owns this zone. When the right backend has been found, PowerDNS issues a qname/ANY query to the backend. If the response is empty, NXDOMAIN is concluded. If the response is not empty, any contents matching the original qtype are added to the list of records to return, and NOERROR is set.

Each of these records is now investigated to see if it needs ‘additional processing’. This holds for example for MX records which may point to hosts for which the PowerDNS backends also contain data. This involves further lookups for A or AAAA records.

After all additional processing has been performed, PowerDNS sieves out all double records which may well have appeared. The resulting set of records is added to the answer packet, and sent out.

A zone transfer works by looking up the domain_id of the SOA record of the name and then listing all records of that domain_id. This is why all records in a domain need to have the same domain_id.

If no SOA was found, a REFUSED is returned.