DNS Zone Types Explained, and their Significance in Active Directory

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Ace Fekay, MCT, MVP, MCSE 2012/Cloud, MCITP EA, MCTS Windows 2008/R2, Exchange 2007 & 2010, Exchange 2010 Enterprise Administrator, MCSE 2003/2000, MCSA Messaging 2003
   Microsoft Certified Trainer
   Microsoft MVP: Directory Services
   Active Directory, Exchange and Windows Infrastructure Engineer and Janitor

Revisions

Original publication 4/30/2013

Prelude

Ace here again. I thought to touch base on DNS zones, and more so, focus on what AD integrated zones are and how they work. This blog almost mimics my class lecture on this topic. Check back for updates periodically, which I will notate with a timestamp above with whatever I’ve added or modified.

This topic was also briefly discussed in the following Microsoft Technet forum thread:
Technet thread: “Secondary Zones?”
http://social.technet.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/winserverNIS/thread/c1b0f3ac-c8af-4f4e-a5bc-23d034c85400

 

AD Integrated Zones AD Database Storage Locations

First up is a background on the various parts of the Active Directory database and what gets stored in them. This will help understand where DNS data is stored as I discuss it later in this blog.

The Active Directory Data Store (the AD database):

There are three possible storage locations for DNS zone storage in the Active Directory database:

  • DomainNC – This was the only available location with Windows 2000. This replicates to all DCs only in a specific domain.
  • DomainDnsZones partition – Introduced in Windows 2003 and used in all newer operating systems. This replicates to all DCs only in a specific domain in the forest.
  • ForestDnsZones partition. This replicates to all DCs in the forest.

You can see how not all partitions are replicated forest wide. It depends on the partition:

 

Ok, Now the DNS Basics:

  • A Secondary is a read-only copy
  • A Secondary zone stores it’s data in a text file (by default in the system32\dns folder)
  • A Secondary gets a copy of the zone data from the Primary
  • A Primary is the writeable copy
  • A Primary stores it’s zone data in a text file (by default in the system32\dns folder)
  • There can only be one Primary, but as many Secondary zones as you want.
  • You must allow zone transfer capabilities from the Primary zone if you want to create a Secondary.
  • AD integrated zones do NOT need zone transfers to be allowed (see below for specifics)

Active directory Integrated Zones changes this a bit:

AD Integrated zones are similar to Primary zones, however their data is stored as binary data in the actual AD database and not as a text file. The specific place in the AD database depends on the DC’s operating system version and replication scope, which means what “logical” part of the physical AD database it’s stored in, which will affect which DCs in the forest it will replicate to.

  • The “only one Primary Zone” rule is changed by introducing the Multi-Master Primary feature. This is because the data is not stored as a text file, rather it is stored in the actual, physical AD database (in one of 3 difference logical locations or what we call the Replication Scope), and any DC that has DNS installed (based on the replication scope) will be a writeable copy.
  • The zone data is replicated to other DCs in the replication scope where the data is stored (based on one of the 3 logical locations)
  • Each DC in the replication scope that has DNS installed, will automatically make available the zone data in DNS
  • Each DC that hosts the zone can “write” to the zone, and the changes get replicated to other DCs in the replication scope of the zone/
  • The DC that makes a change becomes the SOA at that point in time, until another DC makes a change to the zone, then it becomes the SOA
  • An AD Integrated zone can be configured to allow zone transfers to a Secondary, but the Secondary CANNOT be a DC in the same replication scope as the zone you are trying to create as a Secondary, otherwise the DC you are attempting to create the Secondary on will automatically change it to AD integrated, since it “sees” it in the AD database. In some cases, if this is forced or done incorrectly, it can lead to duplicate or conflicting zones in the AD database, which is problematic until fixed.

And if you install DNS on another DC, the zone data will *automatically* appear because DNS will recognize the data in the AD database. AD integrated zones can also act as a Primary zone for secondary zones, whether they are on Windows machines, BIND (on Unix) or any other name brand.

Remember, AD integrated zones still follow the RFCs, but have more features.

 

Duplicate or Conflicting zones?

Since I touched based on duplicate and conflicting zones, you may want to check if they exist in your AD database. You have to check each partition, and if you have more than one domain, you have to check the DomainDnsZones and DomainNC of each domain. You may even have to check it on multiple DCs in various AD Sites to see if they all “see” the same copy or different copies. You would be surprised what I’ve seen with AD replication problems and seeing different DCs “seeing” something different in its own database. This issue also manifests as a symptom in more than just a DNS problem, where you create a user on one DC and it never replicates to another DC.

Using ADSI Edit to Resolve Conflicting or Duplicate AD Integrated DNS zones
http://msmvps.com/blogs/acefekay/archive/2009/09/02/using-adsi-edit-to-resolve-conflicting-or-duplicate-ad-integrated-dns-zones.aspx

 

Primary Standard Zone, Secondary Standard Zones & Zone Transfers

Zone transfers allow you to create a read only copy (a Secondary zone) on another DNS server, that will pull a copy (transfers) from the read/writable zone (the Primary zone).

Primary and Secondary zones store their data as text files.

On a Windows machine, the zone files can be found in the \system32\dns folder with a file name such as “domain.com.dns”. You can have numerous read only copies, but there can only be one read/write of that zone.

Please keep in mind, the authoritative DNS server listed in the registrar for a public domain name (zone) does not have to be a Primary, it’s just the host nameserver listed as authoritative. It can get it’s data from a Primary that is not listed, hence the writable copy is actually hidden and protected from public access.

Do I need Zone transfers Allowed for AD Integrated Zones if I do not have Secondaries Zones?

The short answer: NOPE.

The reason is that the term “AD Integrated” means the zone is stored in the AD database, and the zone will replicate to other domain controllers within the same replication scope (domain-wide or forest-wide) automatically as part of the AD replication process.

By default, AD integrated zones are configured to not allow zone transfers.

Allowing zone transfers is an option provided to support non-DC DNS servers, BIND or any other name brand DNS server that you want to allow zone transfers to a secondary on those servers.

Rotating SOA

Additional security options of AD integrated zones, is one of the feature of AD integrated zones, as well as the fact that there can be more than one Primary zone copy of it. This is because all DNS servers that host the zone in a domain or forest has the ability to be a writable copies and becomes the actual “start of authority” (SOA) of that zone when a specific DC/DNS accepts a write operation, such as a client machine registering, or the DC itself updating its SRV records.

For example, if a DC updates it’s SRV and other records at the default 60 minute interval (all other machines register every 24 hours), it will update its data into the DNS server listed as the first DNS address in the network card. This server now writes it into DNS and NOW becomes the SOA of the zone. That data is replicated to other DC/DNS servers with default AD replication. Now all other DC/DNS servers will see the change.

To further explain, since the zone is AD integrated, each and every DC in the replication scope of the zone, can accept changes, due to an AD integrated zone’s Multi-Master Primary Zone features. Based on the definition of what an SOA is, that is being the DNS server that’s authoritative to accept writes, therefore, whichever DC/DNS accepted a change to the zone, that specific DC/DNS will become the SOA for that moment in time. Then when the next DC/DNS that accepts a change, it will now become the new SOA. The SOA constantly changing in an AD environment is accepted, and default behavior.

That is why you can watch the SOA name on AD integrated zones change. The data is replicated automatically as part of the AD replication process because it is stored in the AD database.

Active Directory-integrated DNS zone serial number behavior (SOA default behavior) 
http://support.microsoft.com/kb/282826 

 

References

Configure AD Integrated Zones
(When converting to AD integrated zones)
Quoted: “Only primary zones can be stored in the directory. If a zone is configured on other domain controllers as a secondary zone, these zones will be converted to primary zones when you convert the zone to AD integrated. This is because the multimaster replication model of Active Directory removes the need for secondary zones when a zone is stored in Active Directory. Conversion of the zone from secondary to primary will occur when AD DS is restarted.”
 http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ee649181(v=ws.10)

Understanding DNS Zones
http://www.tech-faq.com/understanding-dns-zones.html

Understanding stub zones: Domain Name System(DNS)
Jan 21, 2005 – The master servers for a stub zone are one or more DNS servers authoritative for the child zone, usually the DNS server hosting the primary …
http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/cc779197(v=ws.10).aspx

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