Configuring DNS Search Suffixes

Configuring DNS Search Suffixes

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

First published 2/12/2011



The search suffix is used by the client side resolver to “suffix” a DNS query.

For example, if I were to ping a hostname called “serverName,” if a search suffix has been configured, whether automatically (being joined to a domain), or manually (variety of methods discussed below), it will “suffix” the search suffix to my query.

For example, if there is a suffix configured for “,” and I type in “ping serverName,” the resulting query will be “” If there is no suffix, it will just ping the single name.

More on how the client side resolver algorith works, can be found in my other blog:

DNS, WINS NetBIOS & the Client Side Resolver, Browser Service, Disabling NetBIOS, Direct Hosted SMB (DirectSMB), If One DC is Down Does a Client logon to Another DC, and DNS Forwarders Algorithm if you have multiple forwarders.


More on Suffixes

By default, a freshly installed machine, out of the box, has no Suffixes created.

When you join a machine to an Active Directory domain, the machine takes on the domain’s DNS FQDN as the Primary DNS Suffix. The Primary DNS Suffix also becomes the default Search Suffix, and will apply to all interfaces on the machine.

For example, if a machine is not joined to an AD domain, and no search suffixes have been configured (out of the box), the top portion of an ipconfig /all would look like this. Notice there are no suffixes:

C:\>ipconfig /all

Windows IP Configuration

   Host Name . . . . . . . . . . . . : TestBox
   Primary Dns Suffix  . . . . . . . :
   Node Type . . . . . . . . . . . . : Hybrid
   IP Routing Enabled. . . . . . . . : No
   WINS Proxy Enabled. . . . . . . . : No

If the AD domain name is ‘,” and the machine was joined to the domain, the top portion of an ipconfig /all would look like this.

C:\>ipconfig /all

Windows IP Configuration

   Host Name . . . . . . . . . . . . : TestBox
   Primary Dns Suffix  . . . . . . . :
   Node Type . . . . . . . . . . . . : Hybrid
   IP Routing Enabled. . . . . . . . : No
   WINS Proxy Enabled. . . . . . . . : No
   DNS Suffix Search List. . . . . . :

If the AD domain name is a child domain, such as, the ipconfig /all would look like this. Notice how the Search Suffix is configured to devolve the parent domain, which is an automatic function. This can be altered or disabled, in the NIC’s properties (IP properties, Advanced, DNS tab -> “Append parent suffixes of the primary DNS suffix”), a GPO or in the registry.

C:\>ipconfig /all

Windows IP Configuration

   Host Name . . . . . . . . . . . . : TestBox
   Primary Dns Suffix  . . . . . . . :
   Node Type . . . . . . . . . . . . : Hybrid
   IP Routing Enabled. . . . . . . . : No
   WINS Proxy Enabled. . . . . . . . : No
   DNS Suffix Search List. . . . . . :


Windows 7, Windows 2008 & Windows 2008 R2 Devolution Nuances

With Windows 2003 and older, what you see above is default behavior, that is to append the parent suffix. However, with Windows 7 & Windows 2008, this was changed. Windows 2008, Windows 2008 R2, and Windows 7 by default have changed the way the Append parent suffixes of the primary DNS suffix (also known as “devolution”) setting works. This is even if you have the “Append parent suffixes of the primary DNS suffix” setting enabled, it will still set the devolved parent zone.

To fix it and make the newer operating systems work like 2003 and older, you have to make somce changes. Read the following nicely assembled article for specifics on how to handle this with registry entried, if you feel this is affecting your environment:

Windows 2008 Append parent suffixes of the primary DNS suffix does not work

More info on this from Microsoft:

DNS DevolutionPublished: October 21, 2009, Updated: July 7, 2010
Applies To: Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2


Multi-Domain Forests with two or more child domains

If you are in a multi-domain forest with two or more child domains, besides understanding the suffixes that need to be added, you’ll also need to understand your DNS design options in this type of scenario. More on this in my other blog:

DNS Design Options in a Multi-Domain Forest – How to create a Parent-Child DNS Delegation

If the environment includes Windows 7, 2008 & R2, you may want to take a look at the subsection in the section above on the nuances of the newer operating systems and how to deal with it.


Choices to Configure a Suffix

In some scenarios where either in an AD environment with multiple child domains that you need to populate the suffix of the other child domains, or with a non-joined machine (such as a home user machine in a workgroup), that you need to populate additional suffixes to resolve names in partner or specific zones, you can add them a variety of ways, some of which are:

With Active Directory

  • Group Policy
  • WSH script, Registry script, or some other type of scripting
  • DHCP Option 015 (however this has its limits)
  • DHCP 119 or DHCP Option 135 – (This is not supported with Windows DHCP and Windows clients)

In a Workgroup

  • DHCP Option 015 (however this has its limits)
  • Local Group Policy
  • WSH Script, Registry script, or some other type of scripting
  • DHCP 119 or DHCP Option 135 – (This is not supported with Windows DHCP and Windows clients)


Using Group Policy

If you are in an AD environment, this is a great option to populate a custom Search Suffix for all interfaces on a machine. It’s easy, too, because it’s done once and it’s automatic. It works for Windows 2008R2, 2008, Windows 7, Vista, 2003, XP,  and all newer operating systems. If you’re still using Windows 2000 Active Directory, you’ll need to upgrade the GPOs using a Windows 2003 or XP machine.

Upgrading Windows 2000 Group Policy for Windows XP:;en-us;307900

Group policies for DNS in Windows Server 2003 and newer

After the GPOs have been upgraded, or if the sysetm is already at the latest operating system version and service packs, expand the Group policy section to add the custom search list to the following location:

Computer Configuration
   -Administrative templates
               -DNS Client


Take a look at the following article. You will want to alter the Primary DNS Suffix Devolution value. Just make sure you document it, so when one day comes up you don’t want it anymore, you don’t go crazy trying to figure out where’s it coming from. You would be surprised that this question comes up once in awhile, and one of the suggestions is to check if they’re coming from a GPO.

It refers to the registry key controlled by GPO – this will over-ride the standard internal registry setting at:

If you want to kill the devolution tickbox, have a look at this article:

Just a reminder, you do not want to alter the Default Domain Policy GPO or the Default Domain Controllers GPO. You would want to create a separate GPO, and link it to the OU where the computers reside that you want apply the suffix.




You could also use populate the regkey by a WSH or VB cript if you didn’t want to pull in the extra ADMX GPO template… and this will force your client to JUST resolve hosts on or whatever:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00


Or use the command:
reg add HKLM\system\currentcontrolset\services\tcpip\parameters /v “SearchList” /d “,” /f

The key thing to observe with manual suffix lists, (from KB275553, link below), is that if you distribute a suffix list then it blocks devolution and use of primary or connection-specific suffixes… therefore you’ll want to enter the list carefully with exactly what you need.

How to configure a domain suffix search list on the Domain Name System clients


DHCP Option 015

You can assign a connection specific DNS suffix using DHCP option 015, which is added to the search list. But, you can assign only one DNS suffix per client using this DHCP Option.

Because it’s called the “Connection Specific Suffix, it’s only good for the specific connection that received a DHCP assignment. This means that the connection that receives a DHCP config from DHCP, will get this suffix as the Search Suffix.

Just to illustrate what this means, you can test it by setting a suffix in Option 015 that’s different than the domain’s zone name. First, if the AD domain’s zone name is ‘,’ then the Primary DNS Suffix become ‘’  when you join the machine to the domain. The default Search Suffix becomes the default Search Suffix. Now in DHCP Option 015, configure ‘’ as the connection specific suffix. Now go to the workstation and run a /release and /renew. You will now see the suffix you configured in 015 in addition to the machine’s default.

So if you are trying to simply add one additional suffix, this will work for your DHCP clients. However, if you’re trying to add more than one additional suffix, and/or if you have numerous statically configured machines (such as servers), then a GPO will be the better alternative, which Tiger and JM already suggested.


DHCP Option 119

This is not supported under Windows DHCP or Windows clients. For non-Windows DHCP servers, you can use DHCP Option 119, which populates Search Suffixes based on RFC 3397. However, it’s not supported under Windows DHCP at this time.

RFC 3397 – Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) Domain Sea


DHCP Option 135

You can use DHCP Option 135, however DHCP Option 135 is not supported by Microsoft DHCP. DHCP option 135 is usually used for devices, such as a phone system, based on RFC 4578, unless it was superceded, or this one superceded a prior one
defining such an option value. Take a look at the list of DHCP options in the following article, but keep in mind, Microsoft does not support all of them and many are used by IP based device manufacturers.

RFC 4578 – Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) Options for the Intel Preboot eXecution Environment (PXE)

DHCP and BootP Options

You can *possibly* create the option in DHCP, but that would require some testing on your part.



If in an Active Directory environment, you’ll find it much easier to populate suffixes using a GPO.

If in a workgroup, you can use DHCP Option 015, or a script. But as I mentioned above, Option 015 is just the “connection specific suffix,” which only the interface that gets a DHCP configuration from this scope will apply to, meaning that if there are additional interfaces, they will not receive it. The GPO method applies to the machine for all interfaces.


Ace Fekay

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