ProFTPD: DNS


FTP, DNS Names, and IP Addresses
FTP is an IP address-based protocol. FTP clients connect to specific IP address/port combinations; FTP servers handle client connections by listening on IP addresses. No DNS or host names are exchanged by clients and servers. FTP does not support name-based virtual hosts, as HTTP 1.1 does.

The above may seem obvious, but it must be reiterated often. Users can become confused, since FTP clients and servers often use DNS names, rather than explicit IP addresses. This is not surprising, as DNS names are easier to use than IP addresses. The clients and servers resolve those DNS names to their IP addresses, behind the users' backs.

All of this means that whenever proftpd is given a DNS name, it will resolve that DNS name to its IP address, and then use the IP address.

When are DNS Names Resolved?
When proftpd starts up and parses its configuration file, it expects to handle DNS names in the following configuration directives, if they are present:

  Allow
  DefaultAddress
  Deny
  From
  MasqueradeAddress
  <VirtualHost>
Note that if a DNS name resolves to an IPv6 address (and proftpd has been compiled with IPv6 support via the --enable-ipv6 configure option), then proftpd will handle it properly. Otherwise proftpd will attempt resolutions to IPv4 addresses only.

Even if none of the above configuration directives are used, proftpd will still perform at least one DNS lookup: it will resolve the hostname of the server on which the daemon is running, i.e. the name displayed by typing `hostname`. Why does proftpd need to know this? There is always at least one server that proftpd will handle: the "server config" server (see the virtual host howto). This "server config" server defaults to the IP address of the hostname of the machine.

Once proftpd has the complete list of IP addresses with which it work will while running, it completes its startup, and is ready to handle connections from FTP clients. The running daemon will continue doing DNS lookups when necessary. For example, every time connection is made to a proftpd daemon, or proftpd connects back to a client (as when handling active data transfers), the remote IP address is resolved to its DNS name. In addition, once the DNS name is found, that name is resolved back to an IP address. Why the additional step, when we already have the original IP address? It is possible, either through ignorance or maliciousness, to configure DNS such that an IP address will map to a name, and that name will map back to a different IP address. Configurations such this can be used to foil some DNS-based ACLs. ProFTPD now deliberately checks for such configurations.

DNS resolution from an IP address and back can add noticeable delays to the FTP session, particularly when there are many data transfers occurring and proftpd is performing the reverse DNS lookup for each one. This penalty can easily be removed by using the UseReverseDNS configuration directive:

  UseReverseDNS off
However, you should do this only if you do not have ACLs that rely on DNS names. Otherwise, your ACLs will not work as you expect. Also, if UseReverseDNS is off, proftpd will log only IP addresses in its logs, rather than more legible DNS names.

Clever users of ProFTPD know that you can use the Port directive to "disable" a given virtual host (including the "server config" host) by setting a port number of zero:

  Port 0
By disabling the virtual host that way, can you prevent proftpd from resolving the IP address for that host? No. Using the Port 0 trick like this is a hack that affects the process used to lookup the configuration to use for a client connection; it does not affect the parser, which handles the address lookup when the daemon is starting up.

Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Why do I see the following when my proftpd starts up?

  getaddrinfo 'hostname' error: No address associated with hostname
  warning: unable to determine IP address of 'hostname'
Answer: This error is ProFTPD's way of reporting that it was unsuccessful in resolving hostname to an IP address. Fixing this is a matter of configuring DNS for that hostname: properly set up an IP address for that DNS name in your DNS server, use a DNS name that has an IP address, or (as a quick fix/last resort) add that DNS name to your /etc/hosts file. The proper solution depends largely on the circumstances.

Question: If proftpd resolves any DNS names to IP addresses when it starts up, and I am using dynamic IP addresses which change after my proftpd has started, will proftpd see my new IP addresses?
Question: Unfortunately not. ProFTPD has no easy way of handling dynamic IP addresses by itself. One way of dealing with this situation is to restart proftpd periodically, which will force it to re-parse its configuration and thus re-resolve all IP addresses.

Question: What if I do not want proftpd to use DNS to resolve the hostname to an IP address because I am in an environment where there is no DNS at all?
Answer: In ProFTPD 1.3.3rc1, support for a new -S command-line option was added. This option can be used to specify the IP address of the host machine. By default, proftpd attempts to resolve the host IP address by using DNS resolution of the hostname. However, in cases where DNS is not configured for the host machine, this approach does not work.

To specify the desired IP address, use -S when starting proftpd, e.g.:

  $ /usr/local/sbin/proftpd -S 1.2.3.4 ...
And if you want proftpd to listen on all interfaces, you can specify a wildcard socket using an IP address of 0.0.0.0:
  $ /usr/local/sbin/proftpd -S 0.0.0.0 ...

Note that will also mean that, in your proftpd.conf, any <VirtualHost> sections will need to use IP addresses, not DNS names.


$Date: 2009-02-12 22:41:32 $