Escaping DNS trap in OS X

Last week a DDoS attack shut down several popular internet sites, including Twitter, Github, PayPal, Reddit, etc. The blackout was a result of a global DDoS attack on Dyn, the domain name service used by these sites.

In this post I'm going to talk about a way one could use to be able to access these websites by their fully qualified domain names regardless of the fact that their authoritative servers were not able to respond. Please note that although the method applies to all major Operating Systems, I'm only discussing OS X here.


Before I dig into the details let me offer a little challenge for you that is somewhat related to this topic. Are you a sysadmin or a DevOps? If so then you shouldn't have trouble answering following interview question, otherwise just read on:

A web application is lagging. One edit the /etc/resolv.conf and add this line nameserver It appear to fix the problem. Why?

I've seen this question on Christian Baune's list of fullstack developer questions list.

I must admit, it puzzled me at first. The mysterious just scared me off until I performed a reverse DNS lookup using host which returned: domain name pointer

It turns out Google has a public DNS server that resolves domain names to IP addresses, how cool is that? So basically a web application is lagging due to some problems with DNS, which by itself can be pretty much anything, and we can overcome those problems by resolving hosts via Google's public DNS server. While using Google's public DNS server doesn't mean we eliminiate domain name resolving problems , there is a big chance you will be able to resolve any existing domain name through it and that's exactly what happened in the hypothetical (or not?) scenario above.

#Configure DNS on OS X

Now it's time for me to explain how one could use Google's public DNS server in OS X and revert back to the original settings if so required.

There is a pre-installed tool called networksetup, here is a cut from man networksetup:

networksetup -- configuration tool for network settings in System Preferences. The networksetup command is used to configure network settings typically configured in the System Preferences application. The networksetup command requires at least "admin" privileges to run. Most of the set commands require "root" privileges to run.

First, we'll use networksetup to list all the network services we have:

networksetup listallnetworkservices

The command above should produce an output similar to following:

Bluetooth PAN
Thunderbolt Bridge

Assuming we're using Wi-Fi service, we'd fetch it's current configuration by running following command:

networksetup -getdnsservers Wi-Fi

There are two possible outputs here: either nothing is configured and the output will look like so (scenario 1):

There aren't any DNS Servers set on Wi-Fi.

...either we have something configured and the output may be similar to following (scenario 2):

Just remember the output and we will get back to it when rolling back.

Let's overwrite the settings (you may need to enter admin password in the dialog that will show up):

networksetup -setdnsservers Wi-Fi

Now any domain name you try to visit via your browser should be resolved using Google's public DNS server. That was pretty easy, wasn't it?

Later on when you need to roll back, just run the following command in case you didn't have anything configured for the network service:

networksetup -setdnsservers Wi-Fi Empty

Or if you had something configured, say then run:

networksetup -setdnsservers Wi-Fi

That's it! Thanks for reading. Happy domain names resolving :)

Hi, I'm Sergey, 30yo, father of 2, currently based in Tel Aviv, Israel.

I'm mostly passionate about #music, #programming, #sport, #ui, #ux alphabetical order :)

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