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Supporting New DNS RR Types with dnsextlang, Part I

CircleID CircleID: The Domain Name System has always been intended to be extensible. The original spec in the 1980s had about a dozen resource record types (RRTYPEs), and since then people have invented many more so now there are about 65 different RRTYPEs. But if you look at most DNS zones, you'll only see a handful of types, NS, A, AAAA, MX, TXT, and maybe SRV. Why? A lot of the other types are arcane or obsolete, but there are plenty that are useful. Moreover, new designs like DKIM, DMARC, and notoriously SPF have reused TXT records rather than defining new types of their own. Why? It's the provisioning crudware.

While DNS server software is regularly updated to handle new RRTYPEs, the web based packages that most people have to use to manage their DNS is almost never updated, and usually, handles only a small set of RRTYPEs. This struck me as unfortunate, so I defined a DNS extension language that provisioning systems can use to look up the syntax of new RRTYPEs, so when a new type is created, only the syntax tables have to be updated, not the software. Paul Vixie had the clever idea to store the tables in the DNS itself (in TXT records of course), so after a one-time upgrade to your configuration software, new RRTYPEs work automagically when their description is added to the DNS.

The Internet draft that describes this has been kicking around for six years, but with support from ICANN (thanks!) I wrote some libraries and a sample application that implements it.

Adding new RRTYPEs is relatively straightforward because the syntax is quite simple. Each record starts with an optional name (the default being the same as the previous record) optional class and time to live, the mnemonic for the record type such as A or MX or NAPTR, and then a sequence of fields, each of which is a possibly quoted string of characters. Different RRTYPEs interpret the fields differently, but it turns out that a fairly small set of fields types suffice for most RRTYPEs.

Here's a typical rrype description, for a SRV record. In each line, the stuff after the space is descriptive text.

SRV:33:I Server Selection

  I2:priority Priority

  I2:weight Weight

  I2:port Port

  N:target Target host name

The first line says the mnemonic is SRV, the type number is 33, it's only defined in the IN class (the "I".) There are three two-byte integer fields, priority, weight, and port, and a DNS name target. The first word on each field line is the field name, the rest of the line is a comment for humans.

When stored in the DNS, each of those lines is a string in DNS TXT records, like this:

SRV.RRNAME.ARPA. IN TXT ("SRV:33:I Server Selection" "I2:priority Priority"

  "I2:weight Weight" "I2:port Port" "N:target Target host name")

33.RRTYPE.ARPA. IN TXT ("SRV:33:I Server Selection" "I2:priority Priority"

  "I2:weight Weight" "I2:port Port" "N:target Target host name")

In the DNS, there are two copies, one at the text name of the RRTYPE, and one at its numeric code. (Until the records are there, the software packages let you change the location. I've put descriptions at name.RRNAME.SERVICES.NET and number.RRNAME.SERVICES.NET.) See the Internet Draft for the full set of field types and syntax details.

The first software package I wrote is an extension to the popular perl Net::DNS module called Net::DNS::Extlang. With the extension, if Net::DNS sees a text master record with an unknown RRTYPE name, or a binary record with an unknown RRTYPE number, it tries to look up the record description in the DNS, and if successful, passes the description to Net::DNS::Extlang which compiles it into a perl routine to encode and decode the RRTYPE which Net::DNS installs. The authors of Net::DNS worked with me so recent versions of Net::DNS have the necessary hooks to do this all automatically. For example, if Net::DNS didn't already handle SRV records, the first reference to a SRV or type 33 record would fetch the description above and create Net::DNS::RR::SRV, with the standard RR parse and deparse methods along with methods called priority(), weight(), port(), and target() to access the individual fields.

The overal effect of this is that if you use Net::DNS::Extlang and put the description of a new RRTYPE in the DNS, Net::DNS will use it automatically, with no per-RRTYPE software upgrade needed. You can find Net::DNS::Extlang in CPAN. Try it out and tell me how you like it.

The second and third packages are a python DNS record syntax checker, and a small django application which uses the syntax checker in a web DNS configuration server. We'll discuss them next.
Written by John Levine, Author, Consultant & SpeakerFollow CircleID on TwitterMore under: DNS

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Why You Might Get Spammed for Buying a New Domain Name (And How to Use Domain Privacy to Prevent It)

WebNamesCa WebNamesCa: The rude awakening
You’ve finally settled on the perfect domain name for your blog or small business. You’ve registered it with a trusted Canadian registrar like Webnames.ca. You’ve barely begun to setup email and web hosting, yet the very next day, you wake up to an inbox full of spam – emails hawking web design, SEO services, prospect lists, app development, video production – you name it. Some target you by name with clever phishing tricks and malware. Then the text message spam and robocalls start to roll in.
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How to install WordPress through Name.com hosting

Whats Your Name Whats Your Name: Ready to start a WordPress blog? Most people don’t know that it’s simple to set up via third-party hosting, where you have most control over your domain and website. While our WordPress hosting product is great for beginners, more experienced website creators might want to have the full access that comes with one of our […]
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Why Being an In-N-Out Manager Is Better Than Being a Lawyer; Finding “Unicorns:” Questions to Ask Before You Invest in a Startup

The Frager Factor The Frager Factor: How The Wrong Marketing Agency Can Endanger Your Business; Nametoken Is the First Domain Ecosystem; Meet Alex, the Russian Casino Hacker Who Makes Millions Targeting Slot Machine; Hyperloop and our misplaced love of futuristic technology; Cybersecurity Researcher Hailed as Hero Is Accused of Creating Malware; Stamps.com stock price has risen 800% in the last 3 years, but the Postal Service is

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Reflections on a weekend backpacking adventure in the High Sierras

Morgan Linton Morgan Linton: This was my home for the last three days, 8,000 feet up on a lake in the High Sierra’s. One of my best friends from High School is getting married in September and rather than throw the traditional bachelor party, he thought it would be a lot of fun to go backpacking – and I […]

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What kind of SSL certificate should you get for your website?

Whats Your Name Whats Your Name: At Name.com, we believe that every website is worth securing with an SSL certificate—which is why we now offer them for free to anyone who hosts a website with us via our Encryption Everywhere program. But for certain website users, its worthwhile to add additional levels of security to your site via an upgraded SSL certificate. […]
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Small Team Dynamics: Communication is Like Oxygen

I Want My Name I Want My Name:
At our core, humans are primal creatures who cannot effectively operate in tribes of more than 150 people, a concept known as Dunbar’s number. This necessitates the birth of business units, functional groups, and project-based teams.
Small teams are prone to more informal management styles and often, implicit power structures evolve if a formal hierarchy is not established. It also means the role of each individual is exaggerated. Their personality and default behaviours are not so easily diluted by the mass of the organisation, requiring a higher level of accountability and self-awareness to curb negative behaviours we are each inherently at risk of.
The Belbin Team Inventory is a management tool to build more effective teams. As opposed to psychometric tests that measure personality (who we are), Belbin measures behaviour (what we do). It outlines nine specific roles that people adopt in a team environment, and the risks associated with each role. For example, ‘completer-finishers’ are masters of providing accurate results but also prone to perfectionism and a fear of delegation.
Communication is as critical as oxygen when managing these implicit hierarchies and understanding individual team roles. The task wrangler – or co-ordinator according to Belbin - is a useful role for establishing clear shared priorities, and regular communication to keep prioritised work on track.
The role of the task wrangler
The task-wrangler is then, not so much a stagnant management tool, but rather a communicator, planner, and confidante. They support the team to work towards:
Clarifying goals and responsibilities - every person has a set of goals and responsibilities. A significant contributing factor to falling engagement is the confusion over what one’s role actually is. The task wrangler not only drives the team to prioritise, but also to be clear about their individual role.

Integrity and transparency – transparency goes a ways toward lending credibility to the prioritisation process and building commitment to shared goals, but it isn’t the silver bullet.

Having courageous conversations – task wranglers must have the courage to be candid and encourage candour. Candour means people are more likely to speak up early, identify problems, and suggest solutions.

Maintaining a strong sense of team unity – praising successes, appreciating one another and celebrating diversity is so important to nurture the ‘stick-ability’ required to see through long-term goals. It also nurtures a safe environment to acknowledge our own flaws and be willing to step up and own blame.

Developing a growth mindset – not cold, hard, cash money growth, but rather an innate desire to step out of our comfort zones and ask for help to grow personally and professionally. This means initiating and soliciting feedback regularly, like now. And now. And now. In essence, kissing goodbye to annual performance reviews because every day is a day for reflection.

Managing day-to-day tasks remotely or in small team can be aided by clear processes and roles. However, it can be destructive if the focus is solely only outputs, performance metrics, and process. End-of-project success or failure is only one view. Teams also need to know — if it failed — why did it fail? We need to be able to talk openly and say, what should we try differently next time?
Some useful tools we’ve trialed at iwantmyname
As a team at iwantmyname, we know that happy people build cool shit and keep customers happy too. So when our remote team all got together this July, we used some tools to encourage candour, understand ourselves and create a safe environment for challenging and thought-provoking conversations:
Social contract. Penning the iwantmyname social contract resulted in a resounding thumbs up from the whole team. It provides a benchmark to define desired behaviours and enables teammates to keep each other on course when negative behaviours inevitably crop up. You can easily co-write a social contract with your team that provides universal value – check out Automattic’s company creed.

Team roles. Praising diversity and reflecting on team dynamics is an exercise that makes us appreciate each other. There are plenty of resources to explore the individual team roles we gravitate towards – check out Belbin’s Team Inventory, Business Chemistry, or the Margerison–McCann Team Management System. This provides a common language to navigate conflict.

Evaluation. At iwantmyname we don’t run the gauntlet of annual performance reviews. Instead, we seek opportunities for self-reflection and compare this with external feedback. Try the ”Wheel of Life” as a tool to plot areas of personal value, rate yourself, and ask your peers for their feedback. Or, try Haack’s approach to self-evaluations.

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Why a Dual Support/Dev Role Is the Future of Nimble Development

I Want My Name I Want My Name: In a growing tech company, hiring full-stack developers is basically a necessity. They can cover the front-end (the parts of the site you see), the back-end (the crucial server and database logic you don’t see), and everything in-between.
But how much is lost in translation when the support team notices a problem that doesn’t necessarily seem like a problem. Do they report it, or do they get creative with manual solutions, even though a simple automation would save hours of valuable time?
Enter the flat-stack developer, sitting laterally across teams with dual roles that expand beyond the traditional scope of a single position.
Solving hidden problems
Like a WiFi repeater repeats the signal to boost reception and range, a dual support/developer role can ensure that key information is more readily dispersed throughout the team. They can deliver not only customer feedback in “developerspeak,” but also solutions and automations that can tackle problems in innovative ways.
Perhaps most importantly, a dual support/developer can inform the development strategy in terms of process, pipeline and, priorities based on actual customer pain points. A recent iwantmyname example was how often support was being tasked with rolling back unintended changes to domain DNS records, (those are the A records, etc., that route domains to IP addresses). It’s a time-consuming task if done manually, and an automation was just never created. By switching around our dev priorities, we were able to build a tool out in a short amount of time that allows our support staff to see previous versions of DNS records and restore them at will. And with just a bit more work, that feature was expanded to empower users to be able to hit the undo button if (or perhaps when) something hits the fan.
It was a win-win for everyone. Developers got to quickly roll out a feature with an immediate benefit, support was relieved of a semi-regular, time-consuming task, and customers were given a tool that lets them solve problems without needing to ask for help.
Taking on a dual role
As programming literacy becomes a core competency for employment across a range of fields, it’s only natural to expect some sort of role merging. But what does that look like in practice?
When I joined iwantmyname as the first Customer Support Developer, I was quickly immersed in the entirety of the company. I cover support briefly in my morning to bridge the gap between New Zealand and Europe and played backup cover to Europe and North America whenever needed. I also work on escalated technical support, admin tools, along with projects like our new pricing and promotions editor, our chat bot Hal9000, and our upcoming events feed (stay tuned!).
I’ve worked in startups where it’s pretty normal to wear many hats and context switch regularly, but the learning curve for this role was a tad steeper than the average job. And the lack of focus can be challenging – not everyone enjoys context switching, often preferring to get absorbed into one project or problem at a time. It’s the kind of thing that would drive Einstein nuts. Thankfully, I’m naturally more of a ‘Jack’ than a ‘Master’ when it comes to trades, and I prefer collaborating, bouncing ideas, and pairing up to work on projects over quietly plugging away.
For startups looking to fill this role, it’s all about finding the right personality, then empowering that person to identify problems and implement solutions as they come. It’s far too common in small companies for developers to simply be too busy shipping features, patching bugs and making sure the ship keeps sailing to dive into support issues. But allocating resources to a dual role – prioritizing the customer and their immediate needs is – often the best investment of all.

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Bottoms Rupp | Another $0.99 deal is headed your way

Whats Your Name Whats Your Name: Does you organization need a website? If so, you won’t want to miss out on this week’s deal during Bottoms Rupp Happy Hour. Join us this Thursday, Aug. 10 from 3 to 5 p.m. MDT (9 to 11 p.m. UTC) to register .CLUB domains for $0.99 during our Bottoms Rupp Happy Hour sale. This sale […]
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