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CoreDNS GA for Kubernetes Cluster DNS

Author: John Belamaric (Infoblox)

Editor’s note: this post is part of a series of in-depth articles on what’s new in Kubernetes 1.11


In Kubernetes 1.11, CoreDNS has reached General Availability (GA) for DNS-based service discovery, as an alternative to the kube-dns addon. This means that CoreDNS will be offered as an option in upcoming versions of the various installation tools. In fact, the kubeadm team chose to make it the default option starting with Kubernetes 1.11.

DNS-based service discovery has been part of Kubernetes for a long time with the kube-dns cluster addon. This has generally worked pretty well, but there have been some concerns around the reliability, flexibility and security of the implementation.

CoreDNS is a general-purpose, authoritative DNS server that provides a backwards-compatible, but extensible, integration with Kubernetes. It resolves the issues seen with kube-dns, and offers a number of unique features that solve a wider variety of use cases.

In this article, you will learn about the differences in the implementations of kube-dns and CoreDNS, and some of the helpful extensions offered by CoreDNS.

Implementation differences

In kube-dns, several containers are used within a single pod: kubedns, dnsmasq, and sidecar. The kubedns container watches the Kubernetes API and serves DNS records based on the Kubernetes DNS specification, dnsmasq provides caching and stub domain support, and sidecar provides metrics and health checks.

This setup leads to a few issues that have been seen over time. For one, security vulnerabilities in dnsmasq have led to the need for a security-patch release of Kubernetes in the past. Additionally, because dnsmasq handles the stub domains, but kubedns handles the External Services, you cannot use a stub domain in an external service, which is very limiting to that functionality (see dns#131).

All of these functions are done in a single container in CoreDNS, which is running a process written in Go. The different plugins that are enabled replicate (and enhance) the functionality found in kube-dns.

Configuring CoreDNS

In kube-dns, you can modify a ConfigMap to change the behavior of your service discovery. This allows the addition of features such as serving stub domains, modifying upstream nameservers, and enabling federation.

In CoreDNS, you similarly can modify the ConfigMap for the CoreDNS Corefile to change how service discovery works. This Corefile configuration offers many more options than you will find in kube-dns, since it is the primary configuration file that CoreDNS uses for configuration of all of its features, even those that are not Kubernetes related.

When upgrading from kube-dns to CoreDNS using kubeadm, your existing ConfigMap will be used to generate the customized Corefile for you, including all of the configuration for stub domains, federation, and upstream nameservers. See Using CoreDNS for Service Discovery for more details.

Bug fixes and enhancements

There are several open issues with kube-dns that are resolved in CoreDNS, either in default configuration or with some customized configurations.


The functional behavior of the default CoreDNS configuration is the same as kube-dns. However, one difference you need to be aware of is that the published metrics are not the same. In kube-dns, you get separate metrics for dnsmasq and kubedns (skydns). In CoreDNS there is a completely different set of metrics, since it is all a single process. You can find more details on these metrics on the CoreDNS Prometheus plugin page.

Some special features

The standard CoreDNS Kubernetes configuration is designed to be backwards compatible with the prior kube-dns behavior. But with some configuration changes, CoreDNS can allow you to modify how the DNS service discovery works in your cluster. A number of these features are intended to still be compliant with the Kubernetes DNS specification; they enhance functionality but remain backward compatible. Since CoreDNS is not only made for Kubernetes, but is instead a general-purpose DNS server, there are many things you can do beyond that specification.

Pods verified mode

In kube-dns, pod name records are "fake". That is, any "a-b-c-d.namespace.pod.cluster.local" query will return the IP address "a.b.c.d". In some cases, this can weaken the identity guarantees offered by TLS. So, CoreDNS offers a "pods verified" mode, which will only return the IP address if there is a pod in the specified namespace with that IP address.

Endpoint names based on pod names

In kube-dns, when using a headless service, you can use an SRV request to get a list of all endpoints for the service:

dnstools# host -t srv headless
headless.default.svc.cluster.local has SRV record 10 33 0 6234396237313665.headless.default.svc.cluster.local.
headless.default.svc.cluster.local has SRV record 10 33 0 6662363165353239.headless.default.svc.cluster.local.
headless.default.svc.cluster.local has SRV record 10 33 0 6338633437303230.headless.default.svc.cluster.local.

However, the endpoint DNS names are (for practical purposes) random. In CoreDNS, by default, you get endpoint DNS names based upon the endpoint IP address:

dnstools# host -t srv headless
headless.default.svc.cluster.local has SRV record 0 25 443 172-17-0-14.headless.default.svc.cluster.local.
headless.default.svc.cluster.local has SRV record 0 25 443 172-17-0-18.headless.default.svc.cluster.local.
headless.default.svc.cluster.local has SRV record 0 25 443 172-17-0-4.headless.default.svc.cluster.local.
headless.default.svc.cluster.local has SRV record 0 25 443 172-17-0-9.headless.default.svc.cluster.local.

For some applications, it is desirable to have the pod name for this, rather than the pod IP address (see for example kubernetes#47992 and coredns#1190). To enable this in CoreDNS, you specify the "endpoint_pod_names" option in your Corefile, which results in this:

dnstools# host -t srv headless
headless.default.svc.cluster.local has SRV record 0 25 443 headless-65bb4c479f-qv84p.headless.default.svc.cluster.local.
headless.default.svc.cluster.local has SRV record 0 25 443 headless-65bb4c479f-zc8lx.headless.default.svc.cluster.local.
headless.default.svc.cluster.local has SRV record 0 25 443 headless-65bb4c479f-q7lf2.headless.default.svc.cluster.local.
headless.default.svc.cluster.local has SRV record 0 25 443 headless-65bb4c479f-566rt.headless.default.svc.cluster.local.


CoreDNS also has a special feature to improve latency in DNS requests for external names. In Kubernetes, the DNS search path for pods specifies a long list of suffixes. This enables the use of short names when requesting services in the cluster - for example, "headless" above, rather than "headless.default.svc.cluster.local". However, when requesting an external name - "", for example - several invalid DNS queries are made by the client, requiring a roundtrip from the client to kube-dns each time (actually to dnsmasq and then to kubedns, since negative caching is disabled):

  • -> returns a valid record

In CoreDNS, an optional feature called autopath can be enabled that will cause this search path to be followed in the server. That is, CoreDNS will figure out from the source IP address which namespace the client pod is in, and it will walk this search list until it gets a valid answer. Since the first 3 of these are resolved internally within CoreDNS itself, it cuts out all of the back and forth between the client and server, reducing latency.

A few other Kubernetes specific features

In CoreDNS, you can use standard DNS zone transfer to export the entire DNS record set. This is useful for debugging your services as well as importing the cluster zone into other DNS servers.

You can also filter by namespaces or a label selector. This can allow you to run specific CoreDNS instances that will only server records that match the filters, exposing only a limited set of your services via DNS.


In addition to the features described above, CoreDNS is easily extended. It is possible to build custom versions of CoreDNS that include your own features. For example, this ability has been used to extend CoreDNS to do recursive resolution with the unbound plugin, to server records directly from a database with the pdsql plugin, and to allow multiple CoreDNS instances to share a common level 2 cache with the redisc plugin.

Many other interesting extensions have been added, which you will find on the External Plugins page of the CoreDNS site. One that is really interesting for Kubernetes and Istio users is the kubernetai plugin, which allows a single CoreDNS instance to connect to multiple Kubernetes clusters and provide service discovery across all of them.

What's Next?

CoreDNS is an independent project, and as such is developing many features that are not directly related to Kubernetes. However, a number of these will have applications within Kubernetes. For example, the upcoming integration with policy engines will allow CoreDNS to make intelligent choices about which endpoint to return when a headless service is requested. This could be used to route traffic to a local pod, or to a more responsive pod. Many other features are in development, and of course as an open source project, we welcome you to suggest and contribute your own features!

The features and differences described above are a few examples. There is much more you can do with CoreDNS. You can find out more on the CoreDNS Blog.

Get involved with CoreDNS

CoreDNS is an incubated CNCF project.

We're most active on Slack (and GitHub):

More resources can be found: