DNS server that lets you look up ec2 instances by instance name
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A DNS server that serves up your ec2 instances by name.


aws-name-server --domain aws.bugsnag.com \
                --aws-region us-east-1 \
                --aws-access-key-id <access_key> \
                --aws-secret-access-key <secret_key>

This will serve up DNS records for the following:

  • <name>.aws.bugsnag.com all your EC2 instances tagged with Name=<name>
  • <n>.<name>.aws.bugsnag.com the nth instances tagged with Name=<name>
  • <role>.role.aws.bugsnag.com all your EC2 instances tagged with Role=<role>
  • <n>.<role>.role.aws.bugsnag.com the nth instances tagged with Role=<role>
  • <instance-id>.aws.bugsnag.com all your EC2 instances by instance id.
  • <n>.<instance-id>.aws.bugsnag.com all your EC2 instances by instance id.

It uses CNAMEs so that instances will resolve to internal IP addresses if you query from inside AWS, and external IP addresses if you query from the outside.

Quick start

There's a long-winded Setup guide, but if you already know your way around EC2, you'll need to:

  1. Open up port 53 (UDP and TCP) on your security group.
  2. Boot an instance with an IAM Role with ec2:DescribeInstances permission. (or use an IAM user and configure aws-name-server manually).
  3. Install aws-name-server.
  4. Setup your NS records correctly.



This is the domain you wish to serve. i.e. aws.example.com. It is the only required parameter.


The publically resolvable hostname of the current machine. This defaults sensibly, so you only need to set this if you see a warning in the logs.

--aws-access-key-id and --aws-secret-access-key

An Amazon key pair with permission to run ec2:DescribeInstances. This defaults to the IAM role of the machine running aws-name-server or to the values of the environment variables $AWS_ACCESS_KEY_ID and $AWS_SECRET_ACCESS_KEY (or $AWS_ACCESS_KEY and $AWS_SECRET_KEY).


This defaults to the region in which aws-name-server is running, or us-east-1.


These instructions assume you're going to launch a new EC2 instance to run aws-name-server. If you want to run it on an existing server, adapt the instructions to suit.

1. Create an IAM role

IAM Roles let you give EC2 instances permission to access the AWS API. We will need our dns machine to run ec2:DescribeInstances.

  1. Log into the AWS web console and navigate to IAM.

  2. Create a new role called iam-role-aws-name-server

  3. Select the Amazon EC2 role type.

  4. Create a Custom Policy called describe-instances-only with the content:

      "Version": "2012-10-17",
      "Statement": [{
        "Action": ["ec2:DescribeInstances"],
        "Effect": "Allow",
        "Resource": "*"

2. Create a security group

Security groups describe what traffic is allowed to get to your instance. DNS servers use UDP port 53 and TCP port 53.

  1. Log into the AWS web console and navigate to EC2.

  2. Create a new security group called aws-name-server

  3. Configure it to have:

    # Type   # Protocol  # Port  # Source
    SSH      TCP         22      My IP     x.x.x.x/32
    DNS      UDP         53      Anywhere
    Custom   TCP         53      Anywhere

This will let you ssh in to the DNS server, and let anyone run DNS queries.

3. Launch an instance

I recommend running 64bit HVM-based EBS-backed Ubuntu 14.04 on a t2.micro (ami-acff23c4). You can use whatever distro you like the most.

  1. Log into the AWS web console and navigate to EC2.
  2. Click "Launch Instance"
  3. Select your favourite AMI (e.g. ami-acff23c4).
  4. Select your favourite cheap instance type (e.g. t2.micro) (If you don't have VPCs yet, choose t1.micro instead)
  5. Set IAM role to iam-role-aws-name-server
  6. Skip through disks (the default is fine)
  7. Skip through tags (though if you set Name=dns1 and Role=dns you can test the server :)
  8. Select an existing security group sg-aws-name-server.
  9. Launch!

4. Install the binary

  1. Download the latest version.

    wget http://gobuild.io/github.com/ConradIrwin/aws-name-server/master/linux/amd64 -O aws-name-server.zip
    unzip aws-name-server.zip
  2. Move the binary into /usr/bin.

    sudo cp aws-name-server /usr/bin
    sudo chmod +x /usr/bin/aws-name-server
  3. (optional) Set the capabilities of aws-name-server so it doesn't need to run as root.

    # the cap_net_bind_service capability allows this program to bind to ports below 1024
    # when it us run as a non-root user.
    sudo setcap cap_net_bind_service=+ep /usr/bin/aws-name-server

5. Configure upstart.

If you use upstart (the default process manager under ubuntu) you can use the provided upstart script. You'll need to change the script to reflect your hostname:

  1. Open upstart/aws-name-server.conf and change --domain=internal to --domain <your-domain>
  2. sudo cp upstart/aws-name-server.conf /etc/init/
  3. sudo initctl start aws-name-server

6. Configure NS Records

To add your DNS server into the global DNS tree, you need to add an NS record from the parent domain to your new server.

Let's say you currently have DNS for example.com, and you're running aws-name-server on the machine ec2-12-34-56-78.compute-1.amazonaws.com. In the admin page for example.coms DNS add a new record of the form:

# name             # ttl            # value
aws.example.com    300    IN   NS   ec2-12-34-56-78.compute-1.amazonaws.com

The TTL can be whatever you want, I like 5 minutes because it's not too long to wait if I make a mistake.

The value should be a hostname for your server that is directly resolvable (i.e. not a CNAME). The public hostnames that Amazon gives instances are perfect for this.


There's a lot that can go wrong, so troubleshooting takes a while.

Did it start?

First try looking in the logs (/var/log/upstart/aws-name-server.log if you're using upstart). If there's nothing there, then try /var/log/syslog.

Is it running?

Try running dig dns1.aws.example.com @localhost while ssh'd into the machine. It should return a CNAME record. If not, look in the logs, the chances are the DNS server is not running. This happens if your EC2 credentials are wrong.

Is the security group configured correctly?

Assuming you can make DNS lookups to localhost, try running dig dns1.aws.example.com @ec2-12-34-56-78.compute-1.amazonaws.com from your laptop. If you don't get a reply, double check the security group config.

Are the NS records set up correctly?

Assuming you can make DNS lookups correctly when pointing dig at the DNS server, try running dig NS aws.example.com. If this doesn't return anything, you probably need to update your NS records. If you've already done this, you might need to wait a few minutes for caches to clear.

Are you getting a warning about NS records in the logs but everything seems fine?

This happens when the --hostname parameter has been set or auto-detected to something different from what you've configured the NS records to be. This may cause hard-to-debug issues, so you should set --hostname correctly.