MaraDNS: A small open-source DNS server
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MaraDNS is a small and lightweight cross-platform open-source DNS server. The server is remarkably easy to configure for someone comfortable editing text configuration files. MaraDNS is released under a BSD license.

I wrote MaraDNS while I was a college student and a travelling English teacher during the first 2000s decade. Now that I’m working as a professional software developer, the program is finished: I only provide bug fixes and other basic maintenance unless I’m getting paid.

Since MaraDNS is open source, there is nothing stopping anyone from forking this repository and implementing new features; I ask such users to please not call any such forks “MaraDNS”.

Table of contents

  • Supported OSes
  • Important note for Windows users
  • What is DNS
  • MaraDNS' History
  • Overview
  • Internals
  • Other DNS servers
  • MaraDNS' future

Supported OSes

Just like MaraDNS’s sub-project Deadwood, the only supported OSes are CentOS 6 and Windows 7.

Just because MaraDNS is only fully supported in CentOS 6 and Windows 7 doesn’t mean it doesn't run on other platforms. It just means that, if you wish to run it on another platform, it’s up to you to make the port. Feel free to fork the MaraDNS Github repository, but please do not name any such port “MaraDNS”.

Important note for Windows users

Users of Microsoft Windows are better off downloading a prebuilt Windows binary: Be sure to download the file with the .zip extension.

What is DNS

The internet uses numbers, not names, to find computers. DNS is the internet's directory service: It takes a name, like "", and converts that name in to an "IP" number that your computer can use to connect to

DNS is one of these things many take for granted that is essential to using today's internet. Without DNS, the internet breaks. It is critical that a DNS server keeps the internet working in a secure and stable manner.

MaraDNS' History

MaraDNS was started in 2001 in response to concerns that there were only two freely available DNS servers (BIND and DjbDNS) at the time. MaraDNS 1.0 was released in mid-2002, MaraDNS 1.2 was released in late 2005, and MaraDNS 2.0 was released in the fall of 2010.

MaraDNS 1.0 used a recursive DNS server that was implemented rather quickly and had difficult-to-maintain code. This code was completely rewritten for the MaraDNS 2.0 release, which now uses a separate recursive DNS server.

MaraDNS was fully maintained and actively developed without needing contributions from 2001 until 2010. MaraDNS 2.0 is the final release that will be made without significant financial support being made. Security and other critical bugs are still taken care of, but there is no guarantee of any technical support above and beyond that.


MaraDNS 2.0 consists of two primary components: A UDP-only authoritative DNS server for hosting domains, and a UDP and TCP-capable recursive DNS server for finding domains on the internet. MaraDNS' recursive DNS server is called Deadwood, and it shares no code with MaraDNS' authoritative DNS server.

In more detail: MaraDNS has one daemon, the authoritative daemon (called "maradns"), that provides information to recursive DNS servers on the internet, and another daemon, the recursive daemon (called "Deadwood"), that gets DNS information from the internet for web browsers and other internet clients.

A simplified way to look at it: MaraDNS puts your web page on the Internet; Deadwood looks for web pages on the Internet.

Deadwood has its own webpage and release schedule. When new MaraDNS releases are made, they bundle the current stable version of Deadwood in the source code tree; the build scripts compile both MaraDNS and Deadwood at the same time.

Since MaraDNS' authoritative daemon does not support TCP, MaraDNS includes a separate DNS-over-TCP server called "zoneserver" that supports both standard DNS-over-TCP and DNS zone transfers.

Neither MaraDNS nor the UNIX version of Deadwood have support for daemonization; this is handled by a separate program included with MaraDNS called Duende. Deadwood's Windows port, on the other hand, includes support for running as a Windows service.

MaraDNS also includes a simple DNS querying tool called "askmara" and a number of other miscellaneous tools: Scripts for processing MaraDNS' documentation, a simple webpage password generator, some Unicode conversion utilities, scripts for building and installing MaraDNS, automated SQA tests, etc.

MaraDNS is a native UNIX program with a partial Windows port. Deadwood, MaraDNS' recursive resolver, is a fully cross-platform application with a full Windows port.

MaraDNS 2.0 has full (albeit not fully tested) IPv6 support.


MaraDNS 2.0's authoritative server uses code going all the way back to 2001. The core DNS-over-UDP server has a number of components, including two different zone file parsers, a mararc parser, a secure random number generator, and so on.

MaraDNS is written entirely in C. No objective C nor C++ classes are used in MaraDNS' code.

MaraDNS 2.0's "Deadwood" recursive server was started in 2007 and has far cleaner code. Its random number generator, for example, uses a smaller, simpler, and more secure cryptographic algorithm; its configuration file parser uses a finite state machine interpreter; its handling of multiple simultaneous pending connections is done using select() and a state machine instead of with threads.

Deadwood's source code can be browsed online, and there are a number of documents describing its internals available.

Other DNS servers

The landscape of open-source DNS servers has changed greatly since 2001 when MaraDNS was started. There are now a number of different DNS servers still actively developed and maintained: BIND, Power DNS, NSD/Unbound, as well as MaraDNS. DjbDNS is no longer being updated and the unofficial forks have limited support; notably it took nearly five months for someone to come up with a patch for CVE-2012-1191.

MaraDNS' strength is that it's a remarkably small, lightweight, easy to configure, and mostly cross-platform DNS server. Deadwood is a tiny DNS server with full recursion support, perfect for embedded systems.

MaraDNS' weakness is that it does not have some features other DNS servers have. For example, while Deadwood has the strongest spoof protection available without cryptography, it does not have support for DNSSEC.

As another example, MaraDNS does not have full zone transfer support; while MaraDNS can both serve zones and receive external zone files from other DNS servers, MaraDNS needs to be restarted to update its database of DNS records.

MaraDNS' future

It would require some large company or government agency paying me a full-time living wage to add significant new features to MaraDNS. Since this is unlikely to happen, especially in today's economy, I am declaring MaraDNS finished: While I will still fix important security bugs in MaraDNS, and will probably still fix other critical bugs, I currently have no plans to add new features to MaraDNS.

Feel free to fork this repository, but please do not name your fork "MaraDNS".