Principal names and DNS

Kerberos clients can do DNS lookups to canonicalize service principal names. This can cause difficulties when setting up Kerberos application servers, especially when the client’s name for the service is different from what the service thinks its name is.

Service principal names

A frequently used kind of principal name is the host-based service principal name. This kind of principal name has two components: a service name and a hostname. For example, imap/ is the principal name of the “imap” service on the host “”. Other possible service names for the first component include “host” (remote login services such as ssh), “HTTP”, and “nfs” (Network File System).

Service administrators often publish well-known hostname aliases that they would prefer users to use instead of the canonical name of the service host. This gives service administrators more flexibility in deploying services. For example, a shell login server might be named “”, but users will naturally prefer to type something like “”. Hostname aliases also allow for administrators to set up load balancing for some sorts of services based on rotating CNAME records in DNS.

Service principal canonicalization

In the MIT krb5 client library, canonicalization of host-based service principals is controlled by the dns_canonicalize_hostname, rnds, and qualify_shortname variables in [libdefaults].

If dns_canonicalize_hostname is set to true (the default value), the client performs forward resolution by looking up the IPv4 and/or IPv6 addresses of the hostname using getaddrinfo(). This process will typically add a domain suffix to the hostname if needed, and follow CNAME records in the DNS. If rdns is also set to true (the default), the client will then perform a reverse lookup of the first returned Internet address using getnameinfo(), finding the name associated with the PTR record.

If dns_canonicalize_hostname is set to false, the hostname is not canonicalized using DNS. If the hostname has only one component (i.e. it contains no “.” characters), the host’s primary DNS search domain will be appended, if there is one. The qualify_shortname variable can be used to override or disable this suffix.

If dns_canonicalize_hostname is set to fallback (added in release 1.18), the hostname is initially treated according to the rules for dns_canonicalize_hostname=false. If a ticket request fails because the service principal is unknown, the hostname will be canonicalized according to the rules for dns_canonicalize_hostname=true and the request will be retried.

In all cases, the hostname is converted to lowercase, and any trailing dot is removed.

Reverse DNS mismatches

Sometimes, an enterprise will have control over its forward DNS but not its reverse DNS. The reverse DNS is sometimes under the control of the Internet service provider of the enterprise, and the enterprise may not have much influence in setting up reverse DNS records for its address space. If there are difficulties with getting forward and reverse DNS to match, it is best to set rdns = false on client machines.

Overriding application behavior

Applications can choose to use a default hostname component in their service principal name when accepting authentication, which avoids some sorts of hostname mismatches. Because not all relevant applications do this yet, using the krb5.conf setting:

    ignore_acceptor_hostname = true

will allow the Kerberos library to override the application’s choice of service principal hostname and will allow a server program to accept incoming authentications using any key in its keytab that matches the service name and realm name (if given). This setting defaults to “false” and is available in releases krb5-1.10 and later.

Provisioning keytabs

One service principal entry that should be in the keytab is a principal whose hostname component is the canonical hostname that getaddrinfo() reports for all known aliases for the host. If the reverse DNS information does not match this canonical hostname, an additional service principal entry should be in the keytab for this different hostname.

Specific application advice

Secure shell (ssh)

Setting GSSAPIStrictAcceptorCheck = no in the configuration file of modern versions of the openssh daemon will allow the daemon to try any key in its keytab when accepting a connection, rather than looking for the keytab entry that matches the host’s own idea of its name (typically the name that gethostname() returns). This requires krb5-1.10 or later.

OpenLDAP (ldapsearch, etc.)

OpenLDAP’s SASL implementation performs reverse DNS lookup in order to canonicalize service principal names, even if rdns is set to false in the Kerberos configuration. To disable this behavior, add SASL_NOCANON on to ldap.conf, or set the LDAPSASL_NOCANON environment variable.