Configuring Consul DNS Forwarding in Ubuntu 16.04

29 May 2019

DEPRECATED - This doesn’t work properly

Please see this post for an updated version which works!

One of the advantages of using Consul for service discovery is that besides an HTTP API, you can also query it by DNS.

The DNS server is listening on port 8600 by default, and you can query both A records or SRV records from it. SRV records are useful as they contain additional properties (priority, weight and port), and you can get multiple records back from a single query, letting you do load balancing client side:

$ dig @localhost -p 8600 consul.service.consul SRV +short

1 10 8300 vagrant1.node.dc1.consul.
1 14 8300 vagrant2.node.dc1.consul.
2 100 8300 vagrant3.node.dc1.consul.

A Records are also useful, as it means we should be able to treat services registered to Consul like any other domain - but it doesn’t work:

$ curl http://consul.service.consul:8500
curl: (6) Could not resolve host: consul.service.consul

The reason for this is that the system’s built-in DNS resolver doesn’t know how to query Consul. We can, however, configure it to forward any *.consul requests to Consul.

Solution - Forward DNS queries to Consul

As I usually target Ubuntu based machines, this means configuring systemd-resolved to forward to Consul. However, we want to keep Consul listening on it’s default port (8600), and systemd-resolved can only forward requests to port 53, so we need also to configure iptables to redirect the requests.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Configure systemd-resolved to forward .consul TLD queries to the local consul agent
  2. Configure iptables to redirect 53 to 8600

So let’s get to it!

1. Make iptables persistent

IPTables configuration changes don’t persist through reboots, so the easiest way to solve this is with the iptables-persistent package.

Typically I am scripting machines (using [Packer] or [Vagrant]), so I configure the install to be non-interactive:

echo iptables-persistent iptables-persistent/autosave_v4 boolean false | sudo debconf-set-selections
echo iptables-persistent iptables-persistent/autosave_v6 boolean false | sudo debconf-set-selections

sudo DEBIAN_FRONTEND=noninteractive apt install -yq iptables-persistent

2. Update Systemd-Resolved

The file to change is /etc/systemd/resolved.conf. By default it looks like this:

#FallbackDNS= 2001:4860:4860::8888 2001:4860:4860::8844

We need to change the DNS and Domains lines - either editing the file by hand, or scripting a replacement with sed:

sudo sed -i 's/#DNS=/DNS=; s/#Domains=/Domains=~consul/g' /etc/systemd/resolved.conf

The result of which is the file now reading like this:

#FallbackDNS= 2001:4860:4860::8888 2001:4860:4860::8844

By specifying the Domains as ~consul, we are telling resolvd to forward requests for the consul TLD to the server specified in the DNS line.

3. Configure Resolvconf too

For compatibility with some applications (e.g. curl and ping), we also need to update /etc/resolv.conf to specify our local nameserver. You do this not by editing the file directly!

Instead, we need to add nameserver to /etc/resolvconf/resolv.conf.d/head. Again, I will script this, and as we need sudo to write to the file, the easiest way is to use tee to append the line and then run resolvconf -u to apply the change:

echo "nameserver" | sudo tee --append /etc/resolvconf/resolv.conf.d/head
sudo resolvconf -u

Configure iptables

Finally, we need to configure iptables so that when systemd-resolved sends a DNS query to localhost on port 53, it gets redirected to port 8600. We’ll do this for both TCP and UDP requests, and then use netfilter-persistent to make the rules persistent:

sudo iptables -t nat -A OUTPUT -d localhost -p udp -m udp --dport 53 -j REDIRECT --to-ports 8600
sudo iptables -t nat -A OUTPUT -d localhost -p tcp -m tcp --dport 53 -j REDIRECT --to-ports 8600

sudo netfilter-persistent save


First, we can test that both Consul and Systemd-Resolved return an address for a consul service:

$ dig @localhost -p 8600 consul.service.consul +short

$ dig @localhost consul.service.consul +short

And now we can try using curl to verify that we can resolve consul domains and normal domains still:

$ curl -s -o /dev/null -w "%{http_code}\n" http://consul.service.consul:8500/ui/

$ curl -s -o /dev/null -w "%{http_code}\n"


There are also guides available on how to do this on Hashicorp’s website, covering other DNS resolvers too (such as BIND, Dnsmasq, Unbound).

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