Independent Submission A. Vesely
Request for Comments: 8904
DNS Whitelist (DNSWL) Email Authentication Method Extension
This document describes an email authentication method compliant with RFC 8601
. The method consists of looking up the sender's IP address
in a DNS whitelist. This document provides information in case the
method is seen in the field, suggests a useful practice, and
registers the relevant keywords.
This document does not consider blacklists.
Status of This Memo
This document is not an Internet Standards Track specification; it is
published for informational purposes.
This is a contribution to the RFC Series, independently of any other
RFC stream. The RFC Editor has chosen to publish this document at
its discretion and makes no statement about its value for
implementation or deployment. Documents approved for publication by
the RFC Editor are not candidates for any level of Internet Standard;
see Section 2 of RFC 7841
Information about the current status of this document, any errata,
and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc8904
Copyright (c) 2020 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
document authors. All rights reserved.
This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
Provisions Relating to IETF Documents
) in effect on the date of
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Table of Contents 1.
Method Details 3.
TXT Record Contents 4.
IANA Considerations 4.1.
Email Authentication Methods 4.2.
Email Authentication Property Type 4.3.
Email Authentication Result Names 5.
Security Considerations 5.1.
Over-Quota Signaling 5.2.
Security of DNSSEC Validation 5.3.
Inherited Security Considerations 6.
Normative References 6.2.
Informative References Appendix A
. Example Appendix B
. Known Implementation Appendix C
. Future Possibilities of the 'dns' ptype
One of the many checks that mail servers carry out is to query DNS
whitelists (DNSWLs). That method is fully discussed in [RFC5782
The DNS [RFC1034
] lookup is based on the connecting client's IP
address, IPv4 or IPv6, and returns zero or more A records. The
latter are IPv4 IP addresses in the range 127.0.0.0/8. Depending on
the query, TXT records with varying content can also be retrieved.
Query examples are given in Appendix A
Since the IP address is known as soon as the connection is accepted,
this check can occur very early in an SMTP transaction. Its result
can be used to counterweight policies that typically occur at early
stages too, such as the Sender Policy Framework (SPF) (the last
paragraph of Appendix D.3 of [RFC7208
] is also illustrated in Appendix A
). In addition, the result of a DNSWL lookup can be used
at later stages; for example, a delivery agent can use it to learn
the trustworthiness of a mail relay in order to estimate the
spamminess of an email message. The latter possibility needs a place
to collect query results for downstream use, which is precisely what
the Authentication-Results header field aims to provide.
Results often contain additional data, encoded according to DNSWL-
specific criteria. The method described in this document considers
only whitelists -- one of the major branches described by [RFC5782
There are also blacklists/blocklists (DNSBLs) and combined lists.
Since they all have the same structure, the abbreviation DNSxL is
used to mean any. The core procedures of a Mail Transfer Agent (MTA)
tend to be quite general, leaving particular cases to be handled by
add-on modules. In the case of combined lists, the boundary MTA (see
]), which carries out the check and possibly stores the
result, has to be able to discern at least the color of each entry,
as that is required to make accept/reject decisions. This document
provides for storing the result when the DNSxL record to be reported
is a whitelisting one.
Data conveyed in A and TXT records can be stored as properties of the
method. The meaning of such data varies widely at the mercy of the
list operator; hence, the queried zone has to be stored as well.
Mail site operators who configure their MTAs to query specific DNWSLs
marry the policies of those lists, as, in effect, they become
tantamount to local policies, albeit outsourced. Downstream agents
who know DNSWL-specific encoding and understand the meaning of that
data can use it to make delivery or display decisions. For example,
a mail filter that detects heuristic evidence of a scam can
counterweight such information with the trustworthiness score encoded
in the A response so as to protect against false positives. Mail
User Agents (MUAs) can display those results or use them to decide
how to report abusive messages, if configured to do so.
This document describes a usage of TXT fields consistent with other
authentication methods, namely to serve the domain name in the TXT
record. That way, a downstream filter could also consider whether
the sending agent is aligned with the author domain, with semantics
similar to [RFC7489
At the time of this writing, this method is implemented by Courier-
MTA [Courier-MTA]. An outline of the implementation is given in Appendix B
2. Method Details
The result of the method states how the query did, up to the
interpretation of the returned data.
The method has four possible results:
pass: The query successfully returned applicable records.
This result is usually accompanied by one or both of the
policy properties described below. Since the list is
configured as a DNSWL, agents unable to interpret list-
specific properties can still derive a positive value
from the fact that the sender is whitelisted.
none: The query worked but yielded no A record or returned
NXDOMAIN, so the sender is not whitelisted.
temperror: The DNS evaluation could not be completed due to some
error that is likely transient in nature, such as a
temporary DNS error (e.g., a DNS RCODE of 2, commonly
known as SERVFAIL) or other error condition. A later
attempt may produce a final result.
permerror: The DNS evaluation cannot work because test entries
don't work (that is, DNSWL is broken) or because queries
are over quota (reported by a DNS RCODE of 5, commonly
known as REFUSED, or by a DNSWL-specific property
(policy.ip, defined below) with the same meaning). A
later attempt is unlikely to produce a final result.
Human intervention is required.
Note that there is no "fail" result.
The following ptype.property items define how the data provided by
the whitelist lookup can be saved.
dns.zone: DNSWL query root domain, which defines the meaning of
the policy.ip property below. Note that an MTA can use
a local mirror with a different name. The name stored
here has to be the best available reference for all
foreseeable downstream consumers. Setting dns.zone to
the global zone makes the result intelligible even if
the message is handed outside of the internal network.
policy.ip: The bit mask value received in type A response, in
dotted quad notation. Multiple entries can be arranged
in a quoted, comma-separated list (quotes are necessary
because commas are not allowed in a token).
policy.txt: The TXT record, if any. Multiple records are
concatenated in the usual way (explained, for example,
in Section 3.3 of [RFC7208
]). See Section 3
resulting content and query options.
dns.sec: This is a generic property stating whether the relevant
data was validated using DNSSEC [RFC4033
]. For the
present method, the relevant data consists of the
reported policy properties above or, if the method
result is "none", its nonexistence. This property has
three possible values:
yes: DNSSEC validation confirms the integrity of data. Section 5.2
considers how that is related to the
no: The data is not signed. See Section 5.2
na: Not applicable. No DNSSEC validation can be
performed, possibly because the lookup is run
through a different means than a security-aware
DNS resolver. This does not necessarily imply
less security. In particular, "na" is used if the
data was downloaded in bulk and then loaded on a
local nameserver, which is the case of an MTA
querying a local zone different from the reported
dns.zone. DNS errors, including validation
errors, can also report "na". This is also the
value assumed by default.
3. TXT Record Contents
According to [RFC5782
], TXT records describe the reason why IP
addresses are listed in a DNSWL. An example of a DNSWL whose TXT
records contain the domain name of the organization assignee of the
sending IP is given in Appendix B
. The domain name would correspond
to the DNS domain name used by or within the Administrative
Management Domain (ADMD) operating the relevant MTA, sometimes called
the "organizational domain". In that case, the authentication
provided by this method is equivalent to a DomainKeys Identified Mail
(DKIM) signature [RFC6376
] or an SPF check host [RFC7208
], if the
DNSWL is trusted.
According to a DNSWL's policy, attributing responsibility of an IP
address to an organization may require something more than a mere PTR
record consistency. If no domain names can be responsibly associated
to a given IP address, for example, because the IP address was added
without direct involvement of the organization concerned, DNSWLs can
use a subdomain of .INVALID [RFC2606
] where the leftmost label hints
at why an address is whitelisted. For example, if the address
192.0.2.38 was added by the list managers solely based on their
knowledge, the corresponding TXT record might be AUTOPROMOTED.INVALID
so as to avoid explicitly identifying an entity that didn't opt in.
Following the example of Multicast DNS (see the second paragraph of
Section 16 of [RFC6762
]), names containing non-ASCII characters can
be encoded in UTF-8 [RFC3629
] using the Normalization Form C [NFC],
as described in "Unicode Format for Network Interchange" [RFC5198
Inclusion of unaltered UTF-8 TXT values in the header entails an
environment compatible with Email Address Internationalization (EAI)
DNS queries with a QTYPE of ANY may lead to inconsistent replies,
depending on the cache status. In addition, ANY is not "all", and
the provisions for queries that have QTYPE=ANY [RFC8482
] don't cover
DNSxLs. A mail server can issue two simultaneous queries, A and TXT.
Otherwise, a downstream filter can issue a TXT query on its own, if
it knows that an A query was successful and that the DNSWL serves
useful TXT records. It is unlikely that TXT records exist if a query
for QTYPE A brought a result of "none".
4. IANA Considerations
IANA maintains the "Email Authentication Parameters" registry with
several subregistries. IANA has made the assignments set out in the
4.1. Email Authentication Methods
IANA has created four new entries in the "Email Authentication
Methods" registry as follows.
|Method|Definition |ptype |property|Value |Status|Version|
|dnswl |RFC 8904
|dns |zone |DNSWL publicly |active| 1 |
| | | | |accessible query | | |
| | | | |root domain | | |
|dnswl |RFC 8904
|policy|ip |type A response |active| 1 |
| | | | |received (or a | | |
| | | | |quoted, comma- | | |
| | | | |separated list | | |
| | | | |thereof) | | |
|dnswl |RFC 8904
|policy|txt |type TXT query |active| 1 |
| | | | |response | | |
|dnswl |RFC 8904
|dns |sec |one of "yes" for |active| 1 |
| | | | |DNSSEC | | |
| | | | |authenticated | | |
| | | | |data, "no" for | | |
| | | | |not signed, or | | |
| | | | |"na" for not | | |
| | | | |applicable | | |
4.2. Email Authentication Property Type
IANA has created a new entry in the "Email Authentication Property
Types" registry as follows.
| ptype | Definition | Description |
| dns | RFC 8904
| The property being reported |
| | | belongs to the Domain Name System. |
4.3. Email Authentication Result Names
IANA has created four new entries in the "Email Authentication Result
Names" registry as follows.
| Auth Method | Code | Specification | Status |
| dnswl | pass | RFC 8904
| active |
| dnswl | none | RFC 8904
| active |
| dnswl | temperror | RFC 8904
| active |
| dnswl | permerror | RFC 8904
| active |
5. Security Considerations
5.1. Over-Quota Signaling
Some DNSWLs that provide for free access below a given quota are
known to return special codes to signal that the quota has been
exceeded (for example, 127.0.0.255). If the MTA cannot interpret
that value, that case results in a false positive. It can accept
messages that it would otherwise reject. A DNSWL-specific module
would realize this fact and call for human intervention.
Returning an RCODE 5 (REFUSED) conveys the concept that the query is
"unauthorized" and human intervention required.
5.2. Security of DNSSEC Validation
The dns.sec property is meant to be as secure as DNSSEC results. It
makes sense to use it in an environment where the DNSSEC validation
Section 7 of [RFC4033
] examines various ways of setting up a stub
resolver that either validates DNSSEC locally or trusts the
validation provided through a secure channel. For a different class,
it is possible to set up a dedicated, caching, DNSSEC-enabled
resolver reachable by the mail server through interprocess
communication on 127.0.0.1. In such cases, the property dns.sec=yes
corresponds to the Authenticated Data (AD) bit in the DNS response
When the response contains no DNSSEC data, a security-aware resolver
seeks a signed proof of the nonexistence of a DS record at some
delegation point. If no error is returned, the zone is unsigned and
dns.sec=no can be set. The Security Considerations section of
| The absence of DNSSEC data in response to a query with the DO bit
| set MUST NOT
be taken to mean no security information is available
| for that zone as the response may be forged or a non-forged
| response of an altered (DO bit cleared) query.
If the application verifies the DNSSEC signatures on its own, it
effectively behaves like a validating resolver and hence can set
When the data is downloaded in bulk and made available on a trusted
channel without using DNSSEC, the application sets dns.sec=na or not
at all. For example, consider DNSWLs that publish bulk versions of
their data duly signed using OpenPGP [RFC4880
]. It is the
responsibility of system administrators to authenticate the data by
downloading and validating the signature. The result of such
validation is not reported using dns.sec.
5.3. Inherited Security Considerations
For DNSSEC, the considerations of Section 12 of [RFC4033
All of the considerations described in Section 7 of [RFC8601
That includes securing against tampering all the channels after the
production of the Authentication-Results header field.
In addition, the usual caveats apply about importing text from
external online sources. Although queried DNSWLs are well-known,
trusted entities, it is suggested that TXT records be reported only
if, upon inspection, their content is deemed actionable and their
format compatible with the computing environment.
6.1. Normative References
] Eastlake 3rd, D. and A. Panitz, "Reserved Top Level DNS
Names", BCP 32, RFC 2606
, DOI 10.17487/RFC2606
, June 1999,
] Levine, J., "DNS Blacklists and Whitelists", RFC 5782
, February 2010,
] Kucherawy, M., "Message Header Field for Indicating
Message Authentication Status", RFC 8601
, May 2019,
6.2. Informative References
] Mockapetris, P., "Domain names - concepts and facilities",
STD 13, RFC 1034
, DOI 10.17487/RFC1034
, November 1987,
] Conrad, D., "Indicating Resolver Support of DNSSEC", RFC 3225
, DOI 10.17487/RFC3225
, December 2001,
] Yergeau, F., "UTF-8, a transformation format of ISO
10646", STD 63, RFC 3629
, DOI 10.17487/RFC3629
] Arends, R., Austein, R., Larson, M., Massey, D., and S.
Rose, "DNS Security Introduction and Requirements", RFC 4033
, DOI 10.17487/RFC4033
, March 2005,
] Callas, J., Donnerhacke, L., Finney, H., Shaw, D., and R.
Thayer, "OpenPGP Message Format", RFC 4880
, November 2007,
] Klensin, J. and M. Padlipsky, "Unicode Format for Network
Interchange", RFC 5198
, DOI 10.17487/RFC5198
, March 2008,
] Crocker, D., "Internet Mail Architecture", RFC 5598
, July 2009,
] Crocker, D., Ed., Hansen, T., Ed., and M. Kucherawy, Ed.,
"DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) Signatures", STD 76, RFC 6376
, DOI 10.17487/RFC6376
, September 2011,
] Klensin, J. and Y. Ko, "Overview and Framework for
Internationalized Email", RFC 6530
, DOI 10.17487/RFC6530
February 2012, <https://www.rfc-editor.org/info/rfc6530
] Cheshire, S. and M. Krochmal, "Multicast DNS", RFC 6762
, February 2013,
] Kitterman, S., "Sender Policy Framework (SPF) for
Authorizing Use of Domains in Email, Version 1", RFC 7208
, April 2014,
] Kucherawy, M., Ed. and E. Zwicky, Ed., "Domain-based
Message Authentication, Reporting, and Conformance
(DMARC)", RFC 7489
, DOI 10.17487/RFC7489
, March 2015,
] Margolis, D., Brotman, A., Ramakrishnan, B., Jones, J.,
and M. Risher, "SMTP TLS Reporting", RFC 8460
, September 2018,
] Abley, J., Gudmundsson, O., Majkowski, M., and E. Hunt,
"Providing Minimal-Sized Responses to DNS Queries That
Have QTYPE=ANY", RFC 8482
, DOI 10.17487/RFC8482
"Courier Mail Server", <https://www.courier-mta.org/
[DNSWL] "dnswl.org - E-Mail Reputation - Protect against false
[NFC] Whistler, K., Ed., "Unicode Normalization Forms", Unicode
Standard Annex 15, February 2020,
dkim=pass (whitelisted) email@example.com
dnswl=pass dns.zone=list.dnswl.example dns.sec=na
Received-SPF: fail (Address does not pass Sender Policy Framework)
Received: from mail.fwd.example (mail.fwd.example [2001:db8::2:1])
by mta.example.org with ESMTPS; Thu, 03 Oct 2019 19:23:11 +0200
Figure 1: Trace Fields at the Top of the Header
The message went through a third party, fwd.example, which forwarded
it to the final MTA. The mail path was not arranged beforehand with
the involved MTAs; it emerged spontaneously. This message would not
have made it to the target without whitelisting, because:
* the author domain published a strict SPF policy (-all),
* the forwarder did not alter the bounce address, and
* the target usually honors reject on fail, according to Section 8.4
However, the target also implemented the last paragraph of
Appendix D.3 of [RFC7208
]. Its behavior hinges on the following DNS
IN A 127.0.10.1
IN TXT "fwd.example https://dnswl.example/?d=fwd.example"
Figure 2: DNS Resource Records for 2001:db8::2:1 (line breaks for
If mail.fwd.example had connected from address 192.0.2.1, then the
query name would have been "220.127.116.11.list.dnswl.example". See full
description in [RFC5782
At connection time, because the remote IP address is whitelisted, the
target MTA did not reject the message before DATA. Instead, it
recorded the SPF fail result and indicated the local policy mechanism
that was applied in order to override that result. Subsequent
filtering verified DKIM [RFC6376
At later stages, mail filters can reject or quarantine the message
based on its content. A deeper knowledge of the policy values
obtained from dnswl.example allows interpreting the values of
policy.ip and weighing them against other factors so as to make
Appendix B. Known Implementation
Implementation details mentioned in this section have been stable for
several years. Yet, this description is necessarily superficial,
version dependent, and subject to change.
Courier-MTA [Courier-MTA] can be configured to look up DNSBLs and
DNSWLs, with similar command-line switches:
"zone" is the zone to be queried.
"displayzone" is only used for -allow; it is the value to be set in
the dns.zone property.
"var" stands for the environment variable whose existence triggers a
special action. The default variable names result in a conventional
behavior implemented by Courier-MTA. By setting different
environment variables, users can customize the behavior.
Conventional behavior differs widely between -block and -allow. The
former rejects the message; the latter produces Authentication-
Results header fields.
The n.n.n.n IP address requires a precise A record response. If not
given, any response results in setting the corresponding variable.
If given, variables are set only if the response matches exactly.
Such syntax provides for a very limited interpretation of the
information encoded in A records. However, it is considered to be
too complicated already. Even specifying a range, an enumeration of
values, or a regular expression would require something beyond what a
normal user would be willing to manage.
Finally, the trailing message, which overrides the 5xx SMTP reply for
-block, is not used for -allow, except that its mere presence
requires querying TXT records to be registered in policy.txt.
SPF is part of Courier-MTA's core. It is configured separately and
provides for an "allowok" keyword to indicate the choice to override
rejection in case of SPF failure and -allow whitelisting.
A customary whitelist is defined by DNSWL.org [DNSWL]. It serves A
records encoded as follows:
1st octet: 127.
2nd octet: 0.
3rd octet: Category of business, 15 values.
4th octet: Trustworthiness/score, 4 values.
They also serve TXT records containing the domain name followed by a
URL pointing to further information about the relevant organization,
such as what other IP addresses of theirs are being whitelisted.
They don't use UTF-8.
DNSWL.org provides for free registration and free access below
100,000 queries per day. They use a special return code, 127.0.0.255
as exemplified above, to signal that the quota has been exceeded.
Although Courier-MTA itself does not recognize this return code, it
has a mail filter (zdkimfilter, named after its main usage) that hard
codes recognition of this code and the code for trustworthiness in
the 4th octet.
Appendix C. Future Possibilities of the 'dns' ptype
The description of the new ptype proposed in Section 4.2
property being reported belongs to the Domain Name System." That
definition can broadly include any tag found in a domain's TXT
record. For example, designers of authentication methods can agree
that within a resinfo of a given method, any dns ptype refers to tags
in the relevant DNS record, unless otherwise specified. So one could
spf=pass smtp.mailfrom=example.net dns.sec=y;
dkim=pass firstname.lastname@example.org header.b=jIvx30NG dns.s=tlsrpt
While dns.sec is defined above, albeit not for the spf method, the
use of tlsrpt in the DKIM record is exemplified in Section 3
]. The tag s= is part of the DKIM TXT record, not to be
confused with the selector s=, which is part of a DKIM signature.
Just like the latter can be reported as header.s because the DKIM
header field is in the message header, it may make sense to report
the former as dns.s because the DKIM DNS record is in the DNS.
NOTE: This is only a hint at what may become a consistent naming
convention around the new ptype. In any case, any new property using
this ptype requires its own formal definition. This document does
NOT define the property dns.s=, let alone the service tlsrpt.
v. L. Anelli 13
20122 Milano MI