Thursday, June 30, 2011

A strategy for handling DNS in EC2 with Route 53

In my previous post I showed how to use the boto library to manage Route 53 DNS zones. Here I will show a strategy for handling DNS within an EC2 infrastructure using Route 53.

Let's assume you have a registered domain name called You want all your EC2 instances to use that domain name to communicate with each other. Assume you launch a database instance that you want to refer to as What you do is you add a CNAME record in the DNS zone for and point it to the external AWS name assigned to that instance. For example:
# route53 add_record ZONEID CNAME 3600

The advantage of this method is that DNS queries for from within EC2 will eventually resolve the CNAME to the internal IP address of the instance, while DNS queries from outside EC2 will resolve it to the external IP address -- which is in general exactly what you want.

There's one more caveat: if you need the default DNS and search domain in /etc/resolv.conf to be, you need to configure the DHCP client to use that domain, by adding this line to /etc/dhcp3/dhclient.conf:

supersede domain-name " ec2.internal compute-1.internal" ;

Then edit/overwrite /etc/resolv.conf and specify:

search ec2.internal compute-1.internal

The line in dhclient.conf will ensure that your custom resolv.conf file will be preserved across reboots -- which is not usually the case in EC2 with the default DHCP behavior (thanks to Gerald Chao for pointing out this solution to me).

Of course, you should have all this in the Chef or Puppet recipes you use when you build out a new instance.

I've been applying this strategy for a while and it works out really well, and it also allows me to not run and take care of my own BIND servers in EC2.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Managing Amazon Route 53 DNS with boto

Here's a quick post that shows how to manage Amazon Route 53 DNS zones and records using the ever-useful boto library from Mitch Garnaat. Route 53 is a typical pay-as-you-go inexpensive AWS service which you can use to host your DNS zones. I wanted to play with it a bit, and some Google searches revealed two good blog posts: "Boto and Amazon Route53" by Chris Moyer and "Using boto to manage Route 53" by Rob Ballou. I want to thank those two guys for blogging about Route 53, their posts were a great help to me in figuring things out.

Install boto

My machine is running Ubuntu 10.04 with Python 2.6. I ran 'easy_install boto', which installed boto-2.0rc1. This also installs several utilities in /usr/local/bin, of interest to this article being /usr/local/bin/route53 which provides an easy command-line-oriented way of interacting with Route 53.

Create boto configuration file

I created ~/.boto containing the Credentials section with the AWS access key and secret key:
# cat ~./boto
aws_access_key_id = "YOUR_ACCESS_KEY"
aws_secret_access_key = "YOUR_SECRET_KEY"

Interact with Route 53 via the route53 utility

If you just run 'route53', the command will print the help text for its usage. For our purpose, we'll make sure there are no errors when we run:

# route53 ls

If you don't have any DNS zones already created, this will return nothing.

Create a new DNS zone with route53

We'll create a zone called 'mytestzone':

# route53 create
Pending, please add the following Name Servers:

Note that you will have to properly register '' with a registrar, then point the name server information at that registrat to the name servers returned when the Route 53 zone was created (in our case the 4 name servers above).

At this point, if you run 'route53 ls' again, you should see your newly created zone. You need to make note of the zone ID:

root@m2:~# route53 ls
| Name:
| Ref:  my-ref-number

You can also get the existing records from a given zone by running the 'route53 get' command which also takes the zone ID as an argument:

# route53 get MYZONEID
Name                                   Type  TTL                  Value(s)                        NS    172800     ,,,                        SOA   900         1 7200 900 1209600 86400

Adding and deleting DNS records using route53

Let's add an A record to the zone we just created. The route53 utility provides an 'add_record' command which takes the zone ID as an argument, followed by the name, type, value and TTL of the new record, and an optional comment. The TTL is also optional, and defaults to 600 seconds if not specified. Here's how to add an A record with a TTL of 3600 seconds:

# route53 add_record MYZONEID A SOME_IP_ADDRESS 3600
{u'ChangeResourceRecordSetsResponse': {u'ChangeInfo': {u'Status': u'PENDING', u'SubmittedAt': u'2011-06-20T23:01:23.851Z', u'Id': u'/change/CJ2GH5O38HYKP0'}}}

Now if you run 'route53 get MYZONEID' you should see your newly added record.

To delete a record, use the 'route53 del_record' command, which takes the same arguments as add_record. Here's how to delete the record we just added:

# route53 del_record Z247A81E3SXPCR A SOME_IP_ADDRESS
{u'ChangeResourceRecordSetsResponse': {u'ChangeInfo': {u'Status': u'PENDING', u'SubmittedAt': u'2011-06-21T01:14:35.343Z', u'Id': u'/change/C2B0EHROD8HEG8'}}}

Managing Route 53 programmatically with boto

As useful as the route53 command-line utility is, sometimes you need to interact with the Route 53 service from within your program. Since this post is about boto, I'll show some Python code that uses the Route 53 functionality.

Here's how you open a connection to the Route 53 service:

from boto.route53.connection import Route53Connection
conn = Route53Connection()

(this assumes you have the AWS credentials in the ~/.boto configuration file)

Here's how you retrieve and walk through all your Route 53 DNS zones, selecting a zone by name:


zones = {}
conn = Route53Connection()

results = conn.get_all_hosted_zones()
zones = results['ListHostedZonesResponse']['HostedZones']
found = 0
for zone in zones:
    print zone
    if zone['Name'] == ROUTE53_ZONE_NAME:
        found = 1
if not found:
    print "No Route53 zone found for %s" % ROUTE53_ZONE_NAME

(note that you need the ending period in the zone name that you're looking for, as in "")

Here's how you add a CNAME record with a TTL of 60 seconds to an existing zone (assuming the 'zone' variable contains the zone you're looking for). You need to operate on the zone ID, which is the identifier following the text '/hostedzone/' in the 'Id' field of the variable 'zone'.

from boto.route53.record import ResourceRecordSets
zone_id = zone['Id'].replace('/hostedzone/', '')
changes = ResourceRecordSets(conn, zone_id)
change = changes.add_change("CREATE", 'test2.%s' % ROUTE53_ZONE_NAME, "CNAME", 60)

To delete a record, you use the exact same code as above, but with "DELETE" instead of "CREATE".

I leave other uses of the 'route53' utility and of the boto Route 53 API as an exercise to the reader.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Technical books that influenced my career

Here's a list of 25 technical books that had a strong influence on my career, presented in a somewhat chronological order of my encounters with them:

  1. "The Art of Computer Programming", esp. vol. 3 "Sorting and Searching" - Donald Knuth
  2. "Operating Systems" - William Stallings
  3. "Introduction to Algorithms" - Thomas Cormen et al.
  4. "The C Programming Language" - Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie
  5. "Programming Windows" - Charles Petzold
  6. "Writing Solid Code" - Steve Maguire
  7. "The Practice of Programming" - Brian Kernighan and Rob Pike
  8. "Computer Networks - a Systems Approach" - Larry Peterson and Bruce Davie
  9. "TCP/IP Illustrated" - W. Richard Stevens
  10. "Distributed Systems - Concepts And Design" - George Coulouris et al.
  11. "DNS and BIND" - Cricket Liu and Paul Albitz
  12. "UNIX and Linux System Administration Handbook" - Evi Nemeth et al.
  13. "The Mythical Man-Month" - Fred Brooks
  14. "Programming Perl" - Larry Wall et al.
  15. "Counter Hack Reloaded: a Step-by-Step Guide to Computer Attacks and Effective Defenses" - Edward Skoudis and Tom Liston
  16. "Programming Python" - Mark Lutz
  17. "Lessons Learned in Software Testing" - Cem Kaner, James Bach, Bret Pettichord
  18. "Refactoring - Improving the Design of Existing Code" - Martin Fowler
  19. "The Pragmatic Programmer" - Andrew Hunt and David Thomas
  20. "Becoming a Technical Leader" - Gerald Weinberg
  21. "Extreme Programming Explained" - Kent Beck
  22. "Programming Amazon Web Services" - James Murty
  23. "Building Scalable Web Sites" - Cal Henderson
  24. "RESTful Web Services" - Leonard Richardson, Sam Ruby
  25. "The Art of Capacity Planning" - John Allspaw
What is your list?