DNSDB Export is a subscription service that allows a customer to create a local version of the DNSDB API system and tools. The customer can run a local version of the DNSDB API or search the database files directly. This allows a customer to create a secure, local environment to work with DNSDB data without the queries and results visible, even encrypted, on the public networks. The DNSDB Export data files are delivered to this local environment via a secure HTTPS-based transport.

This document will explain:

  1. The data sets and file names
  2. The provisioning process
  3. How to download the latest DNSDB Export files

The examples in this document will use the filesystem directory /srv/dnsdb-export and the username dnsdb-export-username. These are example values and should be replaced with your site’s specific values, as provided to you by Farsight.


This document is intended for system administrators responsible for administration of a DNSDB Export service.

Hardware and Network Requirements

DNSDB Export is intended to be installed on real or virtual servers owned or controlled by the customer within a secure hosting facility owned and controlled by the customer or their service provider. These servers must be managed securely to guarantee that DNSDB data is only disclosed to authorized users.

Per the subscription contract with Farsight, the DNSDB data must be segregated from other data sets and cannot be merged into other databases or mingled with non-Farsight data. If the Farsight subscription is terminated then all DNSDB data must be deleted and cannot be retained.

The recommended OS for the servers is Debian 9, but these operating systems are currently supported:

For complete hardware and network requirements to run a server that supports DNSDB Export, please see the document DNSDB Export Requirements.

Data sets and file names

DNSDB Export is a service that provides read-only mtbl and tgdb database files used by DNSDB. mtbl is a compressed, indexed binary file format for storing key-value entries. DNSDB’s mtbl files use an encoding for passive DNS data called dnstable.

See mtbl and dnstable for the open source C implementation libraries, and pymtbl and pydnstable for the open source Python library that wrap the C libraries.

The DNSDB files (mtbl) are partitioned into dns and dnssec subsets. The dnssec subset includes all DNS Resource Records of type DS, RRSIG, NSEC, DNSKEY, NSEC3, NSEC3PARAM, or DLV, while the dns subset contains DNS Resource Records for all other types that are not included in the dnssec subset. All mtbl files used by DNSDB Export start with the filename prefix dns. or dnssec. depending on whether the MTBL file is for the dns or dnssec subsets.

The Flex database files (tgdb) contain information to flexibly search dns records. Each tgdb file is generated by a proprietary process from mtbl files. There are separate *.tgdb files for rrnames and rdata.

Farsight does not currently include dnssec records in flexible search. The RRTypes that have their rdata indexed in Flex include CNAME, HINFO, MX, NAPTR, NS, PTR, RP, SOA, SPF, SRV and TXT records. SOA RData records do not have the numeric fields, and CDS and CDNSKEY records cannot be queried by type using the Flex backend server.

To summarize:

The DNSDB mtbl and tgdb files are further partitioned by time interval into ‘minute’, ‘decaminute’, ‘hour’, ‘day’, ‘month’, and ‘year’ sets. Each file has a filename suffix which indicates the time interval.

Each file name also includes a datestamp indicating which time interval it corresponds to. The format of the datestamp varies depending on which time interval is used.

Time Interval Filename suffix Time format Time format example
minute .m.mtbl %Y%m%d.%H%M 20130129.0212
decaminute .X.mtbl %Y%m%d.%H%M 20130129.0220
hour .H.mtbl %Y%m%d.%H%M 20130129.0200
day .D.mtbl %Y%m%d 20130129
month .M.mtbl %Y%m 201301
year .Y.mtbl %Y 2013

Note: in the file name suffix, we use lower-case m for minute files and upper-case M for month files. The opposite case is used in the time format string.

The underlying data records are created from deduplicated firstseen/lastseen/count observations of RRSET data seen in the SIE real-time stream ( in the last minute. Records are initially aggregrated into minute files. Records are aggregated into larger time periods by adjusting firstseen/lastseen/count values shared between identical RRSETs. The higher granularity files are aggregated into larger, lower-granularity files by a merging process. When merging files, a given RRSET will have its oldest firstseen is preserved, will use the newest lastseen, and have counts added together.

More granular files Aggregates into file
most recent data minute .m
10 minute files decaminute .X
6 decaminute files hour .H
24 hour files day .D
28-31 daily files month .M
12 month files year .Y

The time granularity of information available for any RRSET becomes more coarse as the time periods grow longer. For a popular frequently-observed RRSET combination, the firstseen will be close to the beginning of the time period and lastseen close to the end with a large count. A short-lived RRSET would have a low count and firstseen/lastseen close to the actual times the RRSET was first/last observed withing the time period of the database file.

The daemon dnstable-manager downloads each file and verifies its digest. It tracks which files are present in a file set. For each collection of files, there is a separate, local fileset file. These have a “.fileset” extension and are atomically updated after each new file is ready. Here is a description of each file set file:

Collection .fileset file name
dns .mtbl files /srv/dnsdb-export/mtbl/dns.fileset
dnssec .mtbl files /srv/dnsdb-export/mtbl-dnssec/dnssec.fileset
rrnames .tgdb files /srv/dnsdb-export/tgdb/rrnames.fileset
rdata .tgdb files /srv/dnsdb-export/tgdb/rdata.fileset

dnstable-manager also stores a file with a SHA-256 checksum for each .mtbl and .tgdb file. These files have a .sha256 extension appended to the original filename.

Selecting Files to Download

You can adjust which data files are downloaded by appending parameters to the fileset URI in the dnstable-manager configuration file. This configuration file is a YAML format file and is normally in /etc/dnstable-manager/dnstable-manager.yaml. The configuration allows you, for example, to limit the time period you have available for your queries if you choose not to download the entire set. You can also restrict your downloads to certain aggregation levels; for instance, you can choose not to download minutely files.

By default dnstable-manager fetches all files that are allowed in a user’s subscription for the whole term of the subscription period, as if one specified time_letters=mXHDMY. If any letters are removed, dnstable-manager stops downloading related files. In addition, dnstable_manager will delete any local files not specified in the time_letters. An unsuspecting adminstrator could run into issues where they want monthly or daily files and remove the “Y”. Any local yearly files would be deleted by this change. Whenever making changes where the time letters are changed, you need to make a backup copy of the data, or at least a set of local hard links to the files, so that they are still available in case they are accidentally deleted.

If you want to manually download smaller files without downloading larger files, consider manually downloading files instead of using dnstable_manager. Consult with Farsight Technical Support at

Restricting by Time Period

Use the time_letters parameter to specify a set of time periods that you wish to receive.

Time Letter Meaning
m Minute
X Decaminute (10x minute files)
H Hour
D Day
W Week (unused)
M Month
Q Quarter (unused)
Y Year

Example: append time_letters=mXHDM to your fileset uri if you do not want yearly files, change your fileset URI to:

Restricting by Age

Use the before and after parameters if you want to limit the age or freshness of the data in the fileset. These parameters may be any of:

Because this is read by a YAML parser, you must use escaped strings for YAML objects (e.g. %20 for whitespace).

Examples Meaning
after=-86400 Anything from the last day.
after=years:%201 Anything from the last year.
before=2021-01-01 Anything up to January 1, 2021.
before=1451606400 Anything up to January 1, 2016.
before=-300 Files delayed by five minutes.

Here is an example combining restrictions to downloads daily files for the past 35 days:


The following packages contain the tools used for working with DNSDB Export data files. Where the package names differ between debian .deb files and Redhat .rpm files due to naming conventions, both are shown.

Generally required:

Developer Tools for C:

Developer Tools for Python:

Basic Usage

This section describes basic usage of the more commonly used tools.

mtbl utilities

mtbl-bin is the debian package name, mtbl is the rpm package name.

This package provides low-level command-line tools like mtbl_info, mtbl_verify, mtbl_dump, and mtbl_merge. These utilities can be used to provide information, verify, view and merge MTBL files.

Example usage:

mtbl_info: display information about an MTBL file.

$ mtbl_info /srv/dnsdb-export/mtbl/dns.20170411.1300.m.mtbl

file name:             /srv/dnsdb-export/mtbl/dns.20170411.1300.m.mtbl
file size:             96,616,169
index block offset:    96,091,431
index bytes:           524,226 (0.54%)
data block bytes       96,091,431 (99.46%)
data block size:       8,192
data block count       27,969
entry count:           5,475,567
key bytes:             255,823,906
value bytes:           44,771,729
compression algorithm: zlib
compactness:           32.14%

mtbl_verify: verify integrity of an MTBL file’s data and index blocks.

$ mtbl_verify /srv/dnsdb-export/mtbl/dns.20170411.1316.m.mtbl
/srv/dnsdb-export/mtbl/dns.20170411.1316.m.mtbl: OK

mtbl_dump: print key-value entries from an MTBL file.

$ mtbl_dump /export/dnstable/mtbl/dns.20170411.1316.m.mtbl | head -1

    x03dns\x04park\x02io\x00" "\xcf\xad\xb3\xc7\x05\xcf\xad\xb3\xc7\x05\x00"

For additional details, see the mtbl manpages.

dnstable utilities

dnstable-bin is the debian package name, dnstable is the rpm package name.

This package provides command-line tools like dnstable_dump and can be used to decode the DNSDB Export MTBL files.

Example usage (with some line breaks added for readability):

dnstable_dump: dump dnstable data file to text or JSON.

$ dnstable_dump -j -r /srv/dnsdb-export/mtbl/dns.201312.M.mtbl | head -1
{"bailiwick": ".", "rrname": ".", "time_last": 1388531097, "time_first": 1385842207,
    "count": 63528993, "rrtype": 2, "rdata": ["",
    "", "", "",
    "", "", "",
    "", "", "",
    "", "", ""]}

dnstable_lookup: lookup individual records in a dnstable data file or set of data files.

$ export DNSTABLE_FNAME=/srv/dnsdb-export/mtbl/dns.20210427.2000.H.mtbl
$ dnstable_lookup  -J rrset | head -1

For additional details, see the dnstable manpages.

Accessing the Data

There are a variety of ways to access DNSDB and Flex data depending on your needs:

Accessing the Data via Command Line


You can use the dnstable_lookup tool found in the dnstable-bin package. See the above example.

dnsdbq and dnsdbflex

The dnsdbq and dnsdbflex tools give access to DNSDB and Flex data respectively.

Examples (with some line breaks added for readability):

$ echo "APIKEY=$APIKEY" | sudo tee --append /etc/dnsdb-query.conf
$ echo 'DNSDB_SERVER="https://localhost"' | sudo tee --append /etc/dnsdb-query.conf

$ dnsdbq -r -l 1 -j -t A

$ dnsdbflex --r '^[ew].*\.fsi\.io\.' -l 1

The Curl library is used by dnsdbq and dnsdbflex. You can use curl directly, as shown in the following examples for all three APIs (with some line breaks added for readability):

$ curl -g -k -Ss -H "X-Api-Key: $DNSDB_API_KEY" -H "Accept: application/json" \

$ curl -g -k -Ss -H "X-Api-Key: $DNSDB_API_KEY" -H "Accept: application/x-ndjson" \
{"cond":"limited","msg":"Result limit reached"}

$ curl -g -k -Ss -H "X-Api-Key: $DNSDB_API_KEY" -H "Accept: application/x-ndjson" \

Here is how to install the script and configure it to query the local API server. Its Python code is a good head start at writing a Python based integration.

$ sudo wget -q -O /usr/local/bin/ \

$ sudo chmod 755 /usr/local/bin/

$ echo "APIKEY=$APIKEY" | sudo tee --append /etc/dnsdb-query.conf
$ echo 'DNSDB_SERVER="https://localhost"' | sudo tee --append /etc/dnsdb-query.conf

$ /usr/local/bin/ -r -l 1
;;  bailiwick:
;;      count: 1214
;; first seen: 2021-01-31 20:28:16 -0000
;;  last seen: 2021-05-05 14:31:50 -0000 IN A

Accessing the data using a GUI

DNSDB Scout for Export is a browser-based GUI for accessing and making queries to the DNSDB API. It can be installed for use on an Export installation. For more information on DNSDB Scout, please see:

Farsight also has integrations that work with a number of third party tools that might work for your environment. To see the full list of available integrations, visit:


Data Synchronization

Data Synchronization is limited by the server to mitigate potential resource exhaustion. Because of this, it could take up to 10 days to retrieve a complete copy of the DNSDB database when copying files over the Internet.

For some customers, Farsight is able to ship an initial copy of the DNSDB database files using an encrypted drive to bootstrap a new installation of DNSDB Export.


  1. Disk full - disk full is one of the most common problems. Check for this problem with df -h /srv and by reviewing the error messages from dnstable-manager.
    • Running out of disk space for storing data is one of the most common problems customers see. We keep producing more data over time, so the system or storage administrator needs to make sure more space is made available or older filesets are deleted. To figure out how much space is available, run
      • cd /srv/dnsdb-export/
      • df . if there is just one mount point, otherwise df *
  2. Corrupted Files - Verify mtbl files using mtbl_verify.
    • If you find a corrupted file, you can correct by deleting the corrupted file. This should cause dnstable-manager to download the file again.
  3. General Errors - Check the dnstable-manager logs and review listed errors.

Validating manually downloaded files with a checksum

If you choose to not use dnstable-manager to download the data files but are downloading them via some other mechanism, you may want to checksum the files to validate their correctness. You can compare the checksum that Farsight generated with one you generate (dnstable-manager does this automatically).

Here is a technique to download Farsight’s checksum and generate a checksum of a data file that you downloaded:

$ curl --silent --head -H "X-API-Key:$EXPORT_APIKEY" \<datestring>.D.mtbl \
    | grep ^Digest: | cut -f2 -d=

The following openssl command will calculate the base64 encoded checksum of your already downloaded file:

$ openssl dgst -sha256 -binary dns.<datestring>.D.mtbl | openssl base64 -e

Compare the outputs of the two commands – they should be the same.

About Farsight Security

Farsight Security, Inc. is the world’s largest provider of historical and real-time DNS intelligence solutions. We enable security teams to qualify, enrich and correlate all sources of threat data and ultimately save time when it is most critical - during an attack or investigation. Our solutions provide enterprise, government and security industry personnel and platforms with unmatched global visibility, context and response. Farsight Security is headquartered in San Mateo, California, USA. Learn more about how we can empower your threat platform and security team with Farsight Security passive DNS solutions at or follow us on Twitter: @FarsightSecInc.