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Unbound With Pi-Hole


Unbound is a validating, recursive, caching DNS resolver. It is designed to be fast and lean and incorporates modern features based on open standards.

What is a recursive DNS server?¤

The first distinction we have to be aware of is whether a DNS server is authoritative or not.

If I'm the authoritative server for, e.g.,, then I know which IP is the correct answer for a query. Recursive name servers, in contrast, resolve any query they receive by consulting the servers authoritative for this query by traversing the domain.

Example: We want to resolve On behalf of the client, the recursive DNS server will traverse the path of the domain across the Internet to deliver the answer to the question.

Setting up Pi-hole as a recursive DNS server solution¶¤

We will use unbound, a secure open-source recursive DNS server primarily developed by NLnet Labs, VeriSign Inc., Nominet, and Kirei. The first thing you need to do is to install the recursive DNS resolver:

sudo apt install unbound

If you are installing unbound from a package manager, it should install the root.hints file automatically with the dependency dns-root-data. The root hints will then be automatically updated by your package manager.

Optional: Download the current root hints file (the list of primary root servers which are serving the domain "." - the root domain). Update it roughly every six months. Note that this file changes infrequently. This is only necessary if you are not installing unbound from a package manager. If you do this optional step, you will need to uncomment the root-hints: configuration line in the suggested config file.

wget -qO- | sudo tee /var/lib/unbound/root.hints

Configure unbound¤


  • Listen only for queries from the local Pi-hole installation (on port 5335)
  • Listen for both UDP and TCP requests
  • Verify DNSSEC signatures, discarding BOGUS domains
  • Apply a few security and privacy tricks


   # If no logfile is specified, syslog is used
   # logfile: "/var/log/unbound/unbound.log"
   verbosity: 0

   port: 5335
   do-ip4: yes
   do-udp: yes
   do-tcp: yes

   # May be set to yes if you have IPv6 connectivity
   do-ip6: no

   # You want to leave this to no unless you have *native* IPv6. With 6to4 and
   # Terredo tunnels your web browser should favor IPv4 for the same reasons
   prefer-ip6: no

   # Use this only when you downloaded the list of primary root servers!
   # If you use the default dns-root-data package, unbound will find it automatically
   #root-hints: "/var/lib/unbound/root.hints"

   # Trust glue only if it is within the server's authority
   harden-glue: yes

   # Require DNSSEC data for trust-anchored zones, if such data is absent, the zone becomes BOGUS
   harden-dnssec-stripped: yes

   # Don't use Capitalization randomization as it known to cause DNSSEC issues sometimes
   # see for further details
   use-caps-for-id: no

   # Reduce EDNS reassembly buffer size.
   # IP fragmentation is unreliable on the Internet today, and can cause
   # transmission failures when large DNS messages are sent via UDP. Even
   # when fragmentation does work, it may not be secure; it is theoretically
   # possible to spoof parts of a fragmented DNS message, without easy
   # detection at the receiving end. Recently, there was an excellent study
   # >>> Defragmenting DNS - Determining the optimal maximum UDP response size for DNS <<<
   # by Axel Koolhaas, and Tjeerd Slokker (
   # in collaboration with NLnet Labs explored DNS using real world data from the
   # the RIPE Atlas probes and the researchers suggested different values for
   # IPv4 and IPv6 and in different scenarios. They advise that servers should
   # be configured to limit DNS messages sent over UDP to a size that will not
   # trigger fragmentation on typical network links. DNS servers can switch
   # from UDP to TCP when a DNS response is too big to fit in this limited
   # buffer size. This value has also been suggested in DNS Flag Day 2020.
   edns-buffer-size: 1232

   # Perform prefetching of close to expired message cache entries
   # This only applies to domains that have been frequently queried
   prefetch: yes

   # One thread should be sufficient, can be increased on beefy machines. In reality for most users running on small networks or on a single machine, it should be unnecessary to seek performance enhancement by increasing num-threads above 1.
   num-threads: 1

   # Ensure kernel buffer is large enough to not lose messages in traffic spikes
   so-rcvbuf: 1m

   # Ensure privacy of local IP ranges
   private-address: fd00::/8
   private-address: fe80::/10

Start your local recursive server and test that it's operational:

sudo service unbound restart dig @ -p 5335

The first query may be quite slow, but subsequent queries, also to other domains under the same TLD, should be fairly quick.

You should also consider adding
edns-packet-max=1232 to a config file like /etc/dnsmasq.d/99-edns.conf to signal FTL to adhere to this limit.

Test validation¤

You can test DNSSEC validation using

dig @ -p 5335
dig @ -p 5335

The first command should give a status report of SERVFAIL and no IP address. The second should give NOERROR plus an IP address.

Configure Pi-hole¤

Finally, configure Pi-hole to use your recursive DNS server by specifying as the Custom DNS (IPv4):

(don't forget to hit Return or click on Save)

Disable resolvconf.conf entry for unbound (Required for Debian Bullseye+ releases)¤

Debian Bullseye+ releases auto-install a package called openresolv with a certain configuration that will cause unexpected behaviour for pihole and unbound.

The effect is that the unbound-resolvconf.service instructs resolvconf to write unbound's own DNS service at nameserver , but without the 5335 port, into the file /etc/resolv.conf.

That /etc/resolv.conf file is used by local services/processes to determine DNS servers configured. You need to edit the configuration file and disable the service to work-around the misconfiguration.

Step 1 - Disable the Service¤

To check if this service is enabled for your distribution, run below one. It will show either active or inactive or it might not even be installed resulting in a could not be found message:

systemctl is-active unbound-resolvconf.service

To disable the service, run the statement below:

sudo systemctl disable --now unbound-resolvconf.service

Step 2 - Disable the file resolvconf_resolvers.conf¤

Disable the file resolvconf_resolvers.conf from being generated when resolvconf is invoked elsewhere.

sudo sed -Ei 's/^unbound_conf=/#unbound_conf=/' /etc/resolvconf.conf
sudo rm /etc/unbound/unbound.conf.d/resolvconf_resolvers.conf
Restart unbound.

sudo service unbound restart

Add logging to unbound¤


It's not recommended to increase verbosity for daily use, as unbound logs a lot. But it might be helpful for debugging purposes.

There are five levels of verbosity

Level 0 means no verbosity, only errors
Level 1 gives operational information
Level 2 gives  detailed operational  information
Level 3 gives query level information
Level 4 gives  algorithm  level  information
Level 5 logs client identification for cache misses

First, specify the log file, human-readable timestamps and the verbosity level in the server part of /etc/unbound/unbound.conf.d/pi-hole.conf:

    # If no logfile is specified, syslog is used
    logfile: "/var/log/unbound/unbound.log"
    log-time-ascii: yes
    verbosity: 1

Second, create log dir and file, set permissions:

sudo mkdir -p /var/log/unbound
sudo touch /var/log/unbound/unbound.log
sudo chown unbound /var/log/unbound/unbound.log

On modern Debian/Ubuntu-based Linux systems, you'll also have to add an AppArmor exception for this new file so unbound can write into it.

Create (or edit if existing) the file /etc/apparmor.d/local/usr.sbin.unbound and append

/var/log/unbound/unbound.log rw,

to the end (make sure this value is the same as above). Then reload AppArmor using

sudo apparmor_parser -r /etc/apparmor.d/usr.sbin.unbound
sudo service unbound restart

Lastly, restart unbound:

sudo service unbound restart

Uninstall unbound¤

To remove unbound from your system run

sudo apt remove unbound
Make sure to switch to another upstream DNS server for Pi-hole.