It's always DNS, especially when you're on holiday with nothing but a phone on GPRS

The time a reader found himself in an awful BIND

On Call Did your phone ring over the New Year? No? Then spare a thought for those unfortunates who remain answerable day or night to the dread trill of a panicked On Call.

Cast your mind back to a time before the woes of today, when "Brexit" was a noise one might have made after a good night out and a few bad pints, Microsoft had yet to inflict Windows XP on the world, and Apple's idea of a digital assistant was the Newton. It is the 1990s, and our reader, whom we will call "Kildare", was the network manager of a large London hospital.

"My go-to tool of choice," he recalled, "was my personal Satellite Pro." The hefty bit of kit had enjoyed an upgrade from Windows 95 to NT4 "owing to the former OS's unfortunate habit of sending fragmented packets when using Telnet."

"The ancient core router," he added, "responded to such treatment by rebooting."

"I told you it was a long time ago!" he said, apologetically. No apology needed – let he who has never tinkered with Telnet fragment the first packet.

Kildare was taking some holiday in an isolated Cornish village when things went a bit Casualty back at base. Pretty much every system dropped over and howls of anguish echoed through the corridors. Being in Cornwall, with mobile coverage even worse then than it is today, Kildare remained blissfully unaware of the disaster unfolding in London. It wasn't until he strayed into an area served by GPRS that his phone sprang into life with pleas for help.

"I had my laptop with me in the car," he recalled, "so plugging my Nokia phone into the serial port and dialling into our trusty modem bank established a connection."

No USB or personal hotspots in those days, oh no.

Oh, and that laptop update had left him with iffy video drivers and an inability to adjust the brightness of the laptop screen. A sunny Cornish day meant the only way to use the darkened LCD was to hide under a jacket. "I must have looked very suspicious to anyone passing."

However, while the technology of this tale is decidedly retro, the problem was a decided modern one. It was DNS. It is always DNS.

Even crawling along using a serial cable connected to a GPRS phone, Kildare was able to rapidly diagnose the problem: "The DNS server [BIND] wasn't running."

He poked around a bit more and discovered that, yup, the config file for the primary zone was borked thanks to some PFY adding an entry with a duff character in the name. The requisite kill command had been issued after the edit to restart the daemon, but nobody had thought to check that it had actually come back up.

It's always DNS.

"A quick edit with vi, and a restart, and the world returned to normal, and I returned to my holiday," he recalled.

Sadly for our hero: "I, of course, never received any thanks for my efforts, which were completely forgotten by the time I returned."

We're sure the warm glow of a job well done was reward enough, right?

There's no need to ask if you've fought a networking issue only to find it was DNS because, well, it's always DNS (except when it isn't). Or roamed out of reach while On Call only to have your pager beep its distress as you crossed the pub's threshold. It has happened to us, and it is time for you share your own experiences with an email to On Call. ®

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