Enhancing Service Mesh DNS Resolution with Istio’s Proxy DNS Capability: Benefits and Use-Cases

Istio is a popular open-source service mesh that provides a range of powerful features for managing and securing microservices-based architectures. We have talked a lot about its capabilities and components, but today we will talk about how we can use Istio to help with the DNS resolution mechanism.

As you already know, In a typical Istio deployment, each service is accompanied by a sidecar proxy, Envoy, which intercepts and manages the traffic between services. The Proxy DNS capability of Istio leverages this proxy to handle DNS resolution requests more intelligently and efficiently.

Traditionally, when a service within a microservices architecture needs to communicate with another service, it relies on DNS resolution to discover the IP address of the target service. However, traditional DNS resolution can be challenging to manage in complex and dynamic environments, such as those found in Kubernetes clusters. This is where the Proxy DNS capability of Istio comes into play.

Istio Proxy DNS Capabilities

With Proxy DNS, Istio intercepts and controls DNS resolution requests from services and performs the resolution on their behalf. Instead of relying on external DNS servers, the sidecar proxies handle the DNS resolution within the service mesh. This enables Istio to provide several valuable benefits:

  • Service discovery and load balancing: Istio’s Proxy DNS allows for more advanced service discovery mechanisms. It can dynamically discover services and their corresponding IP addresses within the mesh and perform load balancing across instances of a particular service. This eliminates the need for individual services to manage DNS resolution and load balancing.
  • Security and observability: Istio gains visibility into the traffic between services by handling DNS resolution within the mesh. It can apply security policies, such as access control and traffic encryption, at the DNS level. Additionally, Istio can collect DNS-related telemetry data for monitoring and observability, providing insights into service-to-service communication patterns.
  • Traffic management and control: Proxy DNS enables Istio to implement advanced traffic management features, such as routing rules and fault injection, at the DNS resolution level. This allows for sophisticated traffic control mechanisms within the service mesh, enabling A/B testing, canary deployments, circuit breaking, and other traffic management strategies.

Istio Proxy DNS Use-Cases

There are some moments when you cannot or don’t want to rely on the normal DNS resolution. Why is that? Starting because DNS is a great protocol but lacks some capabilities, such as location discovery. If you have the same DNS assigned to three IPs, it will provide each of them in a round-robin fashion and cannot rely on the location.

Or you have several IPs, and you want to block some of them for some specific service; these are great things you can do with Istio Proxy DNS.

Istio Proxy DNS Enablement

You need to know that Istio Proxy DNS capabilities are not enabled by default, so you must help if you want to use it. The good thing is that you can allow that at different levels, from the full mesh level to just a single pod level, so you can choose what is best for you in each case.

For example, if we want to enable it at the pod level, we need to inject the following configuration in the Istio proxy:

    proxy.istio.io/config: |
         # Enable basic DNS proxying
         ISTIO_META_DNS_CAPTURE: "true" 
         # Enable automatic address allocation, optional

The same configuration can be part of the Mesh level as part of the operator installation, as you can find the documentation here on the Istio official page.


In summary, the Proxy DNS capability of Istio enhances the DNS resolution mechanism within the service mesh environment, providing advanced service discovery, load balancing, security, observability, and traffic management features. Istio centralizes and controls DNS resolution by leveraging the sidecar proxies, simplifying the management and optimization of service-to-service communication in complex microservices architectures.

Alexandre Vazquez: