MAC address resolution

2016-11-29 networks / iot / c
Why can't I just ping this widget?

I’ve been messing with mDNS for MicroPython recently, and while mDNS does what I need it seems rather overblown for what I’m using it for, which is configuring IoT widgets temporarily so they can be configured properly over the local network. Specifically, I don’t need nice names or service discovery which is what mDNS is really good at … I just want something I can print on a QR Code which will let me find the device.


MAC Addresses

Ethernet, WiFi and many other kinds of interfaces are assigned a unique MAC Address which is used to identify them on the local network segment. These addresses are generally assigned at the time of manufacture and barring manufacturer error are unique.

In IPv6 land, this would be easy enough … use a link-local address based on the device’s MAC address. In IPv4 land, link-local addresses are selected at random, so you can’t know what address it will have ahead of time. In addition, most networks are set up to allow DHCP and devices which have received a DHCP address generally won’t have a IPv4 link local address as well.


This idea is somewhat inspired by DNSmasq which provides DNS and DHCP services to a network segment. It is capable of handing out an address to a device with DHCP and then making the registered names of those devices available on DNS. dnsmasq is very commonly found on consumer grade routers based on BusyBox.

.local TLD

The .local TLD allows DNS resolution to resolve names over mDNS. It is a pseudo TLD rather than a real one, name resolution is done by the DNS client directly using mDNS. mDNS requires the client to send, and the device to receive, multicast UDP packets.

Resolving MAC addresses

A DHCP server receives a DHCP request from a specific MAC address and responds with an IPv4 address. It is therefore in a position to make a connection between the two forms of addressing. Where, like in the case of dnsmasq, it it also a DNS server, it can make this information available to a client.

.mac TLD

A ‘.mac’ TLD would make this information available. A device manufactured with address (eg) AA:BB:CC:DD:EE:FF and exposing a web configuration interface could be labeled with a URL http://aabbccddeeff.mac which can be used to look up what its IP address is.

When it joins a network, the DHCP server issues it an address … say When a user enters the .mac URL (perhaps by scanning a QR code), the client will try to resolve the address by passing it to the DNS server. The DNS server checks with the DHCP server and can return a DNS A record for to allow the device to be contacted in the usual way.

The devices don’t have to be on the same link-local network as each other, so long as they share their DNS/DHCP server and can route packets at the IP layer.


Implementation in ‘dnsmasq’ looks trivial, as both DNS and DHCP are implemented in the one program.

There’s already a function src/lease.c:lease_update_dns() which calls src/cache.c:cache_add_dhcp_entry() to create DNS entries from DHCP, so creating one more entry each time shouldn’t be a problem. Time to try it out!.

For less integrated DNS/DHCP servers, there’d need to be a mechanism to pass this information between them. The DHCP server could be set up with a very limited DNS interface capable of answering queries for .mac addresses only, and the DNS server could delegate such queries to it.