Local DNS (Stub) Resolver for a Single Machine

Unbound is a powerful validating, recursive, caching DNS resolver. It’s used by some of the biggest tech companies in the world as well as home users, who use it together with ad blockers and firewalls, or self-run resolvers. Setting it up as a caching resolver for your own machine can be quite simple as we’ll showcase below.

We strongly recommend setting up DNSSEC during the Unbound configuration step, as it allows the verification of the integrity of the responses to the queries you send.

If you need to install Unbound first visit the Installation page.

Configuring the Local Stub resolver

For configuring Unbound we need to make sure we have Unbound installed. An easy test is by asking the version number.

unbound -V

Once we have a working version of Unbound installed we need to configure it to be a recursive caching resolver (information about recursive resolvers can be found here, but is not necessary for our purposes here). Luckily for us Unbound already behaves as such by default, so for basic purposes we can use the configuration from the Configuration page. We always recommend enabling DNSSEC.

Once we have a configuration we are happy with, we need to tell our machine to use Unbound by default instead of what it is currently using. This works differently on different operating systems. Below we will go through this for a selection of OSes.


Make sure your Unbound can run with the configuration we create. Steps for this can be found on the configuration page.

Ubuntu 22.04 LTS

The resolver your machine uses by default is defined in /etc/systemd/resolved.conf in the DNS entry and uses the IP address

We can test this by using dig to “example.com” and looking at the output.

dig example.com

Near the bottom of the output we can see IP address.


To change this, we are going to change the resolved.conf. While just changing this file will work as long as the machine doesn’t reboot, we need to make sure that this change is persistent. To do that, we need to change the DNS entry to be equal to (or whatever IP address Unbound is bound to in your configuration) so the machine uses Unbound as default. So the interface would look like this in the Unbound config:

    # specify the interface to answer queries from by ip-address.

To test that Unbound is running, we can tell dig to use a specific server with the @.

dig example.com @

If Unbound is running, the output should contain the address that we specified in the config:


If we changed resolved.conf now, the default resolver would be persistent until the router wants to update it. To make sure it doesn’t do that we also need to set the DNSStubListener to no so that is not changed by our router (such as with a “recommended resolver” mentioned below). We also want to enable the DNSSEC option so that we can verify the integrity the responses we get to our DNS queries. With your favourite text editor (e.g. nano ) we can modify the file:

nano /etc/systemd/resolved.conf

Here, under there [Resolve] header we add/substitute our changes to the options:


To actually have the system start using our changed config, we then need to create a symlink to overwrite /etc/resolv.conf to the one we modified.

ln -fs /run/systemd/resolve/resolv.conf /etc/resolv.conf


Make sure your Unbound is running at at the IP address from the modified resolv.conf before the next step, otherwise you might break your internet connection.

With the resolv.conf file modified, we can restart systemd using the new resolver configuration with:

systemctl restart systemd-resolved

If successful, the operating system should use our Unbound instance as default. A quick test a dig without specifying the address of the Unbound server should give the same result as specifying it did above (with @

dig example.com

Here we tell the dig tool to look up the IP address for example.com. We did not specify where dig should ask this, so it goes to the default resolver of the machine.

dig example.com

It should look the same as with the IP specified as we did earlier.



Unbound is not persistent at this point, and will not start up when your system does (and possibly “breaking” your internet). This is fixed by restarting your Unbound upon reboot.

Package manager

To make Unbound persistent between restarts, we need to add it to the systemd service manager, for which we’ll need a service file. If you installed Unbound via the package manager, this service file is already created for you and the only thing that is missing, is it executing our own configuration file.

To make sure we execute Unbound with our own configuration, we copy our config file to the default location of the config file: /etc/unbound/unbound.conf. Make sure Unbound starts using the copied configuration (this can be done with the -c flag to specify the config location).

Before you proceed to the next step, make sure to stop the Unbound that may still be running. Now we can start our Unbound with systemd, which will restart automatically when the system is rebooted.

systemctl start unbound

To check that everything is correct, you can see the status (which should be “active”):

systemctl status unbound

We can now dig a final time, to verify that this works.


The steps for making Unbound persistent are almost exactly the same as if you installed it via the package manager, except that the service file that is needed by systemd does not exist yet. So instead of changing it, we create it and call it unbound.service, and copy the minimally modified service file supplied by the package manager. It should be located at: /lib/systemd/system/unbound.service.

So using your favorite text editor open the file:

nano /lib/systemd/system/unbound.service

and copy the file contents below:

Description=Unbound DNS server

ExecStart=/usr/local/sbin/unbound -d -p $DAEMON_OPTS
ExecReload=+/bin/kill -HUP $MAINPID


Note that in this file systemctl uses the default config location. This location is different depending on the installation method used. In this case the default config file is located at /usr/local/etc/unbound. We need to copy the config that we are going to use here.

Once you have your config copied in the right location, we need to make sure the system can find it.

Because we change the service file on disk (we created it), systemctl needs to be reloaded:

systemctl daemon-reload

We then need to enable Unbound as a systemctl service:

systemctl enable unbound

If all steps went correctly, we can start Unbound now using systemctl. Note that any previous Unbound instances with the same config (specifically the same ip-address) needs to be stopped.

systemctl start unbound

We can then look at the status, which should be “active”.

systemctl status unbound

If you succeeded Unbound should now be the default resolver on your machine and it will start when your machine boots.

macOS Big Sur

To find out which resolver your machine uses, we have two options: Look at the DNS tab under the Network tab in the System Preferences app, or we can use the scutil command in the terminal. The scutil command can be used to manage and give information about the system configuration parameters. When used for DNS, it will show you all the configured resolvers though we are only interested in the first.

scutil --dns

The output will show all the resolvers configured, but we are interested in the first entry. Before configuring Unbound to be our resolver, the first entry is (likely) the resolver recommended by your router.

The simplest method of changing the resolver of your Mac is by using the System Preferences Window (the option of doing this step via the command line terminal also exists if you want to script this step). The steps go as follows:

  1. Open the Network tab in System Preferences.

  2. Click on the Advanced button.

  3. Go to the DNS Tab.

  4. Click “+” icon

  5. Add IP address of Unbound instance (here we use

Once the IP address is added we can test our Unbound instance (assuming it’s running) with dig. Note that the Unbound instance cannot be reached before it has been added in the DNS tab in System Preferences.

dig example.com @


If you restart your Mac at this stage in the process, you will not have access to the internet anymore. This is because Unbound does not automatically restart if your machine restarts. To make remedy this, we need to add Unbound to the startup routine on your Mac.

Depending on your installation method, either via Homebrew or compiling Unbound yourself, the method of making Unbound persistent differs slightly. For both methods we use launchctl to start Unbound on the startup of your machine.


If you installed Unbound using Homebrew, the XML file required by launchctl is already supplied during installation. The file can be found at /Library/LaunchDaemons/homebrew.mxcl.unbound.plist. To load this file we invoke the following command.

sudo launchctl load /Library/LaunchDaemons/homebrew.mxcl.unbound.plist

Now every time you restart your machine, Unbound should restart too.


If you installed Unbound by compiling it yourself, we need to create an XML file for launchctl. Conveniently we’ve created one for you:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">

The main components that interest us, are the items in the <array> which execute the command. Firstly, we invoke Unbound from the location that it has been installed (for example using make install). Secondly, we add the -c option to supply a configuration file. Lastly, we add the location of the default configuration file. The location in the XML can be changed to another location if this is convenient.

Using the text editor of choice, we then create the file /Library/LaunchDaemons/nl.nlnetlabs.unbound.plist and insert the above supplied XML code. To be able to use the file, we need to change the permissions of the file using chmod

sudo chmod 644 /Library/LaunchDaemons/nl.nlnetlabs.unbound.plist

We can then load the file with the following command.

sudo launchctl load /Library/LaunchDaemons/nl.nlnetlabs.unbound.plist

Now every time you restart your machine, Unbound should restart too.