Network Configuration Files

An overview of Linux's network configuration files

Network configuration Files

There are many files under Linux where you can configure - define your Linux network. Below are some of the main files that you will come across as an administrator of a Linux system.


This file is used for configuring the DNS (Domain Name System) resolver library.The resolv.conf configuration file contains information parameters used by the DNS resolver. The DNS resolver allows for the operating system to translate domain names into IP addresses. The process is known as resolving. The path for this file is "/etc/resolv.conf"

Normally a resolv.conf file will contain a search order of domains which is used for fully qualified domain name completion when no domain suffix is used in a query. You will also find a list of name servers that will be used for DNS lookup. Normally there will be at least two nameservers supplied, one for primary and a secondary for redundancy.

Example of a resolv.conf configuration file:



The search list is normally determined from the local domain name. By default it only contains the local domain name. To change this you can pass the desired name search path after the search keyword. Currently a maximum of six domains may be listed.


A nameserver is specified by its IP address. If there is more than one entry for the parameter nameserver, then the resolver library will query these in the order found. Currently a maximum of three server may be specified.


The hosts file is a static lookup table for the mapping of hostnames to ip addresses. It is possible to configure your system to first look at the entries in the hosts file before consulting DNS. This preference is configured by a file located at "/etc/nsswitch.conf". Normally DNS is consulted first on most systems.

The format of the hosts file is:

IP-Address    Full-Qualified-Hostname    Short-Hostname

The fields within this file are separated by tabs or blanks. The hostname field may only contain alpha numeric characters, minus signs "-" and periods ".". The short-hostname or alias name is used for a shortened name or nickname.

Example of a hosts file:
       localhost       foo       bar      master


Hostname is a program that is used to set or display the current hostname. The hostname file is generally read once at system boot time. If the hostname routine is executed with no arguments, then the current hostname is displayed. You may pass any of the options below to the "hostname" :

[root@centos ~]# hostname

Below are some of the available options that can be passed to the hostname command:

       -a, --alias
              Display the alias name of the host (if used).

       -d, --domain
              Display  the  name  of  the  DNS  domain.  Don't use the command
              domainname to get the DNS domain name because it will  show  the
              NIS  domain  name and not the DNS domain name. Use dnsdomainname

       -F, --file filename
              Read the host name from  the  specified  file.  Comments  (lines
              starting with a `#') are ignored.

       -f, --fqdn, --long
              Display  the FQDN (Fully Qualified Domain Name). A FQDN consists
              of a short host name and the DNS domain  name.  Unless  you  are
              using  bind  or NIS for host lookups you can change the FQDN and
              the DNS  domain  name  (which  is  part  of  the  FQDN)  in  the
              /etc/hosts file.

       -h, --help
              Print a usage message and exit.

       -i, --ip-address
              Display the IP address(es) of the host.

       -n, --node
              Display the DECnet node name. If a parameter is given (or --file
              name ) the root can also set a new node name.

       -s, --short
              Display the short host name. This is the host name  cut  at  the
              first dot.

       -V, --version
              Print  version  information on standard output and exit success-

       -v, --verbose
              Be verbose and tell what's going on.


The "/etc/nsswitch.conf" file contains your settings as to how various system lookup are carried out. Here you can configure your system to use the "/etc/hosts", "/etc/passwd" files locally or use a "NIS" server or "DNS". One of the main functions of the "nsswitch.conf is to control how your network is resolved. In the examples below taken from an Ubuntu 12.04 system and a CentOS system, we can see that "files" is specified first in the search order. This means that the hosts file is looked at first before going to a nameserver. In most cases the "nsswitch.conf" file supersedes the "/etc/host.conf" file. (see below)

Ubuntu 12.04 LTS

# /etc/nsswitch.conf
# Example configuration of GNU Name Service Switch functionality.
# If you have the `glibc-doc-reference' and `info' packages installed, try:
# `info libc "Name Service Switch"' for information about this file.

passwd:         compat
group:          compat
shadow:         compat

hosts:          files mdns4_minimal [NOTFOUND=return] dns mdns4
networks:       files

protocols:      db files
services:       db files
ethers:         db files
rpc:            db files

netgroup:       nis


hosts:      files dns


As we mentioned earlier, this file is superseded by the "/etc/nsswitch.conf" file. The example below is taken from a Ubuntu 12.04 installation.

order hosts,bind
multi on

In the above example, resolver checks the hosts file first then DNS. The entry "multi on" indicates that multiple ip addresses can be used.


This file is used to describe networks. Each valid entry should end with a "0".

[root@centos ~]# cat /etc/networks