Misadventures in tech

Using DigitalOcean as Dynamic DNS

Recently, I’ve migrated my personal infrastructure to DigitalOcean. Since DigitalOcean offers DNS service at no added cost, I’ve moved my DNS from Cloudflare over to them as well. I simply trust a company I’m paying more than a company that I’m not. Previously, I had been using this excellent Cloudflare dynamic DNS script, and so used it as a basis to write my own for DigitalOcean.


  • curl

    The shell script requires curl installed. Luckily, most Linux distributions have curl packaged officially.

  • Domain name

    DigitalOcean’s DNS is a fully-fledged DNS service but they’re not a registrar. So, you’ll have to bring your own domain.

  • A record

    Once you’ve added your domain to DigitalOcean, add an A record for the subdomain you want to point to your dynamic IP. You’ll want a reasonably low TTL - I use 300 seconds (5 minutes).

  • DigitalOcean personal access token

    In order to change the A record programmatically, you’ll need access to DigitalOcean’s API. Go to DigitalOcean’s API page and click “Generate New Token”. The token will need read and write permissions in order to change the IP that the A record points to.

  • Record ID

    This one’s a bit tricky. The API to change DNS records requires that you identify which record you want to change via a Record ID. However, DigitalOcean’s online management site does not show this ID anywhere. You’ll have to query the API directly using curl:

    curl -X GET \
         -H "Content-Type: application/json" \
         -H "Authorization: Bearer {DigitalOcean personal access token}" \
         "{Domain name:}/records" \
         | python3 -m json.tool

    Remember to fill out the token and domain parts. The pipe into Python is to get pretty-printing of the JSON and not strictly necessary. The response will list all your existing domain records, so you’ll have to look for the id of the one corresponding to the subdomain you want to point to your dynamic IP.

The Shell Script

Next, install the shell script on a computer behind the dynamic IP. I’ve put mine at /usr/local/bin/digitalocean-ddns. Again, don’t forget to fill out the placeholders on the first few lines.

#/usr/bin/env sh
set -e

TOKEN={DigitalOcean personal access token}
RECORD_ID={DNS Record ID: 12345678}
DOMAIN_NAME="{Domain name:}"

# Ensure TMP_DIR exists
mkdir -p "$TMP_DIR"

# Get previous IP address
_PREV_IP=$(cat "$PREV_IP_FILE" &> /dev/null)

# Lookup current public IP
_IP=$(curl --silent

# If new/previous IPs match, no need for an update.
if [ "$_IP" = "$_PREV_IP" ]; then
    exit 0

# Construct JSON payload for request
_UPDATE=$(cat <<EOF
{ "data": "$_IP" }

# Fire API request
curl "$DOMAIN_NAME/records/$RECORD_ID" \
     --silent \
     -X PUT \
     -H "Content-Type: application/json" \
     -H "Authorization: Bearer $TOKEN" \
     -d "$_UPDATE" > "$API_RESP_FILE" && \
     echo $_IP > "$PREV_IP_FILE"

Since it contains a sensitive API token, it’s best practice to restrict reading/writing/executing this script to root (700 permissions).

Systemd Files

Many Linux distributions these days come with systemd, and systemd timers have many advantages over good ol' cron. You’ll need two files: a service file and a timer file. The service file runs the shell script. In /etc/systemd/system/digitalocean-ddns.service:

Description=Update DNS entry for this host to current IP

ExecStart=/bin/sh /usr/local/bin/digitalocean-ddns

The timer starts the service at regular intervals. In /etc/systemd/system/digitalocean-ddns.timer

Description=Update DNS entry in digitalocean every 5 minutes



Now, refresh systemd’s configuration, then enable and start the timer. Enabling the timer makes it active after a fresh boot, and starting the timer make it active now.

$ sudo systemctl daemon-reload
$ sudo systemctl enable digitalocean-ddns.timer
$ sudo systemctl start digitalocean-ddns.timer

The last thing to do is to do a sanity check - you can use DigitalOcean’s online management site to set your subdomain to point to a known IP, like for Cloudflare. Then, directly run the shell script with sudo. On refresh, the management site should show your subdomain pointing to your dynamic IP. A second sanity check would be to let the timer run the script. Make sure you delete /tmp/digitalocean-ddns/public-ip.txt first, or else the API request won’t be made!


Since this is a pretty simple shell script, it should be pretty easy to debug. Some pointers:

  • Check the API_RESP_FILE file (by default /tmp/digitalocean-ddns/response.json) to see what the JSON payload of the response is.

  • Change the set -e line at the top to set -ex. It’ll then print each line before it executes.

Notes on the Script

  • Why curl as opposed to dig

    dig is indeed faster (as noted by the original Cloudflare ddns script I linked in the intro). However, without DNSSEC or any form of DNS authentication, it’s possible for a man-in-the-middle attacker to change what your A record points to simply by giving you a faked answer from With’s TLS-protected API, it’s harder. I didn’t think the slight speed and lower data usage warranted the downgrade in security.

  • How fast will this update the DNS record when my IP changes?

    If the record’s TTL is 300 seconds and the timer is run every 5 minutes, the maximum possible lag should be 10 minutes.