Pi-Hole, Tailscale, and Unifi UDM-Pro

Recently, I delved into the challenge of setting up my own DNS server, aiming for a solution that didn’t involve local hardware support. My motivation? Filtering ads and trackers, along with blocking certain Apple call-home services within my home network. Initially, I experimented with several Raspberry Pi units but soon realized managing hardware wasn’t my cup of tea. Consequently, I shifted focus to hosted solutions and opted for DigitalOcean. My choice was driven by curiosity, as I hadn’t previously used their Virtual Machines, and their pricing appeared competitive. In truth, any reputable provider in this sector could have worked.

However, I faced a key concern: I wanted to reduce who can see my home network’s DNS traffic. This added complexity to my task, which I’ll outline in this journey. Join me as I walk you through the steps and processes I employed, not out of an initial grand vision, but as incremental solutions to emerging challenges.

This is a high level overview of all of the components used in the final design.

My initial setup comprised simply of two Pi-Hole servers operating on a pair of DigitalOcean Droplets, each in a different datacenter. I modified the DHCP options in my UDM-Pro to direct all DNS traffic to the public IP addresses of these DigitalOcean Droplets. To ensure minimal security, I implemented a basic firewall ruleset that restricted access to my home’s public IP address. An important detail to remember: for this setup to function correctly, you need to enable “Permit all origins.” This option can be found under Settings > DNS in the Pi-Hole interface.

After setting up the infrastructure, I dedicated time to fine-tuning the Pi-Hole configuration, a tool I was using for the first time. My focus was on understanding the ad lists and exploring available options. During this exploration, I discovered the popular StevenBlack/hosts GitHub repository and decided to use the alternates/porn/hosts from it. Additionally, I created a custom hosts file tailored to block specific Apple services that I preferred not to have communicating back to their servers.

While configuring my Pi-Hole servers, I realized the inefficiency of duplicating each setting on both servers. This redundancy prompted me to find a solution for syncing the configurations. The goal was to ensure that any changes made to the primary Pi-Hole would automatically replicate to the secondary one. My solution was Gravity Sync, which, while not perfect due to some limitations in syncing upstream servers (documented here), proved to be significantly beneficial.

Satisfied with the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) I had created, my attention shifted to concerns about unencrypted DNS traffic traversing the internet. Additionally, the lack of an SSL-secured admin interface for Pi-Hole was a downside, and I preferred not to get involved in SSL certificate management, despite the relative ease of using Let’s Encrypt and certbot. To address these issues, I turned to Tailscale for end-to-end encryption. If you’re unfamiliar with Tailscale, you can learn more about it here.

I began by installing Tailscale on the DigitalOcean Droplets and the devices within my home network. Subsequently, I updated the DHCP DNS settings to use the Tailscale IPv4 addresses, routing DNS traffic via Tailscale’s end-to-end encrypted connection. However, this method had a significant limitation: devices without Tailscale couldn’t access the DNS servers, resulting in DNS resolution failure. This was particularly problematic for devices on my network that couldn’t install Tailscale.

To overcome this, I explored integrating Tailscale with my UDM-Pro. My research led me to SierraSoftworks/tailscale-udm on GitHub. After sifting through various GitHub issues, I found a crucial discussion that detailed the process of setting up a UDM-Pro as a Tailscale subnet router. This setup eliminated the need for individual Tailscale installations on each device.

Despite the GitHub discussion suggesting the use of a persistent bash script, I felt a more efficient approach would be to integrate support for UDM-Pro routing tables directly into Tailscale. This led me to fork Tailscale and start working on adding this functionality in my jwb/add-support-for-udm-pro branch, rebased off of v1.56.1, which is the latest release as of this writing.

My next task was to ensure all devices on my network properly routed (What are these 100.x.y.z addresses?) through the UDM-Pro. To accomplish this, I utilized DHCP Option 121. By employing a calculator, I generated the necessary hexadecimal array for Unifi’s configuration. With this implementation, I effectively enabled DNS to function over an end-to-end encrypted network path. OK, so it’s not really end-to-end, you got me. It’s encrypted from the edge of my private network to the the other end. So, edge-to-end encryption.

Before proceeding further, it’s worth mentioning that I disabled Tailscale’s key expiry for both my UDM-Pro and the two DigitalOcean Droplets. This was a deliberate choice to ensure connectivity between my home network and the DNS servers is not disrupted.

Focusing next on DNS resolution within my Tailnet, I aimed to move beyond just IP address-based connectivity between devices. Tailscale provides a handy feature by assigning a Tailnet name to each network, making access more user-friendly. My objective was to establish a conditional forwarder from Pi-Hole to Tailscale’s private DNS server at Without a native Pi-Hole solution available, I opted for a manual configuration. This involved adding settings to /etc/dnsmasq.d/02-tailscale.conf on my setup, followed by restarting the pihole-FTL service (systemctl restart pihole-FTL.service). For those interested, you can find your own Tailnet name here.

# /etc/dnsmasq.d/02-tailscale.conf

With these configurations in place, my setup really started to come together. I now had a fully functional Pi-Hole DNS server. Traffic from my home network was being securely routed to my DNS Pi-Hole servers, and I could resolve Tailnet names. To further refine the system, I configured DHCP Option 119 on my UDM-Pro, enabling short hostnames to resolve correctly to my Tailnet name.

My next objective was to minimize what DigitalOcean could observe in terms of DNS traffic. At this point, all DNS queries from my home network were forwarded to Pi-Hole, then to an upstream DNS server (like However, this meant that traffic from the Droplets to the upstream servers was unencrypted. In my quest for DNS over HTTPS, I discovered Cloudflare’s cloudflared. Following their Connect to using DoH clients guide, I set up a running DNS proxy service. Subsequently, I configured Pi-Hole to route DNS queries to this proxy by entering in the Custom Upstream DNS Servers section under Settings > DNS. It’s important to note that the Cloudflare documentation omits the port in the systemd.unit file, which is crucial here since Pi-Hole binds to UDP/53 and TCP/53.

# /etc/systemd/system/cloudflared-proxy-dns.service
Description=DNS over HTTPS (DoH) proxy client
Wants=network-online.target nss-lookup.target

ExecStart=/usr/local/bin/cloudflared proxy-dns --port 5553


In the end, I made a trade-off, opting to trust Cloudflare over managing a recursive DNS server myself. If you’re uncomfortable with this choice, there’s an alternative: you can set up a recursive DNS server using unbound. For guidance on this, refer to the unbound setup guide, which provides detailed instructions on configuring Pi-Hole with unbound as a recursive DNS server.

Another trade-off I made involves network access: any device connected to my home network has unrestricted access to my entire Tailnet. This compromise seemed reasonable, as I don’t typically have untrusted individuals connecting to my home network. If needed, securing this aspect would be relatively straightforward using Tailscale ACLs. The strategy would involve permitting only the UDM-Pro Tailscale client to access the Pi-Hole servers via UDP/53 and TCP/53. While I might consider implementing this security measure in the future, I currently appreciate the simplicity and convenience of full Tailnet access from my home network.

In conclusion, I’ve successfully set up a DNS server that fulfills the functionality I originally sought. Along the way, I achieved a modest improvement in privacy, though it’s important to acknowledge that the solution isn’t fully privacy-proof. Some remaining privacy concerns include:

Thank you for reading. If you have any feedback, comments, or need assistance, please feel free to leave a comment.

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