What Is DKIM Selector and How Does It Work: DKIM Selector Explained

DKIM DKIM Selector DKIM Key Rotation

In this article we will explain various concepts related to DKIM selectors: what are they, why do we need them, and how they work in DKIM authentication.

What is DKIM selector?

A DKIM selector, as indicated by the name, is a string used by the outgoing server to locate the private key to sign the email message, and by the receiving server to locate the public key in the DNS to verify the integrity of the email message.

Each time a private/public key pair is generated, a tuple { selector, private key, public key } is created, where the selector is used to locate the private key and the public key.

How to choose a DKIM selector?

A DKIM selector is specified when the user creates a private/public key pair with the email delivery service like SendGrid. It can be any arbitrary string.

How to find my DKIM selectors?

When asked for the DKIM selectors on a domain in DMARCLY like this:

Find DKIM selectors on domain

you need to log in to your ESP dashboard to find them, as these are ESP specific.

For example, if you use Salesforce to deliver emails, you need to log in to their dashboard and find the DKIM selectors specified there.

Why do we need multiple DKIM selectors?

Multiple private/public key pairs are required due to the following reasons:

  • DKIM key rotation which we will explain in the next section;
  • setting up DKIM with multiple email delivery services on a single domain; each service can have their own separate selectors so that signing/verifying with one service doesn't interfere with that with another.

Each time an email message is sent/verified, only one key pair is used. This is where a DKIM selector comes into play: the DKIM selector is chosen by the signing server to locate (select) the public key in the key pair; and the receiving server uses the same selector to find the public key in the key pair.

How do DKIM selectors work in DKIM authentication?

Once the signing server has chosen the selector, the server uses it to find the private key only accessible to the server, to compute the signature. After the signature is computed, the DKIM selector is inserted into the email headers as an s= tag, then the email is sent.

For example, let's assume that the selector chosen by the signing server is s1, the tag will look like s=s1. Again the selector can be any arbitrarily chosen string like thisismyselector1234, as long as it points to a valid private/public key pair.

Here is a practical example of DKIM signature header:

DKIM-Signature: v=1; a=rsa-sha256; c=relaxed/relaxed; d=dmarcly.com; h=content-transfer-encoding:content-type:from:mime-version:subject: x-feedback-id:to; s=s1; bh=jCC0oQBCKfJ10bCI3PCG52Zwowyeh1haGJPACkWN9F4=; b=GzLBVZ0M1hMt1Y7hVT+ajaNrswTv+/FFVMrcaixD70hpTJwAmNwZUKJIzLslSC+iWHby 9gm+yfx6Z1qnXIL6qgBPnlZD4zwyK4D3Umd1je82jniuD7RJWYDqJH0zL+EevCDdoVZGmT IlxzZB6v95bws6539z/5qee+Xmu5KYe4Y=

The DKIM selector used in the above DKIM signature is s=s1.

When the email hits the receiving server, the server looks at the email headers to find the s= tag. If the tag is present, the server extracts the selector from the tag, then looks up the DNS for the public key at the following location:


If the public key is found, the server uses it to decrypt the message to check its integrity. If the check passes, DKIM authentication succeeds; otherwise it fails.

If no public key is found, DKIM authentication fails.

What is DKIM key rotation?

DKIM has proven to be a highly effective means by which a receiver can verify that the signed fields of an email have not been modified in transit. DKIM is as secure as the weakest link - the private key, though. The private key of a DKIM keypair is vulnerable to being stolen if an attacker is able to compromise the system in which it is stored. Therefore, to minimize the risk of active DKIM keys being compromised, they should be changed frequently. This is a practice known as DKIM key rotation.

Each time a key is rotated, a new {selector, private key, public key} tuple is created. Then the public key will need to be published in the DNS, and you need to re-configure the outgoing email server to use the new private key. After this is done, the outgoing email server will use the new private key to sign all outgoing email messages.

The old key should be kept for a period of 7 days, after which it can be safely removed. The reason for that is there might be some delay between when an email leaves the originating server and when it's accepted by the receiving server. Sometimes this delay can be as long as several days due to some temporary errors on the receiving server. For DKIM authentication to pass though, the receiving server must be able to find the public key in the DNS using the selector set in the email headers.

Note that manual DKIM key rotation is necessary only if you run your own email delivery service in-house. If you are using services like SendGrid, Office 365, or Google Workspace (formerly known as G Suite) to deliver emails, you don't have to do anything - DKIM key rotation is done automatically for you and is transparent to you.

DKIM selector VS DKIM record

If you use an email delivery service like SendGrid, it creates CNAME-typed DKIM records for you when you set up DKIM with them. A CNAME-typed DKIM record looks like this:


You will need to publish such records in the DNS so that the receiving server has access to them. Note that the s1 part in the record above: it's the DKIM selector the receiving server uses to fetch the record for the public key, which is in turn used for DKIM authentication.

How to check DKIM record by DKIM selector

If you want to check if a DKIM record exists at a selector on a domain, you can use this free DKIM record checker.

Simply enter the domain you want to check and the selector, as shown below:

Find DKIM record by DKIM selector on domain

In this example, salesforce.com has a DKIM record of 1024 bits in length created at selector s1.

Refer to the DKIM RFC for more information: DKIM RFC6376.

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