& the GII
This profile offers an introduction to the international
and Australian domain name regime, aka the DNS (domain
name system) and DNI (domain name industry).
The pfile covers -
page - introduction
- global or generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs), such
as dot-com, dot-org, dot-biz, dot-asia and dot-museum
TLDs - debates about development of new gTLDs such
as dot-xxx and 'geo' TLDs such as dot-berlin
- country code TLDs (ccTLDs) such as dot-au, dot-nz
- territorial ccTLDs such as those for Antarctica, Pitcairn
Island and Christmas Island
- functional, geographic or institutional demarcations
within the ccTLDs
- contentious private domain schemes, unrecognised by
ICANN and most devices on the net, such as the domains
being spawned by New.Net
& speculation - domain name prices, the resale market,
valuation methodologies and speculation
- who administers gTLDs and ccTLDs - government agencies,
NGOs and businesses
- the domain name industry: registries, registrars,
resellers, resolution service providers and others
- an introduction to cyber-squatting and anti-squatting
- misleading people into registering or paying too much
for a registration
- opportunistic registration, domain name tasting and
- domain name disputes and arbitration mechanisms such
as the UDRP, AUDRP and CDRP
- the shape of databases about domain name registrations
They supplement the Internet Governance
and Network & GII guides.
This site features separate detailed profiles on auDA
(the Australian domain administrator) and on the dot-nz
(including the shape of the New Zealand ccTLD, Domainz
and InternetNZ), along with discussion of issues such
as domain name portfolios,
domain name pricing and
domain name tasting.
There is also a detailed discussion of technical, policy
and administrative issues - along with pointers to reports
and academic studies - in our Network
and Governance guides
and the ICANN profile.
In essence, domain names are simply addresses on the
internet. All sites are identified with a multi-part numerical
code, similar to a telephone number. An example is 123.9.325.421.
The number for each address is unique, so that traffic
moves to and from the correct destination in cyberspace.
Because few people are very good at remembering long strings
of numbers the digits are 'resolved' into alphabetical
names. That means finding this site, for example, can
be as simple as punching www.caslon.com.au into your browser.
(Initiatives such as ENUM
have sought to extend that functionality.)
The net is based on a single hierarchy - the so-called
root - which uses a few strategically located servers
to direct traffic to sites and email
addresses. A fundamental concern about alternative
root proposals, discussed later in this profile, is that
they involve separate hierarchies and roots. That is likely
to cause problems for devices trying to resolve a name
(does it relate to this number or that number?) - "collisions"
in cyberspace - and has accordingly been criticised in
A Unique, Authoritative Root for the DNS. Another
perspective is provided in John Klensin's paper (txt)
on Role of Domain Name System and his A Search-based
Access Model for the DNS paper (txt).
The hierarchy is reflected in the structure of domain
names. In general, the part of the name furthest to the
right is the top level domain (TLD), either an indication
that the domain is generic
(gTLD, with 3 letters) such as a dot-com or that it is
part of a national space
(ccTLD, with two letters) such as the dot-au identifying
names that are registered in Australia.
The server on which the site or email box is located is
independent of the national/generic identifier; many dot-au
sites for example are hosted in the US.
The part of the name immediately to the left of the TLD
is the second level
domain (2LD), generally a demarcation within the ccTLD.
The hierarchy depends on central registers that serve
as databases of all 'active' names. Some of the registries,
such as that for dot-com, operate on a commercial basis.
Most countries have a registry for names under their ccTLD
(some third world nations have delegated their registries
to other countries/service providers).
Most registries are independent of domain name registrars,
the bodies that process applications for a domain name
- ensuring that each application meets policy rules for
the ccTLD or gTLD and can thus be added to the registry's
Policy for ccTLD names - who is eligible for a name, and
what names are allowed - is set by a domain name authority
in each country. In the case of Australia that is auDA,
a nonprofit body that is discussed in detail in a separate
Nations have considerable autonomy in setting policy for
how their ccTLD is managed and are increasingly regarding
each ccTLD as the 'sovereign property' of each government.
As the following pages suggest, there is thus quite a
bit of variation in rules for who is eligible for a domain
name, how much it costs and how it can be described.
It is common to speak of 'domain name owners'. Strictly
speaking that is not correct - like a telephone number
the name is licensed/leased from the network operator.
It is more accurate to refer to a domain name 'holder'
or a 'registrant'. In the case of the internet the network
operator is IANA and ICANN, through agents such as VeriSign
or delegates such as auDA.
The registration (license) in most countries is for a
one or two year period, renewable thereafter, and generally
involves payment of a registration fee. Those fees range
from the equivalent of around US$5 to US$250.
The fee was envisaged as a useful measure to ensure that
the holder had an interest in maintaining an active site,
inhibit hoarding of registrations and of course fund registration
activity since it is clear that administration does involve
costs and voluntary schemes have not proved effective
in the larger economies.
(gTLDs - dot-com, dot-org, dot-biz)