6 Domain Name Curiosities You May Not Know About
First some history
The DNS was first formally established, in November 1983, with the publication, by Dr J. Postel, of RFC-881, RFC-882 and RFC-883.
As observed in RFC-882, up until that point all internet hosts, and their IP Addresses, had been listed in a single text file, stored at a central location, that would be shared out to any anybody who wanted it. A procedure that wasn't coping well with the growth of the internet, even at that time.
The original generic top level domains of GOV, MIL, EDU, NET and ORG were established in October 1984 in RFC-920. The proposal of using two character codes from ISO-3166 was also established at this time, although none were actually formally created. By choosing to base the country's domain names on the ISO list, they were deliberately establishing the precedent that it was the responsibility of the ISO to decide what constituted a “country”.
From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s the internet was mostly used by academics and research organisations, so management of the top level domains was mostly done on an ad-hoc basis by somebody, often within the country, who was vaguely interested.
In 1994 Dr J. Postel published RFC-1591 which set out a formal process by which countries could operate their own domain space. This document is still used today by ICANN, as the basis of policy.
There have been 185 different RFCs covering DNS and the Domain Name space. Some are now obsolete, or have been superseded.
So here are some anomalies.
1 … The United Kingdom has two LL Top Level Domains (ccTLDs)
Well, of course we do! We're just awkward like that. You can just bet, if there's a special exception in any international treaty, its got our name in it somewhere. No wonder those other Europeans find us such a pain to deal with. How could you expect the Germans, and their love of order, and the French and their love of bureaucracy to be able to cope with us free-wheeling Brits.
The two LL top-level-domains for the United Kingdom are dot-GB and, the more familiar, dot-UK. Only one domain still exists in dot-GB, DRA.HMG.GB which appears to hold three hosts and some email routing information (MX Records).
“DRA” stands for the Defence Research Agency, which is now DSTL - Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, and “HMG” is “Her Majesty's Government”, now addressed as GOV.UK.
When the ISO choose the two letter codes to represent different countries, they prefer to choose ones that have no political connotations – i.e. avoiding designations such as “Republic”, “Socialist” or indeed “Kingdom” as the political situation in countries does change from time to time – more often in some than others. Hence the ISO designation for the United Kingdom was chosen as “GB” - its our official ISO code and what we put on our car license plates.
However, this causes problems, because “GB” stands for “Great Britain”, which is only part of the United Kingdom. The full title of the UK is “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”, so a designation of “GB” could be taken as suggesting Northern Ireland is excluded.
This is actually not the case, as the ISO codes are merely symbolic, and not meant to be directly representative. However, I think we all know how historically signifiant symbols can be. Further more, between the suggested use of ISO3166 in 1984 and the full formal adoption of ISO3166 in 1994, dot-UK had already become commonly in use, so it was kept.
In the zone file for dot-GB it says “This domain is frozen and will be phased out” - that message has remained unchanged since at least 2009.
In recent years, as the ROOT zone has expanded, so has the UK's representation, to include dot-SCOT (Scotland), dot-WALES and dot-CYMRU (Wales, in the Welsh Language).
Although all three are still categorised as “Generic” Top level domains, unlike dot-CAT which represents the “Catalan linguistic and cultural community” and is a “Sponsored” top level domain.
A “Sponsored” top level domain is one that has entry requirements which are judged by the sponsoring organisation. In the case of dot-CAT, this is Fundació puntCat – Catalan for “dotCAT Foundation”.
2 … The Soviet Union is Still Alive
Despite being formally dissolved in December 1991, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), or “Soviet Union” for short, still exists in the ROOT zone as dot-SU and is assigned to RIPN - “Russian Institute for Public Networks”
The Russian Federation, which is the official successor of the USSR, is represented by its ISO3166 code of dot-RU as well as the top level domain .рф which is Russian for Russian Federation – or Росси́йская Федера́ция, represented in the ROOT zone as its puny-code “xn—p1ai”.
The other LL top level domain that doesn't really exist as an actual country is dot-EU – The European Union. There is still a lot of debate as to whether this should have ever been handed out (delegate) as “EU” is not officially assigned in the ISO3166 list that the Country Codes are meant to have been taken from – although ISO3166 states that “EU” is reserved “for the purpose of identifying the European Union”.
There are many of the opinion that the European Union, although in need of a delegation, should have been given a standard three letter international designation such as dot-EUR.
3... dot-ARPA is not meant to be there
dot-ARPA is a throw back to the start of the internet. ARPA was the Advanced Research Projects Agency and ARPANET was the precursor to the Internet itself. When the DNS was first set up dot-ARPA set created for interoperability, but it was envisaged, longer term, it would be removed. Even in 1994 it was described as “Temporary” - but as we all know temporary solutions have a danger of becoming permanent.
However, since then it has been re-purposed for technical uses and the ARPA, in dot-ARPA, now officially stands for Address and Routing Parameter Area instead.
4 … dot-ME and dot-RS used to be dot-YU
However, this union was dissolved in 2006 at which point they became independent states and were assigned their own country codes while the Serbian registry continued to take responsibility for dot-YU to maintain continuity.
Dot-YU was closed to registrations in 2008 and dropped from the ROOT zone 30 March 2010 – it was the most in-use top level domain ever to be dropped.
5 … dot-INT exists, but nobody's ever heard of it
dot-INT was originally established for “organizations established by international treaties, or international databases”. Currently there are about 166 names delegated in dot-INT and include organisations such as The UN, The African Union and various other “Intergovernmental organizations and organizations with United Nations observer status”.
The requirement for dot-INT organisations to be subject to international treaty is now quite strictly enforced, but this was not always the case and various other international organisations like the YMCA had been granted a dot-INT domain in the past, which they would struggle to get, if they had applied today.
Dot-INT was not established at the outset (in RFC-960), although the existing was envisaged of separate top level domains for the use of multi-organisation entities, especially those that are also multinational.
Dot-INT is managed by IANA, Internet Assigned Numbers Authority, who are also responsible for maintain the database of who runs which top level domain.
6 … dot-GOV and dot-MIL are for the US only
Despite having its own Country Domain, dot-US, the Generic Top Levels domains dot-GOV and dot-MIL are assign for exclusive use by the US – where as all the other gTLDs are available world-wide. Normal practice is that federal government agencies are registered in dot-GOV, but State and local agencies are expected to register in dot-US.
This was not the original intention as stated in RFC-960 (Oct-1984), but ten years later in RFC-1591 (Mar-1994) practicalities of common usage had over taken the original intentions.
The Domain Name system has been around for a long time, so its no surprise that it has a few anomalies. With the advent of the new top-level-domains, it is changing more and faster now than ever before with innovative new approaches to domain names, like Names.of.London's Phrases.for.Sale – short snappy three word phrases made into a domain name, making them easy to remember & pass on to friends.
If domains had been like this from day-1, you'd probably never have been able to persuade people the geeky 90's style computer code of the dot-COM era was a good idea for the Internet we face today – dominated by mobile users with little or no technical knowledge of the complexity of the systems they use.