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Are these real domains? YES, of course!

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We often get asked the question “Are these real domains?”. Its not always phrased liked that, often its in the more challenging / confrontational statements “these aren't real domains” or “these are just sub-domains” - so I thought it was time to discuss the subject. That means we're going to get a bit techie here, but there's no way round that – sorry!

First, here's a Quick Q&A

Are these real domains?
Yes
How can you prove it?
You get your own SAO (Start of Authority) record & can assign any external Name Servers (for details see below).
How do I know dot-SALE won't shut you down?
We have their permission & a written contract
If there's money to be made, why didn't dot-SALE run the FOR.SALE registry?
Rightside (now Donuts), also run the registry for dot-FORSALE and felt there could be a conflict of interest
How do I know you won't go bust / disappear?
Your domain is guaranteed for the lifetime of your contract – i.e. until the domain's current expiry date.
How can I be sure you know what you are doing?
Because I was CTO for dot-IO for ten years
How do I know you won't hike the prices once I'm hooked?
Your price is fixed at the time you buy, for the lifetime of the domain (so long as you keep renewing) even if the domain changes hands.
Can I use them for E-Mail / Web / Apps / [other] ?
From a technical perspective, our domains can do anything a dot-COM domain can do

Are these real domains?

To start with, lets be clear - all domains (including dot-COM itself) are “sub-domains” - if a domain has a parent domain, it's a sub-domain – that's a fact.

The only domain that is not a sub-domain is the ROOT domain. All other domains have a parent domain, and if they have a parent, they are a sub-domain of that parent. The parent of “google.com” is dot-COM and dot-COM's parent is the ROOT domain – so both “google.com” and dot-COM itself are sub-domains.

Because the ROOT domain has no parent, the Name Servers for the ROOT domain have to be hard-coded into all DNS servers (called “resolvers”) that are able to turn DNS names into IP Addresses. This hard-coding is usually done in the form of a text file that lists all the ROOT Name Servers and their IP Addresses. It is usually called the “hints” file. All other domains (i.e. all sub-domains) have their Name Server records copied into their parent zone.

Like the Top Level Domains (TLDs), that we are all used to buying our domains names in, the ROOT domain has a Registry Operator called IANA, who are the technical contact, and ICANN are the Administrative and Billing contact.

IANA also maintain the official copy of the “hints” file, which lists the ICANN approved ROOT Name Servers and their IP Addresses. IANA also provide the WHOIS information on who owns names in the ROOT domain.

Here is the entry for dot-UK. Like most WHOIS records, it provides the Technical and Administrative contacts and lists the Name Server for dot-UK. So now we know that all domains, including TLDs, are in fact sub-domains, what do we call our type of domains? Technically, what we run is called a “Third Level Registry” - a domain name registry that is operated at the third level. Where a “second” level registry would be a registry operated for a Top Level Domain – the kind of registry most people think about – so its usually just called a “registry”.

From a technical perspective FOR.SALE is identical to CO.UK, so HOME.FOR.SALE is technically identical to IBM.CO.UK – the only difference is administrative. CO.UK is administered by the same people who administer dot-UK, where as FOR.SALE is administered by a different organisation than the one that administers dot-SALE. Again this is not particularly unusual.

Registries are operated at various levels in the DNS tree. The “Public Suffix List” is a database, maintained by The Mozilla Foundation, of all domains in which sub-domains can be controlled by a different entity to the one that controls the parent – e.g. domains the public can obtain domain names within – usually because there is a registry of some sort. It may be a registry that is open to the public, or may be one that is tied to a particular application or service.

According to the Public Suffix List, there are 1535 second level (TLD) registries, 4595 Third Level Registries, 2193 fourth level registries, 31 fifth level and 16 sixth level registries.

For example, many countries sell domains within the country's Top Level Domain (ccTLD), but also have sub-domains like COM, NET, GOV, MIL, EDU which are often operated by a separate organisation. This is true, for example, in dot-TM. As of time of writing, the registry for the dot-TM ccTLD is maintained by a different party than the ones that control the registry for MIL.TM or COM.TM – just like the fact that the dot-SALE and FOR.SALE registries are operated by different organisations.

So, as you can see, although you may not be particularly familiar with it, what we are doing, by running a third level registry within a different organisation from the parent domain, is actually quite common.

We have applied to be added into the Public Suffix List, but the process of joining seems to take some considerable time, so (as of writing) we are yet to be actually added – although our application has been through a first round of assessment.

What is a “real” domain?

So if all domains are sub-domains who can I identify a real domain? And how do I know if I have got one?

A “real” domain is where there it a “cut” point in the DNS tree and control for the DNS information below that cut-point has (or can) be administered by a different entity to the DNS information above that cut-point. For example, there is a cut-point between the dot-COM domain (administered by Verisign) and most names within dot-COM which are owned by third parties. However, the is no cut-point between “google.com” and “www.google.com”.

A cut-point can only occur at any dot in a host name, but not every dot is a cut-point. For example, in the host name “some.name.example.com”, the part “some.name” could be a host in the domain “example.com”, or “some” could be a host name in the domain “name.example.com” - so how can we tell the difference?

You can identify a cut-point by the existence of an “SOA” record. “SOA” stands for “Start of Authority” and indicates a change in who has authority over the DNS data at that point or below – or until the next cut-point.

If you want to know the SOA record for any host name, you just have to ask. It helps if you have the DNS command like utility “dig”. To find out the nearest SOA record for “www.google.com” we simply ask - “dig www.google.com soa”, here's the answer …

All “true” domains must have an SOA record attached to the domain name itself. If they do not, then they are not a true domain, but are probably just DNS data records in the parent domain.

All our domains are “true” domains and have their own SOA records. At time of writing, this is the SOA record for the domain “realestate.for.sale”

A simple (and usually reliable) way to tell if a domain is a “real” domain, or not, is whether you are allowed to assign your own external Name Servers to it. In addition to providing the sort of value-add services you find at a registrar, like web & mail forwarding or DNS hosting, we also allow you to assign your own external Name Servers to your domains.

For example, here are the external Name Servers assigned to “realestate.for.sale”.

Even if you use our web & mail forwarding or our DNS hosting, you will still get your own SOA record – although its contents might be somewhat generic. If you host your own DNS, on external Name Servers, you can make your SOA record whatever you want.

It would be easy to provide some of the functionality we provide using virtual hosting or DNS data within the parent zone – but only a “true” domain would allow you to have your own external Name Servers, and this is what gives you your own SOA record.

Assigning name servers to a domain name is the technical process that actually creates the cut-point in the DNS. Having created a cut-point you need to have an SOA record so the community knows who administers the DNS at & below that cut-point.

When certain DNS answers are given out, the SOA record is included. This indicates, to the person asking, where the answering DNS server got the authority from to give that particular answer – i.e. “here's the correct answer, and here's who I got it from”

So why don't your domains work with [some-service/some-registrar]

In the same way that not all registrars, or domain service providers, sell & support all of the new Generic Top Level Domains (newGTLDs) or all of the different country domains (ccTLDs), many also do not support our domains.

Registrars, quite rightly, do not see it as their job to create the demand for the different domains – that is the job of the owner of the domain (us!). So, like a high street store, a registrar may be reluctant to stock an item that they think may not sell.

Although we run our domains on a registry system that is fully compliant with all the appropriate standards (called “EPP”), it would still require some work for a registrar to connect to us and support our domains. Therefore, quite rightly, they are not too keen to do this until we have shown that there is a market for the domains – and that's where we are now. In the meantime, we are happy to provide all the normal sort of registrar services end users would expect to find.

So the answer is that, from a purely technical perspective, there is almost certainly no reason our domains wouldn't work with any service that can support dot-COM domains. However, the organisation concerned has yet to see a sufficient business case for plugging us in.

But that doesn't mean there isn't a way to get things going. For example, WIX sell domain names and they do not sell our domain names. However they do have support for externally sourced domain names, and we can use this external compatibility to get your domain working directly with WIX.

We will do whatever we can to help you, so if you have a problem, please ask.

How do I know dot-SALE won't shut you down When dot-SALE first went live it was owned and run by Rightside. As of writing, Rightside has now been bought up by Donuts. At the time Rightside also owned and ran the newGTLD dot-FORSALE.

They had considered the option of running a third level registry themselves in FOR.SALE – however, they felt they had enough work cut-out for themselves with the newGTLDs and felt it could create a conflict of interest with getting dot-FORSALE off the ground.

Therefore, when we contacted them about running FOR.SALE as a third level registry they agree to us running it under contract. Like any other domains, we bought FOR.SALE for an agree price and continue to pay renewal fees, as per normal. This, and our contract, ensures we have the continued rights to run FOR.SALE as a third level registry.

How do I know you know what you are doing?

For ten years before starting Names.of.London I was CTO (Chief Technical Officer) at dot-IO for just over ten years from Oct-2006 to Jan-2017. During that time I was responsible for a complete re-write of the registry system and modernisation of the network infrastructure.

Switching from using a small provincial data centre, filled with PC Server towers, to using a professional London data centre with the latest rack equipment and 10Gb/s peering into both the main UK exchange points (IXs). With a duplicate load-balance and failover data centre in New York.

Dot-IO was run for five years on the new registry system before the contract was taken over by Afilias. Names.of.London now uses an updated version of that system.

From a technical perspective, in terms of publishing DNS and running a medium scale registry operation, there isn't much I don't know – add to that a total of 30 years experience in networking and Unix/Linux server systems and I'm pretty well equipped to cope with most issues!

 

 


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