Domain naming game gets more confusing as more players join -

This is a good time to move the .gov registration back under government control to
protect it, because the Internet's Domain Name System is about to fall into a state of
chaos.


To avoid problems for federal users, the General Services Administration will begin to
register new .gov Internet domain names starting Oct. 1.


GSA's Center for Electronic Messaging technologies, headed by Jack L. Finley, is taking
over the duty of registering and tracking .gov names, National Science Foundation
spokeswoman Beth Gaston said.


Network Solutions Inc. of Herndon, Va., has been relieved of all government domain name
duties.


NSF originally coordinated most of the domain name services on the Internet. In 1993,
it turned that task over to Network Solutions, which runs the office known as
InterNIC--the Internet Network Information Center--and registers millions of domain names
each year.


Network Solutions will continue to register .com, .net and .org domains until its
five-year contract expires next year. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency will
continue registering .mil addresses.


There's no clear successor to InterNIC. NSF is getting out of the registration business
and will no longer support InterNIC. Network Solutions will keep registering, but more
than a dozen rivals have popped up with alternative registries and rival domain naming
schemes.


The Internet Ad Hoc Committee, a group of industry professionals who help work out
Internet standards, is pushing for establishment of 28 domain name registry sites that
essentially would compete for business. Details are available on the World Wide Web at http://www.iahc.org.


A project called AlterNIC, sponsored by several Internet service providers, has its own
top-level domains such as .biz. Visit http://www.newdom.comto
learn how AlterNIC works and how to participate in Root 64, the scheme by which the new
set of root servers operates. An AlterNIC DNS server resides at the IP address
192.160.127.90.


Network Solutions' own plan to continue DNS registration is called the American
Registry for Internet Numbers. Details appear at http://www.arin.net.


The reason this whole situation has gotten so fragmented is that no one owns the
Internet, and anyone can set up an alternate domain naming system. The trick is getting
others to use it.


When the Internet sprang up as a group of linked university computers, all servers had
numerical IP addresses.


The University of Southern California developed a directory service where participants
could register a name and link it to an IP address. The Domain Name System evolved from
there, but on the unregulated Internet, DNS participation has never been required.


Even so, DNS became firmly entrenched out of necessity, because it was easier for
people to remember names than numbers. InterNIC routinely updates nine regional servers at
the very top of the DNS hierarchy.


All domain name servers in the world receive DNS addresses via a chain of DNS servers
that look to one of those nine machines if they don't have an address in their memory
cache.


If AlterNIC or some other naming system takes off, existing DNS servers won't go away.
Managers of Internet gateways will look to multiple-name servers to resolve different
types of addresses.


Working out exactly how this might be accomplished should be a task for Network
Solutions. After all, it already has the money for such a project. Under the terms of the
NSF contract, a percentage of each fee collected for name registration goes into a fund
earmarked for improving the intellectual infrastructure of the Internet. More than $31
million is sitting in the fund. Working out a way for all the new DNS services to coexist
seems like a perfect use for the bucks.


The Commerce Department, concerned about how the domain name issue might affect
electronic commerce initiatives, has solicited public comments in the Federal Register.
You can view the comments at http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/email.


Shawn P. McCarthy is a computer journalist, webmaster and Internet programmer for GCN's
parent, Cahners Publishing Co. E-mail him at smccarthy@cahners.com.


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