Commerce plan maps out future of Internet Domain Name System

We can all breathe a sigh of relief.


The Internet Domain Name System isn't going to collapse in chaos after all, thanks to a
recent Commerce Department proposal that's on the fast track toward worldwide acceptance.


Owners of .gov and .mil addresses won't be affected by the proposal,
because registration for those domains is handled internally at http://registration.fed.gov and http://www.nic.mil.


But government network managers should acquaint themselves with the Commerce proposal,
because it may affect how information feeds into their local domain name servers (DNS).


Other changes could be in the works. The draft proposal, which appears at http://www.ntia.doc.gov/ntiahome/domainname/domainname130.htm,
states that it may be appropriate to move the generic top-level domains, until now
reserved for U.S. government use, into a reformulated .us top-level domain.


No serious effort will be made in this area until other domain name issues are cleared
up.


As readers may know, the five-year contract of Network Solutions Inc. of Herndon, Va.,
with the National Science Foundation to operate the Internet's domain name registration
expires in September.


In recent months, other groups have claimed they have new and better registration
systems. In one instance, regional DNS were even hacked so alternate addresses could be
added to the DNS tables.


Luckily, Commerce's proposal maintains order by keeping the Internet's primary root
server intact. The server, now operated by Network Solutions, would be transferred to a
new nonprofit organization composed of 15 public, private and international
representatives. The change would be phased in over two years.


At the same time, registration functions would be spun off as a separate service.
Individual top-level domains such as .net, .com and .org would be
maintained in separate registries.


Network Solutions will still offer Internet registration services, but others can do
so, too. The so-called registrars will update the individual top-level domain databases,
which feed into the primary root server.


The root server will continue to be mirrored to 12 regional DNS around the world. Every
local DNS on every network ultimately builds its address tables from the information
stored in the regional servers.


Commerce's proposal calls for five new top-level domains. These have not yet been
selected, but likely candidates are .web, .firm, .store, .arts
and .shop.


Here's where the plan deviates from what was expected. Until now, assigning IP
addresses has been the job of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.


IANA worked with a group called the Council of Registrars to propose seven top-level
domains. CORE, sponsored by dozens of Internet organizations and service providers, had
wanted to offer the new top-level domains next month.


But the Commerce plan would make CORE submit to a review process to determine its
eligibility to register top-level domains. Because the proposal calls for single
registries for each top-level domain, CORE's plan would have to be modified.


CORE is already arguing for changes before the plan is implemented. Those interested in
commenting can send e-mail to dns@ntia.doc.gov.


In theory, the Internet has no central authority, and no one is obligated to follow the
proposal. But DNS is the only real standard for IP address lookups, and the root server is
now under government control. Any organization set up to oversee the server will have de
facto authority.


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


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