ICANN to trial international characters in domain names

The body that oversees the domain name system announces that it will begin trials in July

16 Mar 2006

Internet domain names containing non-English characters such as é, ø and ü may be commonplace within a year after the body that oversees the domain name system (DNS) announced that it will begin trials in July.

ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, accepts that current restrictions on character usage are no longer acceptable.

It notes that the geographic extent of the Internet is constantly expanding, with a corresponding increase in linguistic diversity. Supporting multilingual access, it says, is a necessary step in realising the 'full potential of the Internet for serving as a global communications platform'.

'The DNS and domain names were not originally developed to accommodate languages that use non-Latin scripts, or require diacritical addition to Latin characters,' ICANN explained. 'As the Internet continues to grow, many new users are interested in being able to write domain names using their local languages and scripts.'

The problem is that the DNS does not yet recognise 'international' characters. Changing the DNS is simply not practical; that would require what ICANN describes as a dramatic change in the infrastructure of the Net.

Instead ICANN is proposing a system that maps internationalised domain names (IDNs) to the existing DNS, using punycode strings. Punycode is a bootstring encoding that will convert the international characters in a domain name into the limited character set supported by the DNS. The encoding is applied to each component of a domain name and a prefix 'xn--' is added to the translated string. For example, the first component of the domain name rødgrødmedfløde.dk becomes 'xn--rdgrdmedflde-vjbdg' in Punycode, and therefore the domain is represented as xn--rdgrdmedflde-vjbdg.dk.

The testing process, scheduled to begin in July, will aim to ensure that the use of IDNs does not adversely affect Net users and will establish technical methods for IDN deployment that do not compromise the stability and security of the DNS

'ICANN takes all issues related to internationalisation very seriously,' the organisation said in a statement. 'In relation to its mission, the implementation of internationalised domain names is of utmost importance.'

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