Last night I attended a party, held by Nominet at the swanky Somerset House in London, celebrating 25 years of .uk.
During opening remarks, chief executive Lesley Cowley said that Nominet still hasn’t tracked down the first-ever registered .uk domain name. I reported on this for The Register a couple of weeks ago.
After doing a little digging, I think I may have a strong contender.
This is the domain for University College London. There are a few reasons to believe ucl.ac.uk could lay claim to be the “first” .uk domain.
It’s well known that the .uk namespace predates Nominet by over a decade. Before Nominet was formed, registrations were handled by a Naming Committee.
According to the Milton Mueller book “Ruling The Root“, and various other sources, the .uk top-level domain was originally delegated to UCL’s Andrew McDowell. This probably happened in 1984.
Digging through some old mailing list archives, I’ve found McDowell making references to running ucl.ac.uk and cambridge.ac.uk, albeit on a test basis, as early as June 1985.
The namedroppers mailing list back then was used by academics to test their newfangled domain name system, so it’s a good place to look for firsts. I’ve mentioned it before, in this blog’s inaugural post.
In one message sent to namedroppers on June 24, 1985, McDowell writes about running .uk, ucl.ac.uk and cambridge.ac.uk on his test-only name servers. The email was sent from a .arpa address.
On July 4, 1985, he sent his first email to the list from a ucl.ac.uk email address, which suggests that the domain was up and running at that time.
That’s 20 days before .uk was delegated, according to the official IANA record.
For this reason I think ucl.ac.uk may have a strong claim to be the first .uk domain.
However, it’s possible the reality may be rather less exciting (yes, even less exciting than something already not particularly exciting).
Anonymous Coward comments posted on The Register are perhaps not the most reliable source of information, but this guy seems to know what he’s talking about:
I believe .uk was the third top level domain to be established after .edu and .us. This predated dns and would have been in 1982 or 3.
.uk was run with a hosts.txt file and the first sub-domains being either ucl or mod.
dns came in in 85 or 86 and the first sub-domains in that were copied from the UK NRS from the X.25 world (ac.uk, co.uk and mod.uk) so there probably wasn’t a first dns sub-domain for uk.
This work was done by UCL CS and at least 2 people directly involved are still there.
If that is to be believed, it looks like there may have been a “first batch” of .uk names that were put into the DNS, rather than a single domain name.
However, given that UCL was managing the system at the time, I’d hazard a guess that ucl.ac.uk was probably the first to be used.