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Why we won’t see dotless domain names

Kevin Murphy, July 20, 2011, 10:24:05 (UTC), Domain Tech

Will http://google ever work?

Will any of the hundreds of .brand gTLDs expected to be approved by ICANN in its first round of new top-level domains resolve without dots?

Will users be able to simply type in the name of the brand they’re looking for into their browser’s address bar and have it resolve to the company’s official site?

Probably not, according to the experts.

ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook answers this question, but you need to know where to look, and to know a little about DNS records, to figure it out what it actually says.

Section 2.2.3.3 of the Guidebook (page 75 of the May 30 PDF) provides a list of the permissible contents of a new gTLD zone.

Specifically not allowed are A and AAAA records, which browsers need in order to find web sites using IPv4 and IPv6 respectively.

“To facilitate a dotless domain, you would need to place an A or a AAAA record in the zone, and these are not on the list of permitted record types,” said Kim Davies, root zone manager at IANA. “The net result is a default prohibition on dotless domains.”

Applicants may be able to obtain A/AAAA records if they specifically ask for them, but this is very likely to trigger an Extended Evaluation and a Registry Services Review, according to Davies and the Guidebook.

There’s an additional $50,000 fee for a Registry Services Review, with no guarantee of success. It will also add potentially months to the application’s processing time.

(Incidentally, ICANN has also banned DNS “wildcards”. You cannot have an infinite SiteFinder-style catch-all at the second level, you need to allocate domain names individually.)

Applicants that successfully obtain A/AAAA records, enabling dotless domains, would face a far greater problem than ICANN’s rules – endpoint software probably won’t support them.

“As it stands, most common software does not support the concept,” Davies said. “There is a common assumption that fully qualified domain names will have at least one dot in them.”

You can type IP addresses, host names, domain names or search terms into browser address bars, and dots are one of the ways the software figures out you’re looking for a domain.

You can test this today. There are already a handful of top-level domains, probably fewer than 20 and all ccTLDs, that have implemented an A record at the TLD level.

On some platforms, you may be able to get URLs such as http://io and http://ac to work.

They don’t revolve on any Windows 7 browser I’ve tested (Firefox/IE/Chrome), but I’d be interested in hearing your experiences, if you’d be so good as to leave a comment below.

Given the lack of software support, it may be a poor use of time and resources to fight ICANN for a dotless gTLD that most internet users won’t even be able to resolve.

According to a recent CircleID article by Paul Vixie, chairman of the Internet Systems Consortium, many browsers treat domains without dots as local resources.

Only if the browser’s “DNS search list” cannot find a local resource matching the dotless TLD will it then go out to the internet to look for it.

In some organizations, a local resource may have been configured which matches a new gTLD. There may be a local server called “mail” for example, which could clash with a .mail gTLD.

A recent article in The Register quoted security people fretting about what would happen if a malicious hacker somehow persuaded ICANN to approve a string such as .localhost or .lan.

These worries appear to be largely reliant on an erroneous belief that getting your hands on a gTLD is going to be as simple as registering a domain name.

In reality, there’s going to be months of technical evaluation – conducted in a fish-bowl, subject to public comment, applicant background checks and, in the case of a request for A records, the aforementioned Registry Services Review – before a gTLD is approved.

If everything works according to plan, security problems will be highlighted by this process and any gTLDs that would break the internet will be caught and rejected.

So it seems very unlikely that we’re going to see domains without dots hitting the web any time soon.

Domain names are designed to help people find you. Dotless domains today will not do that, even if ICANN does approve them.

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Comments (14)

  1. Adam says:

    Perhaps dotless domains could be the result of all this innovation ICANN expects the new gTLDs to inspire…

  2. Michael says:

    Those two ccTLDs don’t resolve using Chrome.

  3. andrew says:

    could you just have a dot and not a second level domain?

    For example, typing in .coke or emailing name@.coke?

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      Nothing here. What’s your OS?

      • JS says:

        sorry, forgot the trailing dot
        It’s actually http://museum.
        (Firefox + Windows 7)

        Jothan is right, it’s all about the last dot

        (Hattip to Charles Christopher for showing me this too)

        • Kevin Murphy says:

          That domain does not resolve for me, using Firefox 5,0 on Windows 7, with or without the last dot.

    • Take a look at http://www.publicsuffix.org, the “Public Suffix List” (PSL) and what is listed there.

      Browsers do different things with the information inside of the PSL,

      @andrew If one suffixes a period onto the rightmost of a domain name, it tells the resolver to execute on resolving coke. vs sending it to the search agent / omnibox function.

      firefox:
      coke -> search
      coke. -> dns resolution
      coke -> coke.com dns resolution
      coke. -> coke..com (btw, this is a bug)

      • For some reason it didn’t keep the labels I had put on this, but the first two examples I give are when you press enter, and the second are when you hold control (or command if on a mac) when you hit enter on the examples.

        -j

  4. Michael says:

    Looks like we need a whole different technology for internet browsing to make it happen, so I am on my way to coding one :D

  5. Sam Whited says:

    In most browsers (Only tested in Chrome Dev Channel, but I’ve heard it works elsewhere) you can browse to TLD. and it will work (for instance “http://io./”).

  6. Barry K. Nathan says:

    On Mac OS X 10.6.8 and Google Chrome, http://io/ doesn’t work, but http://io./ works.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      Thanks. I’m getting the impression that Apple products treat these domains differently to Microsoft-based machines.

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