Domain name system (DNS)


21 Mar 2017

In a paper published earlier this month, German researcher Dominik Herrmann shows that domain name lookups can reveal not only the websites visited by Internet users, but also the individual pages that they access. According to Herrmann, Domain Name System (DNS) recursive nameservers have monitoring capabilities that can allow operators to track the activities of users over an extended period of time. As explained by The Register, the paper describes a behaviour-based tracking method, through which individuals with access to the infrastructure can watch a user’s behaviour while the user has one Internet Protocol (IP) address, create a classifier for that user, and look for behaviour that matches the classifier when the IP address changes. Herrmann argues that one way to mitigate this privacy risk is for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to refresh users’ IP addresses more frequently.

16 Mar 2017

In the context of the ICANN58 meeting, held in Copenhagen, on 11-16 March, several governments represented on ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee have expressed strong dissatisfaction with ICANN’s Board decision to allow the registration of two-letter domain names – including country codes –  in new generic top-level domains (gTLDs). The decision, taken in November last year, is seen by governments as a rejection of previous GAC advice (in which governments cautioned the Board that the release of two-letter country codes could create confusion among end users in that they may interpret the domain names as being affiliated with a government or a country code TLD manager). In a joint GAC–Board meeting, the Board said that, in its view, the decision is fully consistent with GAC advice, as it asks registries to implement measures aimed to mitigate the risks of confusion. However, the GAC communique released at the end of the Copenhagen meeting advises the Board to ‘explore measures to find a satisfactory solution on the matter to meet the concerns of these countries before being further aggravated’.

16 Mar 2017

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), which administers Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) cases, has reported that trademark owners filed 3036 UDRP cases in 2016, an increase of 10% over the previous year. Cybersquatting disputes relating to new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) rose to 16% of WIPO’s caseload in 2016, covering a total of 5374 domain names. The gTLDs with most disputed domain names were .xyz, .top, and .club. Country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) accounted for around 14% of WIPO fillings.


The Domain Name System (DNS) handles Internet domain names (such as and converts them to Internet Protocol (IP) numbers (and the other way around). This makes it easier for Internet users to access locations in the Internet such as websites, by simply looking for the domain name of the website, instead of the IP number associated to it.

From an infrastrastructure point of view, the DNS consists of root servers, top-level domain (TLD) servers, and a large number of DNS servers located around the world.

The DNS includes  generic top-level domain (gTLD) and country code top-level domains (ccTLD). There are now over 1200 gTLDs, ranging from traditional ones such as .com, .net, and .org, to new gTLDs (introduced starting 2014) such as .pub,, .ngo, or .游戏 (game). While most gTLDs have an open registration policy, allowing the registration of domain names by any interested individual or entity, there are several gTLDs that are restricted to specific groups. For example, only authorised banking institutions can register domain names under .bank. ccTLDs are two-letter TLDs designating countries or territories (such as .uk for the United Kingdom, .cn for China, and .br for Brazil).


Each gTLD and ccTLD is managed by a registry, whose main responsibility is to maintain and administer a database with all registered domain names. For example,  .com  is managed by VeriSign, while .uk is managed by Nominet. The actual registration of domain names, by end users (called registrants) is performed though registrars. In the case of gTLDs, the registry and registrar functions are clearly separated. For some ccTLDs, the registry can also act as registrar.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) ensures the overall coordination of the DNS by developing and implementing policies governing the operation and evolution of the system. For gTLDs, ICANN concludes agreements with registries and accredits registrars. ccTLDs have a special status, in that ICANN does not set rules for how they are administered and managed. There are, however, several ccTLD registries that have concluded some types of agreements with ICANN (such as accountability frameworks, memoranda of understanding, and exchange of letters).

The operational coordination of the DNS is performed through ICANN’s affiliate Public Technical Identifiers (PTI).

The creation of new generic top level domains (gTLDs)

In 2012, after six years of consultations and development of a new policy, ICANN launched the New gTLD Program, opening up the DNS beyond the 22 gTLDs existing at that point. Under the programme, any organisation in the world could apply for a new gTLD, including in non-Latin language scripts, as long as it complied with a series of criteria established in the so-called New gTLD Applicant Guidebook. The introduction of new gTLDs was received with enthusiasm by some stakeholders, who saw this programme as an opportunity to enhance competition and consumer choice in the domain name market. Others expressed concern, especially in relation to the potential need for trademark holders to undertake defensive registrations of domain names in multiple gTLDs, for the purpose of avoiding cybersquatting.

Other concerns were raised by governments represented in ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC), who called for measures aimed to ensure the protection of end-users and preserve competition on the gTLD market. As an example, in the case of gTLDs representing regulated sectors (such as .bank and .pharm), governments have proposed measures aimed to ensure that only entities having the appropriate authorisations to operate in such sectors could register domain names in such gTLDs.

Although the debate on the introduction of new gTLDs continues, the programme is up and running. There are also discussions within the ICANN community over the opportunity of launching subsequent rounds of applications for new gTLDs.

For more details on the current status of the New gTLD Program, consult the dedicated process page.

The management of country code top level domains (ccTLDs)

The management of ccTLDs involves three important issues. The first concerns the often politically controversial decision regarding the registration of codes for countries and entities with unclear or contested international status. From the beginning, IANA used the principle of allocating domain names in accordance with the ISO 3166 standard for country codes.

The second issue concerns who should manage ccTLDs. Currently, there are several ccTLD registry models in place, with the registry functions being performed by public entities, private companies, or multistakeholder structures. In some countries, the management of ccTLDs is subject to government regulations. Some governments who initially had no involvement in ccTLD management have been trying to gain control over their country domains, seen as national resources. For example, South Africa used its sovereign rights as an argument in win control of its ccTLD. Transition (re-delegation) of a ccTLD to a new registry is approved by ICANN only if there is no opposition from any of the interested stakeholders within the concerned country.

The third issue relates to the fact that, unlike the case of gTLDs, ICANN imposes no rules as to who and how should manage a ccTLD. ICANN goes only as far as delegating or re-delegating ccTLDs on the basis of some high-level guidelines aimed at ensuring that the ccTLD registry is technically competent to manage it, and has support from the local community. In 2005, ICANN’s GAC adopted a set of Principles and Guidelines for the delegation and administration of country code top level domains, intended to serve as a guide to the relationship between governments, ccTLDs, and ICANN. Although some ccTLD registries (e.g. Brazil, Chile, Netherlands) have concluded some type of agreements with ICANN, and many registries are represented in ICANN’s Country Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO), there are several ccTLDs that have shown reluctance to become part of the ICANN system.

The creation of internationalised domain names (IDNs)

The Internet was originally a predominantly English-language medium. Through rapid growth, it has become a global communication facility with an increasing number of non-English-speaking users. For a long time, the lack of multilingual features in the Internet infrastructure was one of the main limits of its future development.

In May 2010, after a long testing period and political uncertainties, ICANN started approving TLDs in a wide variety of scripts, including Chinese, Arabic, and Cyrillic. IDNs have been introduced in several countries and territories as equivalent to their Latin country code top level domains (ccTLDs). For example, in China, 中国 has been introduced in addition to .cn, while in Russia, рф has been introduced in addition to .ru. IDNs are also part of ICANN’s new gTLD programme, allowing for the registration of new top level domains (gTLDs) in scripts other than the Latin one; for example, .сайт (website) and .онлайн (online) are among the new TLDs available to the public.

The introduction of IDNs is considered to be one of the main successes of the Internet governance regime. However, limitations remain, as universal acceptance is still a challenge when it comes to issues such as functional IDN e-mail addresses and recognition of IDNs by search engines.

Transition of the US government role

Since its creation, in 1998, and until 1 October 2016, ICANN managed the DNS on the basis of a contract with the US government, through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). In line with this contract, the US government acted as steward of the DNS, as every major change made within the system (such as the approval of a new gTLD) required its formal validation. In March 2014, NTIA  announced its intention to transition this stewardship role to the global multistakeholder community. As requested by NTIA, ICANN launched a process for the development of a transition proposal. At the same time, work began on the elaboration of a set of recommendations for enhancing ICANN’s accountability towards the Internet community (seen as a necessary step in the context of the transition). The work carried out by the ICANN community resulted in a transition and an accountability proposals, which were accepted by the US government in June 2016, as being compliant with its requirements.

On 1 October 2016, the IANA functions contract between the US government and ICANN expired, and the stewardship of the IANA functions was transitioned to the global multistakeholder community. In practical terms, the transition meant two major changes within ICANN: (1) the establishment of PTI as the IANA functions operator, and, therefore, a more clear separation between ICANN’s technical and policy-making functions; (2) the creation of an ‘empowered community’ – made up of most of ICANN’s advisory committees and supporting organisations – able to enforce a set of community powers such as removing members of the ICANN Board and rejecting ICANN budgets or changes to the ICANN bylaws. See IANA transition and ICANN accountability for more details.



Resolutions & Declarations

ITU Resolution 133: Role of Administrations of Member States in the Management of Internationalized (Multilingual) Domain Names (2014)
WHO Resolution 66.24 - 'eHealth Standardization and Interoperability' (2013)


Request for Comments (RFC) dealing with Domain Name Systems (2015)

Other Instruments

Tunis Agenda for the Information Society (WSIS) (2005)



Mapping the Online World (2016)
IDN Infographic: Access Domain Names in Your Language (2015)


Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)


Monocentric Cyberspace: The Primary Market for Internet Domain Names (2016)
Internet Fragmentation: An Overview (2016)


State of DNSSEC Deployment 2016 (2016)
Enabling Growth and Innovation in the Digital Economy (2016)
Middle East and Adjoining Countries DNS Study (2016)
Root Zone KSK Rollover Plan (2016)
World Report on Internationalised Domain Names (2015)
The Domain Name Industry Brief (2015)
Report of the Director General to the WIPO Assemblies (2015)
An Analysis of new GTLD Universal Acceptance in the Web Environment (2015)
SSAC Report on the IANA Functions Contract (2014)
EURid-UNESCO World report on Internationalised Domain Names Deployment 2012 (2012)
Impact on Root Server Operations and Provisions Due to New gTLDs (2012)
Infoblox DNS Threat Index

GIP event reports

ICANN58: GNSO Registration Directory Services (RDS) Policy Development Process Working Group Meeting (2017)
ICANN58: Joint Meeting ICANN Board and GAC (2017)
ICANN58: Joint Meeting ICANN Board & Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group (2017)
ICANN58: Joint Meeting ICANN Board & Commercial Stakeholders Group (2017)
ICANN58: Joint Meeting GAC and ALAC (2017)
ICANN58: GNSO-GAC Facilitated Dialogue on IGO & Red Cross Protections (Session 2) (2017)
ICANN58: GAC Discussions on New Generic Top-Level Domains (2017)
ICANN58: GAC Discussions on Issues Related to ICANN Accountability and New ICANN Bylaws (2017)
ICANN58: New gTLD Auction Proceeds Cross Community Working Group Meeting (2017)
ICANN58: Moving Towards a Data-Driven ICANN (Cross-Community Session) (2017)
ICANN58: ICANN GDD New gTLD Program Reviews (2017)
ICANN58: Public Forum 1 & 2 (2017)
ICANN58: Joint Meeting ICANN Board & Customer Standing Committee (2017)
ICANN58: Opening Ceremony (2017)
ICANN58: Joint Meeting GAC and ccNSO (2017)
ICANN58: GNSO New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process Working Group Meeting (2017)

Other resources

Proposal to Transition the Stewardship of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Functions from the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to the Global Multistakeholder Community (2016)
CCWG-Accountability Supplemental Final Proposal on Work Stream 1 Recommendations (ICANN Accountability proposal) (2016)
Advisory on Measurements of the Root Server System (2016)
The IANA Functions: An Introduction to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) Functions (2015)
Root Zone Administrator Proposal Related to the IANA Functions Stewardship Transition (2015)
NTIA's role in Root Zone Management (2014)
Policy Brief on the Internet Root Zone (2014)
DNSSEC: Securing your Domain Names (2014)
Beginner’s Guide to Domain Names (2010)
The Internet Domain Name System Explained for Non-Experts (2004)
Statistics for New gTLDs
New gTLD Program Statistics
DNSSEC Deployment Report


IGF 2016 Report


At IGF 2016, discussions regarding the DNS revolved around the impact of new generic top level domains (gTLDs) on market competition and Internet security and stability (ICANN New gTLD Program: Exploring Impact & Future Direction - WS63), the role of Internationalised Domain Names - IDNs (Open Forum: ICANN - OF14) in the development of local content, and the lessons learnt from the IANA stewardship transition (A Post IANA Transition ICANN - WS64).

This year, for the first time, the discussions on controversies related to the ICANN and the IANA functions took a different angle, following the finalisation of the IANA stewardship transition process. Discussions focused on the role of the community in the process, and the future of ICANN’s multistakeholder model. Sessions discussed the implementation phase of the various reforms, and the accountability process.

WSIS Forum 2016 Report


Aspects related to the Internet architecture were touched on during the WSIS Forum. Internet Fragmentation (session 169) discussed the need to maintain an open, unique, and global Internet, and looked at various types of risks (of technical, governmental, or commercial nature) than can lead to Internet fragmentation. The expansion of the DNS with over 1000 new gTLDs was the focus of ICANN New gTLD Program Reviews and Lessons Learned (session 141). ICANN is currently undertaking reviews of the new gTLD programme (its impact on competition, consumer choice, rights protection, etc.). These are expected to inform a decision on whether and when there will be a new round of the programme.

In CCWG Accountability (session 186), the discussion focused on the IANA stewardship transition process and the related work on enhancing ICANN’s accountability, both processes being de- scribed as a remarkable example of a working multistakeholder model. The transition and accountability proposals were seen as a compromise reached by various stakeholders who shared the same goal: ensuring that, as the transition takes place, Internet technical functions continue to work well and ICANN becomes more accountable to the community. 

IGF 2015 Report


The discussions on the IANA transition during the IGF 2015 need to be looked at from the broader process which has been ongoing for the past few months. Specifically, the IANA Stewardship Transition Coordination Group (ICG) recently completed its work (with only one outstanding item related to accountability), while the Cross Community Working Group on Enhancing ICANN Accountability (CCWG-Accountability) agreed on the development of the Triple E approach (engagement, escalation, and enforcement) and on the Sole Designator model.

At the IGF, two main discussions took place. The first was in relation to jurisdiction and the fact that ICANN is subject to the laws of California. Although the question was floated as to whether ICANN would serve the global public interest if it remained subject to California’s jurisdiction, the conclusions of the workshop on National and Transnational Internet Governance: Jurisdiction (WS 135) were quite clear. It was concluded that the stability of the existing operation of ICANN in California should not be disturbed, and that the few motivations for change are political and not realistic. In addition, the new arrangements which would see ICANN remain in the USA are sound. They allow for future change, but no change is foreseen. The discussion on jurisdiction continued during a parallel session on IANA Functions Transition: A New Era in Internet Governance? (WS 72).

In another discussion - Multistakeholder Internet Governance - IANA Stewardship (WS 163) - ICANN was urged to put more effort into ensuring greater diversity in its engagement process. Contributors to the ongoing process are not representative of the whole community, as statistics show that most contributors are from North America and Europe, whereas Africa and Latin America are hardly represented in the exercise. In addition, ICANN’s participation model is a challenge to some contributors; extended conference calls and time zone differences were among the examples used to urge ICANN to enhance its outreach programme. The next step is for CCWG-Accountability to publish a high-level overview of recommendations and a summary of changes from the second draft proposal.


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