August 2, 2010

Alternative DNS root

The Internet uses the Domain Name System (DNS) to associate the names of computers with their numeric IP addresses and with other information. The top level of the domain name hierarchy, the DNS root, contains the top-level domains that appear as the suffixes of all Internet domain names. The official DNS root is administered by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). In addition, several organizations operate alternative DNS roots (often referred to as alt roots). These alternative domain name systems operate their own root nameservers and administer their own specific name spaces consisting of custom top-level domains.

The Internet Architecture Board has spoken out strongly against alternate roots in RFC 2826

The DNS root zone consists of pointers to the authoritative domain name servers for all top-level domains. The root zone is hosted on a collection of root servers operated by several organizations around the world that all use a specific, approved list of domains that is managed by ICANN.

Alternative roots typically include pointers to all of the TLD servers for domains delegated by ICANN, as well as name servers for other, custom top-level domains that are not sanctioned by ICANN, but that are operated by other independent organizations. Some alternate roots are operated by the organizations that manage these alternative TLDs.

Alternative DNS roots can in general be divided into three groups those run for idealistic or ideological cause, those run as profit-making enterprises, and those run internally by an organization for its own use.

Whilst technically trivial to set up, actually maintaining a reliable root server network is a serious undertaking, requiring multiple servers to be kept running 24/7 in geographically diverse locations.

During the dot-com boom, some alternate root providers believed that there were substantial profits to be made from providing alternative top-level domains.

Only a small portion of Internet service providers actually use any of the domains served by alternate root operators, generally supporting only ICANN-sanctioned root servers. This has led to the commercial failure of several alternative DNS root providers.

A BIZ TLD created by Pacific Root was in operation before ICANN approved the official BIZ domain, operated by Neulevel. For some time after the creation of the official domain, several alternate roots continued to resolve BIZ domains to Pacific Root's servers rather than Neulevel's. Therefore, some domain names existed in different roots and pointed to different IP addresses. The possibility of such conflicts, and their potential for destabilizing the Internet, is the main source of controversy surrounding alternate roots. Many of the alternate roots try to coordinate with each other, but many do not, and no conflict resolution processes exist between them.

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