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NSI Opens Multilingual Domain Name Testbed

Over the past few years, the Internet has become a truly global phenomenon with countries in all stages of development getting connected. But the Domain Name System (DNS) requires that all hosts and domain names be identified using seven-bit US-ASCII characters that can be represented in English. That forces non-English speakers to learn English language host and domain names.

In an effort to turn this trend, the Network Solutions Registry, a division of Network Solutions Inc. Thursday launched an initiative to knock down the navigation language barrier.

By fourth quarter 2000, NSI wants to deploy a testbed for accredited registrars to register domain names in non-English character sets in the .com, .net and .org generic top level domains (gTLDs). Initially, the testbed will allow registration of domain names using Japanese, Korean and Chinese (both traditional and simplified) characters. The company said support for Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic characters would follow. The testbed will examine various technologies to convert a native language domain name into a string that can be processed and stored by the DNS.

"The mulitlingual domain name testbed is a significant step towards increasing Internet functionality and e-commerce opportunities over 90 percent of the world's population which does not speak English as a native language," said Bruce Chovnick, general manager of NSI Registry.

In its Multilingual Domain Name Position Paper, NSI Registry added, "The primary purpose of NSI Registry's multilingual DNS testbed is to provide real, operational experience with proposed standards for deployment of multilingual names to help identify solutions that work in the real world. A functional end-to-end environment will help separate academic theory from operational fact, allowing participants to gather invaluable experience that will help mitigate the risks associated with deploying multilingual domain name solutions on the Internet.

NSI Registry said the first step will be to establish a preliminary environment where registrars accredited by The Internet Corp. for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) can analyze the Registry Registrar Protocol (RRP) command functionality prior to entering an operational test and evaluation environment. To participate, registrars must successfully complete a multilingual certification evaluation for each language encoding in which they wish to register names. NSI is targeting October 2000 for the start of the certification process.

Initially, the testbed will only handle registration of non-English character domain names. But, by November, NSI plans to provide for multilingual DNS resolution -- the process of matching domain names to IP addresses. Enabling resolution requires enhancements to the Berkeley Internet Name Domain (BIND) software, the most widely deployed DNS server software on the Internet. NSI Registry has provided funding for Nominum Inc., the company that maintains the reference implementation of BIND, towards development of a multilingual domain name version of the software.

NSI Registry said the testbed is part of its effort to contribute to the work of the Internationalized Domain Name (IDN) Working Group of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The IDN Working Group is seeking to identify the requirements for multilingual access to domain names and a standards track protocol which will adequately respond to the need to scale multilingual DNS globally.

NSI Registry noted that the IETF is still working to define a standard multilingual domain name protocol and testbed practices may need to be adjusted in response to the IETF's direction.

"For example, the IETF may explore several