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18 years with IDNs

Domain names "with tails"

The day 11 September may be associated with various events, but in the history of the .pl domain registry it is inseparably linked to... domain names. This year we are celebrating the 18th anniversary of the introduction of the service of registering .pl domain names containing national characters, the so-called IDNs. This abbreviation is derived from the English words "Internationalized Domain Names".

It is worthy of note here that the .pl domain Registry, run by NASK, was the first registry in Europe to implement such a functionality. This was possible thanks to the heavy involvement of NASK’s Domain Department employees in the work on the registration standard of IDNs and its implementation, and also thanks to the launch of the Registry system in March 2003, i.e. the system of automatic registration and maintenance of names in the .pl domain, using the EPP protocol.

Initially, IDNs were treated only as a latest technological trend, not necessarily applicable in practice, e.g. due to the incompatibility of Internet browsers and mail clients, to which appropriate plugins had to be installed at that time. Such domain names were therefore not very popular, and the range of their application was limited, which does not mean, however, that there was no interest in registering. It is worth adding that all new web browsers, as well as mail software, now support IDNs as standard.

On 11 September 2003 at 6:00 a.m. the service was launched, and the first names in the .pl zone, containing Polish diacritics (i.e.: ą, ć, ę, ł, ń, ó, ś, ż, ź), were immediately registered. After 30 minutes there were over 300 of them in the registry. At the same time, only a dozen or so "ordinary" domain names were registered. In the following weeks, NASK was gradually extending the offered functionality of IDNs. First, it enabled the registration of domain names with Polish characters in the second level domains it was operating (e.g.: .com.pl, .org.pl, .waw.pl), the domains with diacritic characters of other countries (Germany, France, Spain, the Czech Republic, and others), and finally also containing Greek and Hebrew alphabet characters and Cyrillic characters. Currently, there are almost 30 thousand IDNs in the .pl domain registry, which constitutes about 1.12% of the registered names.

It is safe to say that making it possible to register names with diacritical characters was a breakthrough in the perception of the Internet, which could have been looked at more locally from now on, given the multilingualism of its users. Until now, the whole world has been "condemned", when registering domain names, to ASCII characters, i.e. Latin letters A-Z, numbers and a hyphen, which were the only ones allowed in a domain name. From a technical point of view, IDNs also consist of A SCII characters only, but the diacritics are properly coded in them, compliant with the common standard. By entering the address dyżurnet.pl in the browser, for example, this name will be internally coded to a string of characters understandable for DNS, i.e. xn--dyurnet-x wb.pl, which will display the content of the desired page. The IDN de facto exists in two forms: real, encoded with a special algorithm and registered in the registry of the .pl domain, thus recognized by DNS name servers, and a form with diacritical marks friendly and readable for the user. The use of IDNs allows to keep the original form and meaning of words.

Often in radio advertisements you can hear an invitation to visit the website of a given advertiser. When the advertised slogan contains Polish characters (let’s assume that it will be e.g. żółtodziób [a rookie word]), and the corresponding domain name is registered by the advertiser only in the classic form (zoltodziob.pl), either a rather bizarresounding but real name of the page in a distorted form, or a linguistically correct one, falls on the air. However, when an Internet user enters the name in the language correct version in the browser, in the best case they will not see anything, and in the worst case they may see... the website of another entity that has registered the relevant IDN (here: xn--todzib-9waf91e8r.pl, coded by the system just into żółtodziób.pl). Registration of both domain names by the registrant gives them the advantage that Internet users have easier access to the resources made available by them (e.g. on the website). They can enter both the original sounding name (żółtodziób.pl) and the name without diacritical characters (zoltodziob.pl) in the browser, and in both cases they will find the same place. It should be remembered, however, that such a combination is not always possible, as the name in both forms may have a completely different meaning in Polish, e.g. sąd [court] and sad [orchard], kąt [angle] and kat [executioner], żądanie [request] and zadanie [task]. In such cases, the advantage of registering the IDN lies in the possibility of using the unambiguous and original wording of the name in the Internet address which without "Polish tails" has a completely different meaning.

Currently, the .pl domain Registry allows the registration of IDNs containing characters from sets: Latin, Greek, Cyrillic and Hebrew, with the reservation that characters from different sets cannot be combined in one name. A tool for converting domain names from diacritical characters to ASCII characters and vice versa is available on the registry’s website at: https://dns.pl/en/IDN#converter. Registration of IDNs is possible through NASK Partners, a list of which can be found at: https://www.dns.pl/en/list_of_registrars.


Author: Paweł T. Goławski - DNS Expert and Quality Assurance Manager in the .pl Domain Registry at NASK