Read ICANN Blogs to stay informed of the latest policymaking activities, regional events, and more.

Buyer Beware: Not All Names Are Created Equal

24 November 2021

If you are new to the business of domain names, what might you consider when purchasing them?

A key reason is to obtain a brandable domain that is easy to pronounce and spell. We also make assumptions. For example, you might assume that any potential customer anywhere in the world could use the domain name you select to connect with you easily, either by clicking on a link or typing the name into a browser.

Until recently, that assumption was true. Typically, the domain name you buy from an ICANN-accredited registrar or reseller can be used by any Internet user once the proper Domain Name System (DNS) and web servers for that domain name are set up. This is one of the most important advantages of the DNS: domain names can be queried by anyone and anywhere on the planet.

So, what has changed? There are now a few ICANN-accredited registrars that are offering non-DNS domain names for purchase. To the eyes of the average person, these may seem like any other domain name. However, there is a catch. When you go to a registrar's website and hover over such names or look for a disclaimer, it generally says something like "these domain names are not yet compatible with most traditional DNS systems."

The term "yet" may be misleading to Internet users. Non-DNS compatible domain names require a specialized bridge from the DNS world. What does this mean to the average Internet user? Something simple: unless Internet users install specific software on their digital devices, they will not be able to use them. If they click on such a link, it will fail with an error message that the domain cannot be found. In order for Internet users to connect with such names, they would have to either install a specific browser, install a special plug-in to their favorite browser, or configure their system to use a specific DNS resolver that would bridge to the Handshake blockchain world.

Name resolution systems outside the DNS have existed for a long time. One could mention the Sun Microsystem Network Information Service (NIS), the Digital Object Architecture (DOA), or even the Ethereum Name Service (ENS), which is another blockchain-based solution. Such names have been put on the market, although with limited success.

With some ICANN-accredited registrars now selling NIS, DOA, or other similar domains alongside standard domain names, the potential for confusion among unsuspecting customers seems high. As we all know, caveats offered in small print may not properly explain or warn potential customers of the risks associated with these names. Before obtaining a domain name, ask the registrar or reseller if it will work in the DNS. And remember, buyer beware.


Alain Durand

Distinguished Technologist