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Hello World: Enabling Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs)

16 June 2021

For more than two decades, the technical community, ICANN, and volunteers around the world have been working together to internationalize the Domain Name System (DNS) to promote linguistic diversity on the Internet. Initially, this work has focused on the introduction of Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) at the second level and eventually for top-level domains (TLDs). This has included the New Generic TLD (gTLD) Program, the largest expansion of the DNS to date as well as IDN country code TLDs (ccTLDs), making it possible for people around the world to connect with their communities through domain names in local languages and scripts such as Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, and Devanagari.

When we talk about supporting a global Internet, it's important to remember that the majority of the world does not speak English as a first language. IDNs are a good example of how ICANN, with the guidance of the community, is working to support an inclusive and multilingual Internet. This aligns with ICANN's mission to help ensure a stable, secure, and unified global Internet.

Where are we today? The short answer is that there has been good progress toward building and maintaining a DNS that can support linguistically diverse domain names in a safe and secure manner. These advancements are due to work done by community members, technical organizations (e.g., Internet Engineering Task Force), and ICANN, amongst others.

As background, the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) format is used to connect using the Internet's DNS. ASCII uses numeric codes to represent characters including uppercase and lowercase English letters, numbers, and some symbols (e.g., punctuation marks), but languages using additional characters and other scripts are not supported with ASCII.

By allowing users to access the Internet in their chosen online identities and local languages, private sectors, governments, and civil societies have the ability to better serve their communities and take advantage of significant business opportunities.

To set the stage, I'm going to answer a few questions that come up frequently and may help you better understand the information in this new report on the current status of IDNs.

What is the difference between languages and scripts?

Languages are used by speech communities to communicate. Scripts are used to write the different languages.

What languages and scripts are available today in IDN TLDs?

There are now IDN top-level domains (TLDs) in 37 languages and 23 scripts that have been delegated into the root zone. The languages include Arabic, Armenian, Assamese, Bangla, Belarusian, Bengali, Bulgarian, Chinese, Georgian, Greek, Gujarati, Hebrew, Hindi, Japanese, Kannada, Kashmiri, Kazakh, Korean, Lao, Macedonian, Malay, Malayalam, Mongolian, Oriya, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Sanskrit, Santali, Serbian, Sindhi, Sinhalese, Tamil, Telugu, Thai, Ukrainian, and Urdu. The scripts include Arabic, Armenian, Bengali, Cyrillic, Devanagari, Georgian, Greek, Gujarati, Gurmukhi, Han, Hangul, Hebrew, Hiragana, Kannada, Katakana, Lao, Latin, Malayalam, Oriya, Sinhala, Tamil, Telugu, and Thai.

Which scripts are available for use in top-level domains?

There are 28 scripts which have been shortlisted for supporting top-level domains, based on the Root Zone Label Generation Rules Procedure developed by the community. These include the scripts recommended for identifiers by the Unicode Standard (in Table 5 of UAX#31).

Are there any other roadblocks to using Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs)?

One of the issues that ICANN, community volunteers, and industry-leading software and email service providers are working to resolve is ensuring the Universal Acceptance (UA) of all domain names and email addresses in all Internet-enabled devices and applications. This will require organizations and businesses to upgrade their systems and services to ensure they will work in the continuously expanding and evolving domain name space. You can learn more about UA at the Universal Acceptance Steering Group's (UASG) website: www.uasg.tech.

How many IDN top-level domains have been delegated?

Currently, 154 IDN top-level domains have been delegated in the root zone. There are 93 IDN gTLDs and 61 IDN ccTLDs currently delegated in the DNS root zone.

How many IDNs are registered?

According to the IDN Word Report, there have been a total of 8.3 million IDN registrations under ccTLDs and gTLDs, up from 2 million in 2010. With less than 2 million IDN registrations under the gTLDs, the majority – approximately 77 percent of registrations – are under ccTLDs.

What are the most widely used scripts in IDNs registered under gTLDs?

The majority of IDN registrations under gTLDs are in the Chinese script (51 percent) followed by the Latin script (23 percent).

Can I get an IDN domain name?

Yes. You can get second-level domain names (e.g., yourdomain.TLD) from the registry operator or registrar responsible for managing the gTLD or ccTLD in the languages and scripts the particular TLD supports. Interested parties will also be able to apply for a new top-level IDN when the next gTLD application round opens, providing that language or script is supported.

I encourage you to read the report. Also, subscribe to customized content from ICANN such as announcements and blogs so you don't miss out on information that aligns with your interests.


Sarmad Hussain

Sarmad Hussain

Senior Director IDN and UA Programs