IDN Usability

6 May 2010

Tina Dam

Internationalized Domain Names and the usability of them is a key aspect of the ongoing introduction of IDN ccTLDs.

ICANN is actively taking part in conferences and events, with a focus on applications and usability of new technology on the Internet. This is to spread information about IDNs and how they work in order to obtain a more streamlined user experience across applications.

We will continue to make more information, such as the examples below, available for users and everyone interested in IDNs. We very much appreciate any feedback you might have, pointers to what type of information you think might be lacking, and suggestions for online forums, seminars, or other type of events where information about IDNs would be good to include.

This first post is focused on how IDNs work and where registrations can be made.

What are IDNs?

The acronym “IDNs” stand for Internationalized Domain Names. IDNs are domain names that include characters used in the local representation of languages that contain one or more characters other than the twenty-six letters of the basic Latin alphabet “a,b,…z”, “0,1,…9” or “-“. An IDN can contain Latin letters with diacritical marks, as required by many European languages, or may consist of characters from non-Latin scripts such as Arabic or Chinese.

Example: ñandú.cl

Since the Domain Name System is not capable of communicating with these characters, a system is made so that the domain name stored is actually:


This “xn--and-6ma2c.cl” is referred to as the A-label for the IDN and does not make a lot of sense for users and was never intended for users to see – however, in some instances you will see this – see below for more explanations and examples.

Why are IDNs introduced?

Historically domain names could only consist of characters from “a,b,c…,z”; “0,1,2,…,9” and “-“.

The geographic expansion of the Internet and the corresponding increase of use by various linguistic groups or communities resulted in the need for domain names also to consist of characters from all scripts used in the world today. Content written in various languages has been around for a long time.

The fact is that for example websites where the content is all in Hindi should also have a web-address in Hindi. Web content in various languages has been around for a long time. The matching addresses are now here.

IDNs are about your choice

Let’s be clear: IDNs will provide opportunities for more people to have easier access to the Internet. Some people are concerned about IDNs dividing the Internet because they are not able to read or type some of these languages.

But it’s all about user choice. The choice of effectively being able to select which script or language a domain name should be based on. In this way you can brand yourself better and in that way target the market you want more effectively. Printed material can have web references in the same script as the material is written in. And keep in mind that a website can for example have more than one address….which now can be a choice between different scripts and languages.

Another aspect of this that is important to realize it that by introducing IDNs in the Internet/single root today means that we hopefully have avoided a fragmentation with various “internets” based on different scripts. That would be a situation where communication between these “internets” would be difficult if not impossible. Introducing IDNs in the Internet today effectively ensures the global interoperability of the Internet.

How can I make registrations of IDNs?

ICANN is not in the business of offering the domain names registrations. The registrations can be made through registrars or their resellers, and for some ccTLDs directly via the TLD registry manager. As such, for information about how to register domain names in the new IDN ccTLDs should be sough via the IDN ccTLD managers.

All current TLD managers and operators are listed at http://www.iana.org/domains/root/db/

This will be updated shortly to include the three IDN ccTLDs that were made available yesterday http://icann.org/en/announcements/announcement-05may10-en.htm

Until then you can find the main points of contacts at: http://icann.org/en/topics/idn/fast-track/string-evaluation-completion-en.htm

IDN registrations under some of the existing (ASCII) TLDs (e.g. .com, .org, .gr, .cn, etc) have been available since as early as 2001. The registry managers or your preferred choice of domain name registrar or reseller will be able to assist you with more information about these IDN registrations under existing ASCII TLDs. Domain names under the gTLDs (generic top-level domains such as .com) can be registered through ICANN accredited registrars or their resellers. A list of all ICANN accredited registrars is available here: http://www.icann.org/en/registrars/accredited-list.html

Note that some IDN ccTLD managers have decided to take pre-registrations before their requests for IDN ccTLDs have been completed. ICANN is not endorsing this as it is not possible to guarantee a certain TLD for availability until it has passed through all steps in the processes successfully.

How do IDNs work?

IDNs have been around for years at the second level (the “icann” portion in the address http://www.icann.org ) and as a result, browsers and other application software started updating their systems years ago. Today the newest versions of all major browsers can handle IDNs. They have implemented IDNs slightly differently, which will give slightly different user experience, but those that are IDN capable will get you to the right and same site. So what’s the difference?

Well due to the different ways that IDNs are implemented, different options are made available by the different browsers. Some examples as follows:

In all of these examples, you will get to the actual site. What does not always display as entered is the address in the address-bar. The examples explain how users can overcome this fact.

Internet Explorer:

The screenshots below is from IE v8 accessing: http://παράδειγμα.δοκιμή (this is the Greek version of the ICANN wiki and the address means “example.test” in English).

You will note two things:
1) The address in the address bar is displayed as:


2) There is a small pop-up stating that the address cannot be displayed with your current language settings.

If you click on the pop-up and select the change language settings you will get the following options, where you can add languages to your settings:

Adding, in this example, Greek to your language settings will effectively display the address as in the following screenshot, where the address is displayed in Greek:

It is noticeable that the path in the web address contains “%CE%91%CF%81%CF%87…”. The path should effectively also be internationalized.

Mozilla Firefox

The screenshot below is from Firefox v 3.5.5 accessing: http://उदाहरण.परीक्षा (this is the Hindi version of the ICANN wiki and the address means “example.test” in English).

It is noticed that the address (and the path) in the address-bar is displayed correctly in the Devanagari script: http://उदाहरण.परीक्षा/मुख्य_पृष्ठ

The implementation of IDNs in Firefox is based on a white-list of those TLDs/extensions that Firefox considers ‘safe’. All the “.test” TLDs has been added to this white-list. If you are accessing a site and the address is displayed in the http://xn--p1b6ci4b4b3a.xn--11b5bs3a9aj6g format then this is because that particular TLD or extension is not in the Firefox white-list.

If you trust these addresses and wish them to display in the address-bar as the local characters then you can make changes to the white list manually. A detailed explanation on how to do this is available here: http://idn.icann.org/Firefox_Information

The screenshot below gives you an indication of what to look for, but please be careful when making changes so that you do not damage the functionality of the browser.

Opera Browser

The screenshots below is from Opera 10.53 accessing: http://בײַשפּיל.טעסט (this is the Yiddish version of the ICANN wiki and the address means “example.test” in English).

The Opera browser supports the “example.test” names either directly, or after updating as described in a separate article on the Opera Browser: http://idn.icann.org/Opera_Information

As is noticed in the above, the address in the Hebrew script displayed as http://xn--fdbk5d8ap9b8a8d.xn--deba0ad/הויפּט_זײַט – in order have it displayed as: http://בײַשפּיל.טעסט updates need to be made.

Another example where Opera is supporting the IDNs directly is displayed below, which is the Chinese version of “example.test” – i.e. http://例子.测试/首页

Are you using a different browser than those examples provided here?

Please try things out either live under any of the IDNs that are available, or in the IDN wiki at http://idn.icann.org and let us know how this works for you. The IDN wiki also contains a lot of additional information related to fonts etc. Please feel free to add and share your IDN expertise and experiences on the wiki.

The next IDN topic blog post will be on IDN & Security. Meanwhile, please make sure to let us know any topics you would like to see covered.

Internationalization of the internet means that the internet is equally accessible from all languages and scripts

More information about IDNs can be found at: http://www.icann.org/en/topics/idn/

Tina Dam