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Making Progress on Internationalized Domain Names

30 October 2014
By Nigel Hickson and Sally Shipman Wentworth

In addition to the U.N. six languages, this content is also available in


Last week, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Plenipotentiary Conference in Busan, South Korea revisited the Role of administrations of Member States in the management of internationalized (multilingual) domain names, which is formally known as ITU Resolution 133 [PDF, 262 KB] (Guadalajara, 2010). The discussion primarily focused on how to update Resolution 133 and evaluate the progress made since 2010.

This examination provides us with a timely opportunity to share data about the considerable progress made to deploy Internationalized Domain Names in the Domain Name System (DNS) root zone.

Until 2010, top-level domains were still limited to a subset of the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) characters used for alphabetic letters, digits, and the hyphen. While second-level (and beyond) labels could use non-ASCII since 2003, the restriction remained in place for top-level domains while the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and others completed their work creating an updated, robust, globally implementable Internationalized Domain Names in Applications (IDNA) standard that would enable billions of new Internet users to access the Internet in their local language script. That work finally saw publication in 2010. Russ Housley, Chair of the IAB and former Chair of the IETF, wrote about the IETF IDNA standards process here [PDF, 300 KB]. ICANN then proceeded carefully, in an open but deliberate way that is part of the Internet tradition of developing standards, to deploy internationalized top-level domains, first with country codes top-level domains, then with new generic top-level domains.

Once all the technical details were sorted out, what progress was made? The simple answer is, quite a lot!

  1. Today, 43 IDN country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) and 35 IDN generic top-level domains (gTLDs) are listed in the root.
  2. Through ICANN's new gTLD program, an additional 50 or more names are expected to be delegated in the next 12 months.
  3. This growth includes over 800,000 Cyrillic script IDNs registered under the IDN ccTLD рф; 750,000 Han script IDN ccTLDs under 中国/中國 and 台湾/台灣 and 12,000 under Arabic script ccTLDs. More examples can be found in the World Report on Internationalized Domain Names 2014, available at:http://www.eurid.eu/files/publ/IDNWorldReport2014_Interactive.pdf [PDF, 6.19 MB]
  4. ICANN is actively working to promote participation from the community in forming Generation Panels for 28 scripts. These scripts are used to write the contemporary languages of the world and develop a script based Label Generation Ruleset (LGR). The LGR will be used to check the validity of TLD labels and generate any variant labels. Generation Panels still need to be formed for many scripts including: Cyrillic, Greek, Gujarati, Japanese, Korean, Latin, Sinhala, Tamil, Thai and others.
  5. The current technology continues to pose challenges for the use of IDNs, as the technology was primarily designed around the limited use of ASCII characters. ICANN has launched an initiative for universal acceptance of IDNs, which works to bring stakeholders together to promote technologies that support IDNs, including internationalized email addresses.

But what do these improvements mean in practice? By December 2013, there were over 6 million IDN domain names; which represents over 2% of the total number of domain names. This translates into a 215% growth in the last five years, an impressive increase in a short period of time.

While these numbers represent significant progress, there is still more work to be done to ensure people around the world can access the Internet in their local language. As the Internet continues to grow and more local content is created, the use of IDNs will also grow. It is important that users have choices in their language, which are operable across different technologies.

We are committed to making that a reality.

Help set the standards for your language and script by volunteering to establish and participate in a panel now. Email us at idntlds@icann.org to learn more.


Nigel Hickson

Sally Shipman Wentworth