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Overview of ICANN Managed Root Servers and Other Root Server Instances in Africa

21 December 2023

The root server system (RSS) is a critical component of the Internet, consisting of a set of Domain Name System (DNS) root servers deployed across the world. The DNS serves as the address book of the Internet, allowing users to use a domain name instead of an Internet Protocol (IP) address, a series of numbers that digital devices use to connect to each other. For example, DNS will translate www.icann.org into its IPv4 ( or IPv6 (2001:500:88:200::7) addresses. When the DNS is queried, it performs a hierarchical resolution of domain names into IP addresses starting from these root servers.

There are 13 root server identifiers historically labeled from a to m.root-servers.net, operated by 12 independent organizations known as root server operators (RSOs) listed here. For example, l.root-servers.net, known today as the ICANN Managed Root Server, (IMRS) is the root server that ICANN manages. This blog explores statistics that highlight the current deployment of root server instances across Africa.

As of November 2023, the RSOs' website reported more than 1,700 instances deployed at over 1,500 locations ( sites) across the world. This represents a 12 percent annual growth rate compared to 2022. More than 150 of those sites are located in Africa, which represents a 36 percent growth over the last 12 months.

The root servers managed by the NASA Ames Research Center (e.root-servers.net) and University of Maryland (d.root-servers.net) are the most deployed root servers in the region, with 54 and 43 locations respectively; followed by Internet Systems Consortium (f.root-servers.net), which is present at 29 locations. IMRS instances are deployed at 15 locations. The second root server operated by Verisign (j.root-servers.net) is present at eight sites. Netnod manages the i.root-servers.net that is present at three sites; while the root server k.root-servers.net, which the Réseaux IP Européens Network Coordination Centre (RIPE NCC) operates, is deployed at two locations. Finally, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory manages the h.root-servers.net deployed at one location. There are no instances of a.root-servers.net (Verisign), b.root-servers.net (Information Sciences Institute), c.root-servers.net (Cogent Communications), g.root-servers.net (Defense Information Systems Agency) or m.root-servers.net (WIDE Project) currently deployed in Africa.

Three countries have the highest number of root server instances in Africa: South Africa (23), Tanzania (10), and Kenya (9). These countries are known to be part of the most diversified and active Internet infrastructure in the region. However, traffic-based classification may be different because of various factors such as hardware capacity, type (local vs global), and route advertisement of the instances. For example, some instances are more powerful; able to process more traffic and serve a large number of operators. That is the case of the two recent IMRS deployments conducted as part of the Coalition for Digital Africa initiative.

In October 2022, 19 countries in Africa had no root server instances at all. Yet, by November 2023, that number has been reduced to 14. Chad, Congo, Egypt, Guinea, and Zambia now have operational root server instances, most for the first time. Having zero instances in a country doesn't mean that the connectivity to root servers from that country is bad because some are configured to serve an entire region. However, hosting an instance within a country helps to improve the security, stability, and resiliency of the Internet's DNS infrastructure in that country, territory, or region.

In general, each RSO defines its strategy and technical requirements for deployment of instances. The ICANN engagement teams have long encouraged operators in Africa to host root server instances. Three operators in Burkina Faso, Congo, and Madagascar are now in the process of hosting an IMRS instance.

The RSS is a complex subject with its own terminology. To learn more about this system and the pivotal role it plays in our day-to-day interaction with the Internet, I strongly recommend reviewing the following documents, graphics, and videos:

  • Infographic: "Understanding the Internet's Root Server System"
  • Learn root server vocabulary by reviewing, "RSSAC lexicon," RSSAC026v2
  • Take the technical course, "Introduction to the Root Server System" at ICANN Learn
  • Read Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) publications related to the root server system:
    • Patterns in Queries Sent to Root Servers, OCTO-020
    • DNS Root Service Operations, OCTO-021
    • Round-Trip Times Between Resolvers and IMRS, OCTO-036
    • IMRS Instance Placement Study, OCTO-018
    • ICANN's Root Name Service Strategy and Implementation, OCTO-016

If you represent an organization that's interested in hosting an IMRS instance, more information is available here and here. If you're interested to learn more and contribute as a volunteer, follow the ICANN Root Server System Advisory Committee. Or, if you meet the requirements described in this page, consider applying to join the RSSAC Caucus.


Yazid Akanho

Yazid Akanho

Technical Engagement Sr. Specialist