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Abkhazia, Kosovo, South Ossetia, Transnistria… My oh my.

Every year there are new world events that see possible border changes and a restructure to the way the world’s countries and territories are configured. Think back to 50 years ago, and the world’s map was very different. There are literally a hundred countries that exist today that did not exist a hundred years ago. I wonder what country code the Ottoman Empire would have?

As these events occur, ICANN invariably receives requests to recognise new sovereign entities. In some cases we see very inaccurate press reports by “experts” on how country codes will be assigned. Thankfully, we have a very clear process for this that it is worth repeating.

I said in a blog post a couple of years ago the following:

Another thing ICANN is not involved in is deciding the actual codes, or what constitutes a country eligible for a code. Valid country codes are defined by the ISO 3166-1 standard, which is used internationally not just for domain names — but for physical mail routing, currency codes, and more. The ISO 3166 Maintenance Agency is responsible for keeping the list of codes up to date, taking advice from the United Nations Statistics Office on what constitutes a country eligible for a country code.

By ensuring ICANN is not tasked with deciding what country codes are valid, ICANN can focus its coordination role by ensuring the country-code domains in the DNS root zone match those allowed by the ISO standard. When new countries are formed, new ISO codes are created, and ultimately they can be added as new country code domains. Similarly, countries disappear, their codes are revoked, and they are retired from the DNS root zone.

It is as true today as it was when this policy was introduced in the mid-1980s. We have a more formal description up online, but fundamentally recognition of a new entity that might be granted a country code originates with recognition by the United Nations. Once that occurs, it will kick off a chain of events that will see a new two letter code added to the ISO 3166-1 standard. Once it is in that standard, IANA will accept applications from suitably qualified candidates to operate the country code domain (see our delegation process described here).

This is what happened most recently in the case of Montenegro. In June 2006 it declared independence, was recognised by the United Nations, and added to the ISO 3166-1 standard in September 2006. Some time after this, the Government of Montenegro approached ICANN for delegation, and once the formal process was concluded, .ME was added to the DNS root zone in September 2007.

As at this time, Abkhazia, Kosovo, Transnistria, Somaliland, South Ossetia and others are not in the ISO 3166-1 standard, so ICANN is not in a position to grant any corresponding country-code domain for them. By strictly adhering to the ISO 3166-1 standard, we ensure that ICANN remains neutral by relying upon a widely recognised and impartial international standard.


    Domain Name System
    Internationalized Domain Name ,IDN,"IDNs are domain names that include characters used in the local representation of languages that are not written with the twenty-six letters of the basic Latin alphabet ""a-z"". 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. Many languages also use other types of digits than the European ""0-9"". The basic Latin alphabet together with the European-Arabic digits are, for the purpose of domain names, termed ""ASCII characters"" (ASCII = American Standard Code for Information Interchange). These are also included in the broader range of ""Unicode characters"" that provides the basis for IDNs. The ""hostname rule"" requires that all domain names of the type under consideration here are stored in the DNS using only the ASCII characters listed above, with the one further addition of the hyphen ""-"". The Unicode form of an IDN therefore requires special encoding before it is entered into the DNS. The following terminology is used when distinguishing between these forms: A domain name consists of a series of ""labels"" (separated by ""dots""). The ASCII form of an IDN label is termed an ""A-label"". All operations defined in the DNS protocol use A-labels exclusively. The Unicode form, which a user expects to be displayed, is termed a ""U-label"". The difference may be illustrated with the Hindi word for ""test"" — परीका — appearing here as a U-label would (in the Devanagari script). A special form of ""ASCII compatible encoding"" (abbreviated ACE) is applied to this to produce the corresponding A-label: xn--11b5bs1di. A domain name that only includes ASCII letters, digits, and hyphens is termed an ""LDH label"". Although the definitions of A-labels and LDH-labels overlap, a name consisting exclusively of LDH labels, such as"""" is not an IDN."