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The lives of country code domains

ICANN made a little piece of history in three countries a few days ago when it approved the delegation of the .KP domain for North Korea, the .RS domain for Serbia, and the .ME domain for Montenegro. For the former it marks a further step in their efforts to connect their country to the Internet. For the latter, it gives these two new countries the ability to shrug off their historical designation of .YU, and use something that better reflects their countries on the net.

With the transition of Serbia and Montenegro to using .RS and .ME comes the task of migrating users from the .YU domain. As we have talked about before, ICANN uses an international standard for determining country codes for use on the Internet. This standard, known as ISO 3166-1, indicates when new countries codes are created, changed or removed. As Yugoslavia, the predecessor country to Serbia and Montenegro, is now a piece of history – so too is its YU country code.

Recognising the need to transition from the .YU domain, the new operators of .RS and .ME have proposed a transition plan that will see .YU registrants having some time to arrange for their replacement domains in their new country. After this transition is complete, the .YU domain will be decommissioned. It is envisaged this transfer will take a couple of years, and ICANN will monitor the progress to ensure everything is on track.

“But—”, you may ask, “I have been reading in the media lately that the Soviet Union’s .SU domain still exists. Why is that?”

Traditionally when country codes have been retired, it has been left to their local Internet communities to determine the most appropriate way to arrange for a transition. This is in line with the general principle that country code domains are operated within countries for their local Internet community, in the way that best serves them. As such, domains like .ZR (Zaire) have been retired, and the transition from .TP (Portuguese Timor) to .TL (Timor Leste) is progressing.

We recognize though that the .SU community has had difficulty reaching agreement on how best to transition away from the .SU domain. We have recently been in talks with the .SU operators, helping them identify their options so that their community can decide the best approach. Our major concern is that registrants are not aware of the caveats associated with registering in .SU given that it is marked for retirement. This lack of understanding was underscored by a number of responses we received during a public consultation we conducted late last year. We have urged the current .SU operators to make it clear to the .SU registrants the issues surrounding the domain, as well as to freeze new registrations until its future is clear.

To retain .SU, under current policy they would need to successfully apply for the code to be re-instated into the ISO 3166-1 standard, either as a regular two-letter country code, or as an “exceptionally reserved” code like UK and EU. (ICANN permits uses of codes that have been exceptionally reserved by ISO in certain circumstances.)

This standard is administered by ISO under guidance from the UN, not by us. ICANN believes it should not be in a position of deciding what is, or is not, a country. This is why we rely on an independent third party standard.

There are other issues that will need to be addressed for .SU to be a viable ccTLD designation, but recognition by the appropriate standard is a prerequisite.

If .SU is not retained by meeting these policy criteria, the domain needs to be transitioned into retirement. For .SU users, this would either mean migrating to its successor domains like .RU and .UA, or applying to ICANN for a replacement new generic top-level domain. This could be similar to domains like “.CAT” that was created for the Catalan-speaking community. These domains are not two-letter ISO 3166-1 codes, and therefore do not need to align with existing countries in the same way country codes do.


    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."