Mar 112001
 
Part of the Deciphering Domains Series - Previous in series         

The Bottom Line There is more than one DNS system out there and this article takes a look at the true alternative domain resources.

All of the other articles in this series have made statements based on the TLDs approved by ICANN. For the vast majority of internet users these are the only TLDs they will ever encounter. However, there are alternatives out there. This article will examine these alternatives.

DNS and You

DNS servers are essentially computers attached to the internet that store directories connecting domain names (such as http://www.philaahzophy.com) to IP addresses (such as 238.18.56.129) which are essentially uniques addresses for each computer connected to the internet. ICANN is the organization that maintains these DNS servers and is responsible for approving the standardized systems that makes the internet truly global.

You are able to find your way around the internet largely thanks to the DNS (Domain Name System) server used by your ISP. You have little to no control over which DNS servers your ISP uses, but this generally doesn’t matter as most use one of the 13 root DNS servers approved and maintained (to at least some degree) by ICANN. All of these share the same information on which domain names direct you to which IP addresses. Of course, this does limit you to the TLDs approved by ICANN (currently the seven gTLDs and the 237 ccTLDs).

If you were to enter the URL http://abc.news into your web browser you would receive a message stating that “The page cannot be displayed” or something similar.
This is because ICANN has not yet approved the .news TLD. In fact, they aren’t even considering it at this time. However, I assure you that not only is there a web page there, but it is possible to access it. You simply need to use an alternative DNS system.

Alternative DNS Background

Since the creation of the internet debates have raged over which TLDs to permit (or even whether or not these should be limited). The TLDs that are now considered standard (.com, .net, etc) quickly gained dominance, but have never had universal acceptance. There have always been nay-sayers and rebels who have wanted to do things there own way and one of the most glorious things about the internet is that this is possible. Hence, the alternative DNS systems.

Alternative DNS servers are created and maintained by individuals or companies interested in expanding the number of TLDs available to internet users. Almost all alternative DNS servers contain the same information available in ICANN approved root servers, but also contain information for additional TLDs.

How Alternative DNS Works

Essentially, to use an alternative DNS system you must change which DNS servers your computer looks to when resolving domain names. There are two ways to do this:

1)Convince your ISP to use use the alternative DNS you are interested in.

2)Download software from the DNS home page that will redirect your browser to the appropriate DNS servers.

Benefits

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

The primary benefit of using alternative DNS servers is the wider selection of Top Level Domains. Depending on which alternative DNS you select, you will be offered between four and 550 new TLDs. In fact one alternative DNS (Name.Space) allows anyone to create their own TLD at will.

With the internet ‘land’ rush of recent years many prime domain names have already been registered. Using the TLDs available through alternative DNS systems allows greater opportunity for registering an easy to remember domain name.

The Cool Factor

If you’re interested in being truly cutting edge, then alternative DNS servers may be just the thing for you. Just imagine how awed your friends will be when you’re the first geek on your node to host your website at http://music.mp3 or http://porn.xxx

Fight The Power

If you just have to rebel, then perhaps this is the way to do it. ICANN has been accused of being far too authoritarian by the majority of alternative DNS operators. It’s power comes largely from the power of the United States government and many people feel the internet should be free of these government controls.

The Next Big Thing

Frustrated that someone received more than $7.5 million for business.com when you never really had a chance to register it yourself? Many people are grabbing up domains from alternative DNS providers in hopes that these TLDs will one day become mainstream and they’ll be sitting (or rather cybersquatting) on the next big internet gold mine.

Drawbacks

Lack Of Awareness

The biggest drawback to these domains is that few people are even aware that they exist, much less how to access them. It’s taken several years to get people to know that when the see www.coke.com it’s a web address they can type into their browsers. With alternative DNS systems people need to actually download software or lobby their ISPs in order to get access. This is highly unlikely at this point in time.

Limited Hosting Options

Most web hosting companies are not set-up to host alternative TLDs. Thus, you are very limited in choosing a web hosting company for your site. Most alternative DNS providers offer hosting services as well as providing a list of 1 to 3 companies that can host your site.

Choosing Which Alternative

There are dozens of alternative DNS systems available. Unfortunately, your computer can only point to one of them. So, while if you go with a domainisland TLD, you will still be able to access all of the ICANN domains, you won’t be able to access any from Name.Space or biztld.

There are a few organizations working to unify the alternative DNS systems, but this is a tough road to travel since each is generally created by people who prefer to work outside the system. Not to mention that several TLDs are available on more than one alternative DNS system which leads to…

Always The Alternative

The way things have progressed over the last decade or so makes it seem far more likely that these alternative DNS systems will never be mainstreamed. Most of the new TLDs being considered by ICANN for implementation into the traditional DNS system already exist in alternative DNS systems. However, when ICANN finally approves the new TLDs the peopl who currently have them registered at the alternative DNS sites are unlikely to have any claim to the new “official” ones.

There are still legal questions being debated on this very topic, but I’d be very surprised if prior registration with an alternative DNS held any weight.

Domain Conflicts

If you register the domain Record.Shop at new.net and I register the domain Record.Shop at domainisland, we will both have websites with the same name “Record.Shop”. Which of our sites will come up when an end user types http://record.shop into his browser? That depends on which DNS system he’s currently pointed at.

So this means your advertising will have to say something like:

“Visit our website at Record.Shop on the New.Net DNS system.”

So much for simplicity.

Alternative DNS Systems

There are currently dozens of alternative DNS systems available. While I have not actually registered a domain with any of these alternative DNS systems I have spent a fair amount of time examining all of those listed below and have downloaded their software to connect to their DNS servers. With that disclaimer out of the way, here is a list of the best known alternative DNS providers:

Pacific Root – http://www.pacificroot.com

Pacific Root is currently the best attempt at replacing ICANN as a governing body. They offer dozens of alternative TLDs themselves and have joined with dozens of other DNS systems to provide even more alternative TLDs.
Pacific Root is also a large part of the Open Root Server Confederation (ORSC) which is the closest thing to an overall organization the alternative DNS servers have. (More on the ORSC in a future article)

Domain registration starts at only $5.00/year and they offer hosting services as well.

To use their domains you must either download a 46.5k zip file (PC only) or follow the directions on their site.

Name.Space – http://www.namespace.org

Name.Space offers more than 250 TLDs from .2000 to .zone and allows you to create your own TLD if you can’t find one you like in their extensive list.

Domain registration costs $30.00 per year and includes free URL forwarding and email forwarding. If you host your site with Name.Space they will also mirror your site at yourdomain.yourTLD.XS2.net

In order to connect to their DNS servers you must download a 80.1k zip file (available for Mac & Windows) or by following the simple steps on their website.

DomainIsland – http://www.domainisland.com

DomainIsland offers registration of domains in 7,000 different languages (using the appropriate character set) and a dozen different TLDs in English including such esoteric options as .(^o^) and .:-)

Domain registration prices range from $10/year to $199/year depending on the domain you’re interested in with a minimum registration period of two years. They also offer multilingual KeyWord service for $100/year per word (minimum $200).

In order to connect to their DNS servers you must download their 20k zip file or follow the instructions on their site.

New.Net – http://new.net

New.net offers 20 different TLDs including such popular options as .shop, .kids, and .xxx.

Domain registration is $25/year and includes a mirrored domain at yourdomain.yourTLD.new.net

According to the site you merely need to make one click to download their self-installing applet in order to use their DNS servers. However, I have yet to get it to work.

Conclusions

While alternatives to the traditional, ICANN-controlled DNS system do exist, they aren’t really viable at this time. For most people registering a domain with these alternative DNS companies will simply be like throwing money down a hole. And none of them offer any type of refund should you not clearly understand what you’re getting into. If you’re really interested in using an alternative DNS system I recommend you do plenty of research first, so that you clearly understand what is and is not possible with these companies.

Part of the Deciphering Domains Series - Previous in series        

  One Response to “The Rebel Domains”

  1. Thanks for that well outlined description of the situation. Hope springs eternal I guess!

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