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Signposts in Cyberspace: The Domain Name System and Internet Navigation
the numerical addresses employed by its routing computers. They are the valued, often valuable, and often user-friendly names on the signposts that designate many things connected to the Internet. Consequently, which names are available, who controls their allocation, what is charged for their use, how their uses are managed, and the answers to many related questions are important to virtually everyone who uses the Internet, whether as information seeker or provider.
Overall, the DNS’s technical system and institutional framework have performed reliably and effectively during the two decades of the DNS’s existence. The DNS has coped with the extremely rapid expansion of Internet usage driven by the wide deployment of the World Wide Web in the 1990s and the widespread adoption of e-mail. The hierarchical, distributed structure of the DNS technical system, operated collaboratively by a group of mostly autonomous organizations, has proven to be scalable, reliable, secure, and efficient.
The DNS technical system can continue to meet the needs of an expanding Internet. Early in the committee’s assessment it became apparent that it would not be fruitful to consider alternate naming systems. As noted, the DNS operates quite well for its intended purpose and has demonstrated its ability to scale with the growth of the Internet and to operate robustly in an open environment. Moreover, significantly increased functionality can be achieved though applications—such as navigation systems—built on the DNS, or offered independently, rather than through changing the DNS directly. Hence, the need did not seem to be to replace the DNS, but rather to maintain and incrementally improve it. Furthermore, given the rapidly increasing installed base and the corresponding heavy investments in the technical system and the institutional framework, the financial cost and operational disruption of replacing the DNS would be extremely high, if even possible at all.
However, the continued successful operation of the DNS is not assured; many forces, driven by a variety of factors, are challenging the DNS’s future. Required and desirable technologies to increase security and enable the use of non-Roman scripts for domain names are not being incorporated into the technical system as quickly as many would like. There are persistent and substantial controversies concerning the structure and policies of the DNS’s institutional framework. Moreover, there have been many efforts to use the DNS, because it exists and is so widely deployed, for many purposes for which it may not be appropriate. In addition, national legislation and court decisions are addressing Internet and domain name issues with potentially conflicting consequences for the operation of the DNS.