Alternative DNS root
The Internet uses the Domain Name System (DNS) to associate numeric computer IP addresses with human readable names. The top level of the domain name hierarchy, the DNS root, contains the top-level domains that appear as the suffixes of all Internet domain names. The most widely used (and first) DNS root is administered by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). In addition, several organizations operate alternative DNS roots, often referred to as alt roots. These alternative domain name systems operate their own root nameservers and administer their own specific name spaces consisting of custom top-level domains.
The DNS root zone consists of pointers to the authoritative domain name servers for all TLDs (top-level domains). The root zone is hosted on a collection of root servers operated by several organizations around the world that all use a specific, approved list of domains that is managed by ICANN. By contrast, alternative roots typically include pointers to all of the TLD servers for domains delegated by ICANN, as well as name servers for other, custom top-level domains that are not sanctioned by ICANN. Some alternate roots are operated by the organizations that manage these alternative TLDs.
Zach Bastick proposes that alternative DNS roots have allowed for more democratic control of the Internet:
"The implementation of alternative gTLDs predates any significant debate on name space extension by official actors, and this exemplifies how democratising the DNS alters the pace of developing Internet policy, the nature of decisions that justify that policy development, and political dynamics and user autonomy in the network infrastructure." (p.103)
Alternative DNS providers
Besides specific configuration in one's DNS resolver, Alternative DNS root-hosted domains are generally unreachable to the majority of the Internet, and very few Internet service providers have this configuration.
Since June 1, 2000, OpenNIC advocates a democratically governed alternative domain name system (e.g. .bbs, .dyn, .free, .geek, .indy, .opennic.glue).
OpenNIC DNS servers are able to resolve all existing ICANN top-level domains, and provides resolution of select other alternative DNS roots (se below).
Namecoin supports the alternative top level domain .bit. The alternative domain .bit is resolved using a centralized server which bridges DNS and Namecoin, meaning that users do not benefit from Namecoin's decentralized and secure nature. Its resolution is also provided by OpenNIC.
Blockstack is a decentralized DNS system on top of the Bitcoin blockchain. It combines DNS functionality with public key infrastructure, and is primarily meant to be used by new blockchain applications.
The alternative DNS root New Nations provides .ko (Kosovo), .ku (Kurdish people), .te (Tamil Eelam), .ti (Tibet), and .uu (Uyghur people). Domain name resolution is also provided by an peering agreement with OpenNIC.
eDNS (Enhanced Domain Name Service) was founded by a coalition of ISPs led by Karl Denninger of the Chicago-area MCSNet. It ceased operation in 1998. It served the following domains: biz (general business use), corp (corporations), fam (for and about family), k12 (for and about children), npo (non-profit organizations), per (personal domains), web (web-based sites, Web pages).
One of the notable challengers to ICANN's control of the DNS namespace was Open RSC (Open Root Server Confederation), a group that grew out of private discussions and developed into a public mailing list. It grew large enough that the group decided to submit an application to the United States government to run the DNS.
ORSC publishes a root zone containing additional top level domains not found in the ICANN root zone.
Microsoft offered the RealNames service on its Internet Explorer browser address bar. RealNames, to users of Internet Explorer, was in effect a domain registry. RealNames shut down operations in 2002 following a decision by Microsoft to redirect the 1 billion page views per calendar quarter that RealNames was resolving from the browser address bar into its MSN search engine.
- RFC 2826 (informational), IAB Technical Comment on the Unique DNS Root, Internet Architecture Board, The Internet Society (May 2000), Quote: "There is no getting away from the unique root of the public DNS." (page 5)
- Bastick, Zach (2012). "Our Internet and Freedom of Speech 'Hobbled by History': Introducing Plural Control Structures Needed to Redress a Decade of Linear Policy" (PDF). European Commission: European Journal of ePractice. Policy lessons from a decade of eGovernment, eHealth & eInclusion (15): 97–111.
- Rodger, Will (February 1997). "Schism hits Domain Name System". Inter@ctive Week. 4 (5). Retrieved 2013-01-05.
- "Rogue domains revolt". CNET. 1997-03-04. Retrieved 2013-01-06.
- "ORSC proposal of 8 October 1998". Ntia.doc.gov. Archived from the original on 9 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-06.
- "ORSC bylaws". Ntia.doc.gov. Archived from the original on 21 October 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-06.
- "ORSC articles of incorporation". Ntia.doc.gov. Archived from the original on 9 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-06.
- "NTIA Reviewing ICANN November 6 Submission". Ntia.doc.gov. Archived from the original on 8 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-06.