- Human-meaningful: Meaningfulness and memorability to the users.
- Decentralized: No need of a centralized authority for determining the meaning of a name.
- Secure: There is one, unique and specific entity to which the name applies.
Zooko Wilcox-O'Hearn conjectured that no single kind of name can achieve more than two. For example: DNSSec, offers a secure, human-meaningful naming scheme, but is not decentralized; .onion addresses and bitcoin addresses, are secure and decentralized but not human-meaningful; and I2P, uses name translation services which are decentralized and provide human-meaningful names - but relies on trusting third parties.
Several systems which exhibit all three properties of Zooko's triangle have now been created, including:
- Computer scientist Nick Szabo' s "Secure Property Titles with Owner Authority" paper illustrated that all three properties can be achieved up to the limits of Byzantine fault tolerance.
- Activist Aaron Swartz described a naming system based on Bitcoin employing Bitcoin's distributed blockchain as a proof-of-work to establish consensus of domain name ownership. These systems remain vulnerable to sybil attacks, but are secure under Byzantine assumptions. Namecoin now implements the concept.
- Zooko Wilcox-O'Hearn. "Names: Decentralized, Secure, Human-Meaningful: Choose Two". Archived from the original on 2001-10-20.
- Nick Szabo, Secure Property Titles, 1998
- Aaron Swartz, Squaring the Triangle: Secure, Decentralized, Human-Readable Names, Aaron Swartz, January 6, 2011
- Dan Kaminsky, Spelunking the Triangle: Exploring Aaron Swartz’s Take On Zooko’s Triangle, January 13, 2011
- Monero core team (2014-09-19). "OpenAlias". Retrieved 2015-02-03.
- Zooko Wilcox-O'Hearn, Names: Decentralized, Secure, Human-Meaningful: Choose Two – the essay highlighting this difficulty
- Marc Stiegler, An Introduction to Petname Systems – a clear introduction
- Nick Szabo, Secure Property Titles – argues that all three properties can be achieved up to the limits of Byzantine fault tolerance.
- Bob Wyman, The Persistence of Identity: Updating Zooko's Pyramid
- Paul Crowley, Squaring Zooko's Triangle
- Aaron Swartz, Squaring the Triangle using a technique from Bitcoin