The Internet Corporation for Assigned Name and Numbers, or ICANN, coordinates the domain name system globally. ICANN was created in 1998 to perform various Internet administrative tasks previously done by a range of bodies including universities, private companies and the U.S. government. These tasks involve ensuring the domain name system functions properly and that individuals and companies can easily obtain and use domain names for their lawful purposes. We asked Jason Keenan, Media Advisor with ICANN, how it all works.
PeC: How is it that someone located in, say, Asia types Practicalecommerce.com in a web browser and our site appears?
Keenan: Well, your website resides on a specific computer that is attached to the Internet. That computer is automatically assigned a unique number, called an Internet Protocol or IP address. Someone in Asia, or anywhere else, could type your IP address in the browser and your site would appear. But, the fact is that Practicalecommerce.com is easier to remember and communicate than, say, 126.96.36.199.
PeC: So I could tell someone my IP address instead of our domain name and that person could access our website.
Keenan: Yes, but why would you? It’s hard to remember. And many people want their domain name to brand their business – so they would want to use the name, not the numbers.
PeC: Who decided all of this?
Keenan: That’s a long story – but basically the Domain Name System (DNS) came out of research funded by the U.S. Government more than 35 years ago. A great place to get some of that background is the U.S. Government’s White Paper on the domain name system from 1998.
PeC: How does ICANN fit into the system?
Keenan: That White Paper recommended the U.S. Government get out of running the DNS. The Internet community agreed that it needed a coordinating body for the Domain Name System in order to keep it working as the Internet exploded, and the community worked with the US government to form ICANN.
PeC: Many consumers associate companies such as Go Daddy and Network Solutions as places to obtain a domain name. How do these type of companies fit into it all?
Keenan: Go Daddy, Network Solutions and more than 900 other companies are called ICANN-Accredited Registrars. They each have a contract with ICANN which allows them to register domain names for the general public. The contract lays out the rules for this – and they are audited by ICANN. The competition among these firms has helped create low prices and a huge range of services and options that we all benefit from, and which was the intent of the Department of Commerce when it allowed multiple registrars in the late 1990s.
This is the first in a series of interviews with officials from ICANN. Future interviews will discuss top-level domains (.com, .net) and future IP address changes.