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History of the Domain Name

Before the World Wide Web

The ubiquitous domain name system (DNS) has its roots almost as early as the Internet itself. As the early Internet grew through the 1970s with the advent of email and newsgroups, the problem of locating computers on connected networks also grew. In 1972, IANA, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority was created by the U.S. Defense Department agency responsible for the Internet to assign a unique number to each computer in its network. By 1973, the TCP/IP network technology became the widely adopted communication protocol for locating and connecting to computers and was the de facto standard among many other competing choices at the time.

In a key milestone in domain name history, the University of Wisconsin developed and helped to standardize the first name server in 1984, which converted the familiar domain names into these unique numbers. In 1985, top-level domain names, .com, .net, were organized, and the first domain name,, was registered to a now-defunct computer hardware manufacturer. With these two milestones in domain name history, the modern Internet era was born.

The World Wide Web

As early as 1990, commercial uses for the Internet became widely available. Coinciding with the release of the World Wide Web in 1991, the first service provider in domain name history emerged to run domain name servers and registrations. At first and up until 1995, the National Science Foundation (NSF) subsidized the cost of registering these names to help speed adoption, but in 1992, InterNIC, a public-private partnership was created by IANA and the NSF to run scalable commercial offerings. This milestone in domain name history unleashed the capacity of domain names even further and led to exponential adoption of domain names and registrations by many new businesses, educational institutions, and organizations.

In a series of developments in domain name history through the late 1990s, the U.S. Department of Commerce began to transition all registration of domain names and Internet addresses to private entities. In 1998, the non-profit Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was formed as a collaboration between all important stakeholders including many from around the world. Under ICANN’s direction, the cost of Internet domain name registration has decreased greatly and competition for name registration has driven prices down substantially. Obtaining a domain name at an affordable price from a large number of registrars is easier than ever.

Twenty-First Century DNS

The Internet boom of the 1990s and later growth into the 21st century led to the registration of over 196 million domain names by 2010. Though once a small research project involving mostly English speakers, several milestones in domain name history have lifted technical limitations of domain names.

For instance, as early as 1999, ICANN began the process of adopting technical standards which increased the flexibility of registering domain names for languages like Chinese and Arabic which either use non-Latin scripts or are presented right-to-left. The earliest implementation of these so-called internationalized domain names was seen ten years later.

In domain name history, there have been several new top-level domains including .aero in 2000 and .travel and .jobs by 2005. Even the controversial .xxx domain name became available a few years later. In 2010, ICANN put into motion a set of technical recommendations and proof-of-concepts that would essentially fast track even more generic top-level domain names, yet another milestone in domain name history that will certainly see the rise of even more domain names into the 21st century.

[Image credit: MySpaceAntics]

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2 Responses to “History of the Domain Name”

  1. Vlastimil says:

    Really good written article. What do you think, for what kind of projects does .pro domain fits? Regards, Vlastimil

  2. Drew Jure says:

    This is a marvelous post. Thank you for taking a few minutes to explain this all out for all of us. It really is a great guide!

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