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The November 20 “Internet Names, Numbers, and Beyond” conference was chaired
Brian Kahin, a Harvard-based academic who had been advising the government on Internet
commercialization since the inception of the NSFNET. The event was organized as a series
of panels, featuring Mockapetris, Rutkowski, St. Johns, Postel, Mike Roberts, Landweber,
and Paul Vixie, who was the lead author of the DNS resolution software used by nearly every
ISP in the world. Some other participants were less familiar to the Internet community, but
in most cases it made sense for them to be there, especially Bob Frank, co-chair of the
International Trademark Association’s Internet Task Force, and Mike Corbett, the FCC’s
specialist on the management of the toll free 800 and 888 zones. The audience was full of
outspoken luminaries including Vint Cerf, David Johnson, Carl Malamud, and Elise Gerich,
plus the managers of Asia’s and Europe’s IP registries, David Conrad and Daniel Karrenberg.
During the course of the day, Vixie, St. Johns, Roberts, and Mockapetris advocated
various strategies for closing .com. Rutkowski objected. Dave Graves and the others in NSI’s
contingent must have been relieved to hear him speak up. Rutkowski played up the fact that
the ITU favored reversion to country codes. (This tainted anyone else who supported the
same strategy.) Moreover, businesses which saw themselves pursuing a global strategy in
a global market wanted to avoid the expense and the extra difficulties registering and names
in every country code. Rutkowski’s arguments apparently influenced Mockapetris, who
switched to a position of “Let the market decide.”
Mockapetris and Vixie were like the bookends of DNS software. Mockapetris had
written the first implementation of a DNS server for the TOPS-20 operating system in 1984,
while still at ISI. He called it “JEEVES,” after the smart butler from the P. G. Wodehouse
tale, “Jeeves and Wooster: Ties that Bind.” Managers at the Digital Equipment Corporation
(DEC) were eager to support development of a UNIX version, believing it would enhance
the market for DEC’s TCP/IP-related hardware. In 1985 the company arranged to have an
employee, Kevin Dunlap, work on the project with a team of graduate students who made
up the technical staff at UC Berkeley’s Computer Systems Research Group, the publishers
of BSD UNIX. The group evidently played on the Wodehouse theme by naming the new
software “Berkeley Internet Name Daemon” – BIND.
Vixie was a relatively young programmer working at DEC’s Palo Alto office in 1988
when he was given responsibility for running the company’s corporate Internet gateway and
about 400 subzones of dec.com. To simplify the task, he undertook a rewrite of the UC
From an interview with Dave Wreski, “Paul Vixie and David Conrad on BINDv9 and Internet
Security,” LinuxSecurity October 3, 2002, http://www.linuxsecurity.com/feature_stories/conrad_vixie-1.html.
Paul Vixie, “External Issues in Scalability,”http://ksgwww.harvard.edu/iip/GIIconf/vixie.html.
Berkeley code (which he once described as “sleazy, icky, rotten” and, worst of all,
unstable). He then made his revision publicly available, including source code and an
installation kit as part of the package. It was instantly popular. Vixie’s revisions were so
highly acclaimed that the managers BSD UNIX replaced their version of BIND with his.
DEC subsidized his continuing work on BIND even after he went out on his own in 1993,
providing him with state of the art hardware as he set out to build a new star in the root
server constellation (Hardware contributions came from NSI as well). In short order, Vixie
also received a significant vote of confidence from Postel, who gave him official
responsibility for Root Server F. In 1994, Vixie and Rick Adams of UUNET organized the
Internet Software Consortium (now called the Internet Systems Consortium) to support
Vixie’s work on major upgrades to BIND. As a result of all this activity, Vixie had become
someone to be reckoned with in both the IETF (though he held no formal offices there) and
the North American Network Operators Group (NANOG)
A running theme in Vixie’s discussion at the Harvard conference was the undesirable
effect of “domain envy,” especially the flattening of the namespace. As he saw it, nearly
everyone who wanted a presence on the Web was trying to register in .com because there was
virtually nowhere else to go. He articulated a theme that resonated for years to come: For
the sake of introducing competition, root zone operations needed to be moved from NSI to
the IANA, “where it should have been all along.” And he also insisted on the Internet’s
exceptionalism. Since the DNS namespace was “universal,” he argued, it was “inappropriate
for any regional government to take any kind of leadership role in designing, maintaining,
or funding it.” He wanted to see IANA in charge, under the aegis of ISOC.330
Anticipating that as many as 250,000,000 domain names would eventually be
registered, Vixie believed it was important to start as soon as possible steering new
registrants into a more diverse array of TLDs. He offered different proposals for adding tens
of thousands of TLDs to the root, either by creating short combinations of all the numerals
and all the letters in the English alphabet (excluding known words), or by creating zones such
as .a001, .a002, and soon. One of his metaphors was the concept of “Create license plates,
but not vanity plates.”
Postel opened his panel on a note of bemused exasperation, “Great – more work for
the IANA!” He didn’t hide his disapproval of what had happened at NSI. “The reason we are
here is that something changed and we don’t like it.” As he saw it, the challenge was to
create a competitive environment that would provide good service to consumers. Postel
raised a problem that later became known as the “lock-in” dilemma: An owner of a domain
name would be unlikely to drop a name in one TLD and switch to a name under another
suffix simply because of price differences between the two zones. Switching costs were
simply too high to justify it. His logic echoed Vixie’s concerns about the way “domain envy”
was creating a flat namespace. Because of the fast expansion of the .com registry, it was
important to attract consumers into using new suffixes as soon as reasonably possible. Postel
also adopted elements of Bradner’s and Gilmore’s arguments about the need to create
“multiple registries for each domain” rather than simply create new .com style monopolies.
When Postel announced his .a through .z TLD concept, it struck a chord with Kahin,
who believed that new TLDs should be sold to the highest bidder through an auction. Kahin
thought this would solve a host of funding problems, but most others at the conference
weren’t so sure. If there was any confluence of opinion among them it was that the problem
was not money, but trust. With so much demand for names, one could imagine many
different ways of creating solvent – even lucrative – allocation regimes. Yet there was no
organization that everyone could regard as an impartial but qualified authority. International
participants and quite a few Americans didn’t trust the US Government. Too many others
harbored lingering doubts about ISOC.
Rutkowski was still nominally ISOC’s Executive Director at this time, but he was
backhandedly critical of Landweber’s proposal for an ISOC/IAB joint authority. Rutkowski
took the position that no existing organization was capable of providing the kind of oversight
that should be expected of a global administrative authority. Moreover, the sort of leadership
that could be provided by traditional governments was “vestigial and unnecessary.” Instead,
he wanted to see the “creation of some new kind of alliance” to do the job. Rutkowski touted
his own World Internet Alliance as an organization that could speak for a broad swath of
stakeholders, particularly ISPs, who were the rising forces of Internet commerce.
Furthermore, he argued, the new organization should be incorporated in a way that would
provide “significant immunities” from litigation, either through a special legislative
enactment, or by siting itself in a jurisdiction such as Switzerland where the legal system was
tilted toward providing such immunities.
The fireworks had begun. Not surprisingly, St Johns refused to back down from his
position that the US Government owned the number space and the root of the names space.
Karrenberg shot back, complaining about US imperialism. For many of those who resented
US power, it made sense to put ISPs in charge. Whoever owned the root, the ISP’s servers
made the root the root. It wouldn’t be long before the number of ISPs outside US borders
would exceed the number inside. And that trend would never reverse. With a joint effort, the
world’s ISP operators could anoint a new root altogether. There was no law to stop them
from doing so. ISP operators had real power to change things, presuming they could figure
out a way to coordinate their actions.
But there were problems with this line of reasoning. If ISPs could aspire to lead the
name allocation regime, what about the numbers regime? Putting ISPs in charge of that as
well seemed like a dangerous prospect. It wasn’t hard to imagine that one or two leading ISPs
might end up having the strongest hand regulating the allocation of a resource that all ISPs
had to share. This concern was expressed most strongly by Alison Mankin, who argued that
it would be important to “decouple” the issue of IP numbers from domain names so that each
could be dealt with fairly.
The administrative connection between the names and numbers registries were really
just a vestige of history... a result of Postel’s longstanding technical involvement, as well as
the legacy of funding and operational ties that threaded through the DDN-NIC and InterNIC
years. The whole point of inventing hosts.txt and the DNS was to decouple names from
numbers at a network’s application-level. There was no technical reason to keep the two
IETF Role in DNS Evolution BOF (DNSEVOLV) December 5, 1995. No minutes were published,
but there was evidently a presentation, since lost, by Brian Carpenter.
Randy Bush, Brian Carpenter Jon Postel “Delegation of International Top Level Domains (iTLDs)”
Originally at ftp://rg.net/pub/dnsind/relevant/draft-ymbk-itld-admin-00.txt .Forwarded to the Newdom archives
by Matt Marnell as, “ITLD Draft,” Newdom-iiia January 23, 1996.
technologies joined in a bureaucracy. The pragmatic virtue of unraveling them and pursuing
separate solutions was starting to exert an appeal.
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