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Versions: 00                                                            
Internet Draft                                     John C Klensin
draft-ietf-idn-dunce-00.txt                             AT&T Labs
April 16, 2001
Expires in six months (October 2001)
                   DUNCE: A proposal for a Definitely Unencumbered
                                        New Compatible [ACE] Encoding

Status of this memo

This document is an Internet-Draft and is in full conformance with
all provisions of Section 10 of RFC2026.

Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
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     The list of current Internet-Drafts can be accessed at

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This document describes a transformation method for representing
non-ASCII characters in host name parts in a fashion that is
completely compatible with the current DNS. It is a potential
candidate for an ASCII-Compatible Encoding (ACE) for
internationalized host names, as described in the comparison
document from the IETF IDN Working Group.  This method is based
exclusively on long-established mechanisms for denoting the
positions of characters in tables, but included variations for
compressing that information, also based on long-established

1. Introduction

1.1 Context

There is a strong world-wide desire to use characters other than
plain ASCII in host names. Host names have become the equivalent of
business or product names for many services on the Internet, so
there is a need to make them usable by people whose native scripts
are not representable by ASCII. The requirements for
internationalizing host names are described in the IDN WG's
requirements document, [IDNReq].

The IDN WG's comparison document [IDNComp] describes three potential
main architectures for IDN: arch-1 (just send binary), arch-2 (send
binary or ACE), and arch-3 (just send ACE). DUNCE is an ACE that can
be used with protocols that match arch-2 or arch-3.  It is known as
"dumb ACE" because it does not attempt any particular optimization
of string patterns, relying instead on either names extended to
longer length using DNS extension mechanisms [EDNS] or compression
if length optimization is desired (without optimization, the maximum
effective length of a DUNCE-encoded name would be about 14
characters).  DUNCE specifies an ACE format as specified in ace-1 in
[IDNComp]. Further, it specifies an identifying mechanism for ace-2
in [IDNComp], namely ace-2.1.1 (add hopefully-unique legal tag to
the beginning of the name part).

In formal terms, DUNCE describes a mechanism for specifying
character positions in the ISO/IEC 10646 [ISO10646] coded character
set (whose assignment of characters is synchronized with Unicode
[Unicode3]) and the rules for using that scheme in the DNS. Since it
is a simple method of designating those characters, it probably does
not meet the definition of a "charset" as defined in [IDNReq].

The DUNCE protocol has the following features:

- There is exactly one way to convert internationalized host parts
to and from DUNCE parts. Host name part uniqueness is preserved.

- Host parts that have no international characters are not changed.

- Names using DUNCE have lengths exactly proportionate to the number
of characters (from IS 10646) in the names themselves plus the
introducer tag.  I.e., DUNCE is not dependent on the code positions
in the tables, the relationships of characters in the name, or other
coding factors.

- This specification utilizes the well-known Base64 encoding [MIME]
or the obvious Base 32 variation [RACE] as a means of shortening the
coded strings to permit longer names.

It is important to note that the following sections contain many
normative statements with "MUST" and "MUST NOT". Any implementation
that does not follow these statements exactly is likely to cause
damage to the Internet by creating non-unique representations of
host names.

1.2 Author's Disclaimer

This document was written for the convenience of the IDN WG, in case
(or for the next time) someone suggests that there are no plausible
mechanisms for encoding internationalized names into the DNS which
are unencumbered by any intellectual property rights claims, at
least any plausible one.

The author continues to believe that no DNS-based approach is going
to solve the "IDN" problem as it is perceived by users and company/
enterprise domain name registrants and continues to hold the strong
hypothesis that, if non-DNS solutions are needed, it is probably not
desirable to further complicate the DNS and risk unknown problems
and incompatibilities [DNSROLE].

1.3 Terminology

and "MAY" in this document are to be interpreted as described in RFC
2119 [RFC2119].

Hexadecimal values are shown preceded with an "0x". For example,
"0xa1b5" indicates two octets, 0xa1 followed by 0xb5. Binary values
are shown preceded with an "0b". For example, a nine-bit value might
be shown as "0b101101111".

Examples in this document use the notation from the Unicode Standard
[Unicode3] as well as the ISO 10646 names. For example, the letter
"a" may be represented as either "U+0061" or "LATIN SMALL LETTER A".

DUNCE converts strings with internationalized characters into
strings of US-ASCII that are acceptable as host name parts in
current DNS host naming usage. The former are called "pre-converted"
and the latter are called "post-converted".

The protocol actually contains three variations (three dunces ?):

DUNCE1   Direct encoding, with the result that the maximum length of
         names will be about 14 characters.

DUNCE2   Encoding using Base64 (or Base32, see section 3), with a
         longer maximum name length
DUNCE3   Compression using the <<TBD>> method, with a maximum name
         length that will typically be longer than DUNCE2.

DUNCE1 will, in practice, probably be usable only in conjunction with
extended-length DNS labels.

1.4 IDN summary

Using the terminology in [IDNComp], DUNCE specifies an ACE format as
specified in ace-1. Further, it specifies an identifying mechanism
for ace-2, namely ace-2.1.1 (add hopefully-unique legal tag to the
beginning of the name part).

The length characteristics of DUNCEn are discussed above.  Except
where compression is used, the number of characters in a name that
can be encoded in a DNS label will be invariant with the positions
or scripts from which those characters are derived.

2. Host Part Transformation

According to [STD13], host parts must be case-insensitive, start and
end with a letter or digit, and contain only letters, digits, and
the hyphen character ("-"). This, of course, excludes any
internationalized characters, as well as many other characters in
the ASCII character repertoire. Further, domain name parts must be
63 octets or shorter in length.

2.1 Name tagging

All post-converted name parts that contain internationalized
characters begin with the string "bl--". (Of course, because host
name parts are case-insensitive, this might also be represented as
"Bl--" or "bL--" or "BL--".) The string "bl--" was chosen because it
represents the first two characters of the English expletive
"bleech", which is an editorial observation on the context in which
this specification is being written.  The string "bl--" will change
to other strings with more appropriate properties in future versions
of this draft.

Note that a zone administrator might still choose to use "bl--" at
the beginning of a host name part even if that part does not contain
internationalized characters. Zone administrators SHOULD NOT create
host part names that begin with "bl--" unless those names are
post-converted names. Creating host part names that begin with
"bl--" but that are not post-converted names may cause two distinct
problems. Some display systems, after converting the post-converted
name part back to an internationalized name part, might display the
name parts in a possibly-confusing fashion to users. More seriously,
some resolvers, after converting the post-converted name part back
to an internationalized name part, might reject the host name if it
contains illegal characters.

2.2 Converting an internationalized name to an ACE name part

To convert a string of internationalized characters into an ACE name
part, the following steps MUST be preformed in the exact order of
the subsections given here.

If a name part consists exclusively of characters that conform to
the host name requirements in [STD13], the name MUST NOT be
converted to DUNCE. That is, a name part that can be represented
without DUNCE MUST NOT be encoded using DUNCE. This absolute
requirement prevents there from being two different encodings for a
single DNS host name.

If any checking for prohibited name parts (such as ones that are
prohibited characters, case-folding, or canonicalization) is to be
done, it MUST be done before doing the conversion to an ACE name part.

Characters outside the first plane of characters (those with
codepoints above U+FFFF) MUST be represented using surrogates, as
described in the UTF-16 description in ISO 10646.

The input name string consists of characters from the ISO 10646
character set in big-endian UTF-16 encoding. This is the
pre-converted string.

2.2.1 Check the input string for disallowed names

If the input string consists only of characters that conform to the
host name requirements in [STD13], the conversion MUST stop with an

2.2.2 Represent each character by its column and row position. For DUNCE1...

Mechanisms for describing code point positions by a printable (and
ASCII) column and row position date to very early code point tables
and were believed to have been used for BCD and Baudot.  The
earliest references readily available to the author are those for
[EBCDIC] and [ASCII], but those cited are not even the original
references for those coding and techniques.  Note that these
techniques are all in the public literature and have been widely
practiced.  In these notations, column and row positions are
typically separated by slashes or commas, but, as long as a number
system is used that permits representation in a fixed number of
digits, simple catenation is well-known as well.  For example, in
ASCII, the coding position for the character "M" is variously
represented as 4/13, 4,13 or 0413 (decimal notation) or 4/D, 4,D, or
4D (hexadecimal notation).

For DUNCE1, each code point is represented by its column and row
position, each expressed as two hexidecimal digits.  E.g., Latin
character upper case M would become 040D.

Catenate all such four-digit strings in the same order that the
characters appeared in the original label. For DUNCE2...

Code each character into the 16-bit representation of that character
in IS 10646 BMP (plane 0), taking the column positions before the
row ones.  Catenate the strings thus formed in the same order that
the characters appeared in the original label.

When the complete string is formed, convert it to Base64 (or Base32,
see section 3) encoding, as specified in [MIME]. For DUNCE3...

Code each character into a 16-bit representation and then catenate
the strings, as for DUNCE2.  Then compress the resulting bit string,
using <<TBD>>.  Some compression mechanisms produce, or can easily
be altered to produce, case-insensitive ASCII encodings.  The
results of such compressions can be used directly.  Others produce a
binary result which will then need to be converted using Base64 (or
Base32, see section 3).

2.2.3 Prepend "bl--" to the encoded string and finish

Prepend the characters "bl--" to the encoded string. This is the
host name part that can be used in DNS resolution.

2.3 Converting a host name part to an internationalized name

The input string for conversion is a valid host name part. Note that
if any checking for prohibited name parts (such as prohibited
characters, case-folding, or canonicalization is to be done, it MUST
be done after doing the conversion from an ACE name part.

If a decoded name part consists exclusively of characters that
conform to the host name requirements in [STD13], the conversion
from DUNCE MUST fail. Because a name part that can be represented
without DUNCE MUST NOT be encoded using DUNCE, the decoding process
MUST check for name parts that consists exclusively of characters
that conform to the host name requirements in [STD13] and, if such a
name part is found, MUST beconsidered an error (and possibly a
security violation).

2.3.1 Strip the "bl--"

The input string MUST begin with the characters "bl--". If it does
not, the conversion MUST stop with an error. Otherwise, remove the
characters "bl--" from the input string. The result of this step is
the stripped string.

2.3.2 Decode the stripped string For DUNCE1...

Divide the stripped string into chunks of four hexidecimal digits
each.  If the string is not an exact multiple of four characters in
length, or if any character is outside the range 0...9...F, report
an error.  Use the hex-encoded row and column positions to
reconstruct the original characters, then catenate them to form the
resulting string. For DUNCE2...

Apply a Base64 decoding to reconstruct the original binary string
and use that string to restore the original character codes. For DUNCE3...

Apply a Base64 decoding if needed, uncompress the string to restore
the original binary, then use that string as above.

2.3.3 Check the internationalized string for disallowed names

If the internationalized string consists only of characters that
conform to the host name requirements in [STD13], the conversion
MUST stop with an error.

3. Using Base64 (or Base32)

The RACE [RACE] specification and its variations use a Base32
encoding to avoid difficulties with case-insensitivity of the coded
names.  Since DNS implementations are required to preserve the case
of names that are deposited, the author naively believes that it
ought to be possible to use the more efficient Base64 encoding for
DUNCE.  If he is wrong, which is probable, DUNCE2 and, if needed,
DUNCE3 can be easily altered to use Base32.  Note that DUNCE1 and
compression mechanisms that automatically produce case-insensitive
ASCII encodings do not depend on the use of Base64 (or Base32)

4. Security Considerations

Much of the security of the Internet relies on the DNS. Thus, any
change to the characteristics of the DNS can change the security of
much of the Internet. Thus, DUNCE makes no changes to the DNS itself.

Host names are used by users to connect to Internet servers. The
security of the Internet would be compromised if a user entering a
single internationalized name could be connected to different
servers based on different interpretations of the internationalized
host name.

DUNCE is designed so that every internationalized host name part can
be represented as one and only one DNS-compatible string. If there
is any way to follow the steps in this document and get two or more
different results, it is a severe and fatal error in the protocol.

5. References

[ASCII] American National Standards Institute (formerly United
States of America Standards Institute), X3.4, 1968, "USA Code for
Information Interchange". (ANSI X3.4-1968)

[BASE64] N. Freed & N. Borenstein, "Multipurpose Internet Mail
Extensions (MIME) Part One: Format of Internet Message Bodies", RFC
2045. November 1996.

[DNSROLE] J Klensin, "Role of the Domain Name System", Work in
progress, draft-klensin-dns-role.  (Current version is -00, November

[EBCDIC] TBS - original S/360 _Principles of Operation_ manual.
[ENDS] Paul Vixie, "Extension Mechanisms for DNS (EDNS0)", RFC 2671.
August 1999.

[IDNComp] Paul Hoffman, "Comparison of Internationalized Domain Name
Proposals", draft-ietf-idn-compare.

[IDNReq] Zita Wenzel and James Seng, "Requirements of
Internationalized Domain Names", draft-ietf-idn-requirements.
(Current version is -04, October 2000.)

[ISO10646] ISO/IEC 10646-1:1993. International Standard --
Information technology -- Universal Multiple-Octet Coded Character
Set (UCS) -- Part 1: Architecture and Basic Multilingual Plane.
Five amendments and a technical corrigendum have been published up
to now. UTF-16 is described in Annex Q, published as Amendment 1. 17
other amendments are currently at various stages of standardization.

[RACE] Paul Hoffman, "RACE: Row-based ASCII Compatible Encoding for
IDN", Work in Progress, November 2000, draft-ietf-idn-race-03.txt.

[RFC2119] Scott Bradner, "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
Requirement Levels", March 1997, RFC 2119.

[STD13] Paul Mockapetris, "Domain names - implementation and
specification", November 1987, STD 13 (RFC 1035).

[Unicode3] The Unicode Consortium, "The Unicode Standard -- Version
3.0", ISBN 0-201-61633-5. Described at

5. Acknowledgements

This document is shamelessly copied and extracted from Paul
Hoffman's RACE encoding document [RACE], but is intended to provide
a reference point for a completely unencumbered and unencumberable
encoding.  The acknowledgements in the RACE document apply here as
well and will be incorporated if the document is published as an
RFC.  Harald Alvestrand suggested a name for the protocol after the
author made a rude suggestion about another name.  However, neither
Paul Hoffman nor anyone else besides the author bears the blame for
the stupid techniques described herein.

6. IANA Considerations

This document does not require IANA action, registration, or

7. Author Contact Information

John C Klensin
AT&T Labs
99 Bedford St, 4th floor
Boston, MA 02111
+1 617 574 3076

Expires October 2001