Reflections on the DNS, RFC 1591, and Categories of Domains
RFC 3071

Document Type RFC - Informational (February 2001; No errata)
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Network Working Group                                         J. Klensin
Request for Comments: 3071                                 February 2001
Category: Informational

      Reflections on the DNS, RFC 1591, and Categories of Domains

Status of this Memo

   This memo provides information for the Internet community.  It does
   not specify an Internet standard of any kind.  Distribution of this
   memo is unlimited.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2001).  All Rights Reserved.


   RFC 1591, "Domain Name System Structure and Delegation", laid out the
   basic administrative design and principles for the allocation and
   administration of domains, from the top level down.  It was written
   before the introduction of the world wide web (WWW) and rapid growth
   of the Internet put significant market, social, and political
   pressure on domain name allocations.  In recent years, 1591 has been
   cited by all sides in various debates, and attempts have been made by
   various bodies to update it or adjust its provisions, sometimes under
   pressures that have arguably produced policies that are less well
   thought out than the original.  Some of those efforts have begun from
   misconceptions about the provisions of 1591 or the motivation for
   those provisions.  The current directions of the Internet Corporation
   for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and other groups who now
   determine the Domain Name System (DNS) policy directions appear to be
   drifting away from the policies and philosophy of 1591.  This
   document is being published primarily for historical context and
   comparative purposes, essentially to document some thoughts about how
   1591 might have been interpreted and adjusted by the Internet
   Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and ICANN to better reflect today's
   world while retaining characteristics and policies that have proven
   to be effective in supporting Internet growth and stability.  An
   earlier variation of this memo was submitted to ICANN as a comment on
   its evolving Top-level Domain (TLD) policies.

Klensin                      Informational                      [Page 1]
RFC 3071          Reflections on the DNS and RFC 1591      February 2001

1.  Introduction

   RFC 1591 [1] has been heavily discussed and referenced in the last
   year or two, especially in discussions within ICANN and its
   predecessors about the creation, delegation, and management of top-
   level domains.  In particular, the ICANN Domain Name Supporting
   Organization (DNSO), and especially its ccTLD constituency, have been
   the home of many discussions in which 1591 and interpretations of it
   have been cited in support of a variety of sometimes-contradictory
   positions.  During that period, other discussions have gone on to try
   to reconstruct the thinking that went into RFC 1591.  Those in turn
   have led me and others to muse on how that original thinking might
   relate to some of the issues being raised.  1591 is, I believe, one
   of Jon Postel's masterpieces, drawing together very different
   philosophies (e.g., his traditional view that people are basically
   reasonable and will do the right thing if told what it is with some
   stronger mechanisms when that model is not successful) into a single

   RFC 1591 was written in the context of the assumption that what it
   described as generic TLDs would be bound to policies and categories
   of registration (see the "This domain is intended..."  text in
   section 2) while ccTLDs were expected to be used primarily to support
   users and uses within and for a country and its residents.  The
   notion that different domains would be run in different ways --albeit
   within the broad contexts of "public service on behalf of the
   Internet community" and "trustee... for the global Internet
   community"-- was considered a design feature and a safeguard against
   a variety of potential abuses.  Obviously the world has changed in
   many ways in the seven or eight years since 1591 was written.  In
   particular, the Internet has become more heavily used and, because
   the design of the world wide web has put domain names in front of
   users, top-level domain names and registrations in them have been
   heavily in demand: not only has the number of hosts increased
   dramatically during that time, but the ratio between registered
   domain names and physical hosts has increased very significantly.

   The issues 1591 attempted to address when it was written and those we
   face today have not changed significantly in principle.  But one
   alternative to present trends would be to take a step back to refine
   it into a model that can function effectively today.  Therefore, it
   may be useful to try to reconstruct 1591's principles and think about
   their applicability today as a model that could continue to be
   applied: not because it is historically significant, but because many
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