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Domain Names Without Dots

Paul Vixie

Now that ICANN has approved a potentially vast expansion in the number of generic Top-Level Domains, there's considerable interest in and confusion about how these names can be used. For example if someone registers "dot BRAND", can they advertise http://brand/ and have it work?


No! Or at least, mostly not. Because on most laptops, desktops, and mobile platforms, the operating system will try that name under the local domain before trying it as a global name. This behaviour comes from a time when domain names were first used to identify Internet resources and not yet as a way to reach Web assets. Many if not most web browsing platforms have a DNS search list that they'll use to find out if a name that looks local (having no dots in it) is in fact local.

Search Lists

On my desktop system here at "six.vix.com" the default search list has just "vix.com" but since I often access Internet resources belonging to my employer (ISC) I have also added "isc.org" to my search list. If I enter http://brand/ into my web browser it will search first for "brand.vix.com" and then "brand.isc.org" and if either of those names exists then my browser will assume that this is what I want and will take me there. Only if there is no "brand" available in my DNS search list will it find the "dot BRAND" registration in the root zone.


If we began right now in the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) working on a new Request For Comments (RFC) document that discommends this DNS "search list" behaviour, and if IETF could reach consensus on the matter in an uncharacteristically short time (let's say within a year) then the global installed base of web browsers could be expected to mostly adopt this new behaviour within one decade. In other words there's a very long tail on the installed base even in this mobile-dominated gadget market we all mostly use. Expecting "dot BRAND" to work as a naked URL would be at best unrealistic.

Just as important, the Internet is larger and older than the Web, and other Internet systems such as E-mail will mostly not accept naked top level names at all. As an example, e-mail to "person@brand" will probably not reach the mail servers for "dot BRAND".


Because of the "land rush" that ICANN's approval of the new gTLD expansion program is likely to set off, I think it's important for all applicants (and their investors) to know about this important limitation in how these new gTLD names can be used. Top level domains are expected by most Internet endpoints to be used only for the registration of subdomains (like for example Store.BRAND or Company.BRAND) and it's my hope that all applicants for new gTLDs will fully understand this before they launch their branding campaign or even before they call their business plan "done".

By Paul Vixie, CEO, Farsight Security. More blog posts from Paul Vixie can also be read here.

Related topics: DNS, Domain Names, Top-Level Domains

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Will IPv6 be a factor in this new (g)TLD schema? Richard Donaldson  –  Jun 21, 2011 10:15 AM PDT

While understanding your points on current infrastructure limitations with respect to the new .everything and name resolution, I am wondering if this will trigger yet further expansion of internet infrastructure such that it will concurrently stimulate more IPv6 adoption?  For example, in APNIC region, will this inspire many more entrepreneurs to get their presence online and in turn require more IP space (yes, my bias is in finding the different IPv6 inflection points that are upcoming - virtual and mobile have been identified already, curious as to your thoughts here)

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