The Domain Name System is often though of as an integral part of the Internet. Without it, how can you ever locate anything?
Well, quite easily, thank you very much.
DNS is used implicitly for many services, such as web browsing. It also includes explicit extensions for a few applications such as e-mail. (I'm talking here about DNS the system, not DNS the technology that can be re-purposed to things like ENUM.)
But the most notable thing about DNS is its receding importance.
Firstly, we're spending more and more time finding things via search. I bookmark things much less than I used to. I don't type domain names in very often. The standard approach is to Google the approximately right term. If the Google link was a hard-wired IP address or some other naming/indirection system, nobody would really care. AOLers have been bypassing DNS with keywords for years.
DNS is also getting stiff competition from other namespaces. We don't use DNS to locate people; increasingly we use handles from private IM services like MSN, Skype, AOL, etc.
We don't use DNS to locate ideas. We've gone tag-mad instead.
We don't use DNS to locate places. We just cut'n'paste the URL from Google Maps or Mapquest.
DNS plays a small role in all of these, as a bootstrap mechanism. There's still a skype.com to get the software, or a google.com to prefix the location. But the bootstrap locations could equally be baked into your browser, just like the crypto keys for setting up secure connections are.
This was really brought home to me recently when my DNS service at home suffered a glitch from my useless ADSL router malfunctioning again. I didn't notice for a while, because Skype doesn't need DNS to operate, and a green Skype icon means the network is up. My home network server had the only DNS lookup that mattered (my ISP's mail server) happily cached away, and could have easily been hard-coded. It was only when I went to the Web that I came unstuck.
A great deal of 'Internet governance' effort is expended on DNS. But you have to ask yourself - is it really part and parcel of the Internet? Haven't we learned anything about separating connectivity from application services? Do none of the other namespaces deserve 'governance'?
The danger is that DNS will be treated as a panacea, and will continue to be press-ganged into more functions for which it is ill-suited. Problems at other layers get neglected.
For example, if you could reliably locate an IP address, a lot of emergency service issues get much easier. Many security problems with the Internet could be addressed by tightening up the semantics and process of IP address assignment. Why doesn't an access service provider ever get an opportunity to assert anything about who, what and where you are? Yes, privacy is an issue; but if you're a good actor, it can be to your benefit for your ISP to vouch for your location, identity and trustworthiness.
As always, you have to remember that the Internet is just a prototype Stupid Network that escaped from the lab one night and spread out of control before the results were in. Now we've got the results, and it's time to go back and fix some of the problems — before someone less benevolent does it for you.
By Martin Geddes, Founder, Martin Geddes Consulting Ltd. He provides consulting, training and innovation services to telcos, equipment vendors, cloud services providers and industry bodies. Prior to establishing his own consulting business, he was Strategy Director for the network and IT division of BT.
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