[Smaug] question about meeting

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Mon Jun 13 23:44:18 PDT 2005

Quoting relsqui at armory.com (relsqui at armory.com):

> By the by, you may recall my inquiries about registering a domain without
> buying DNS or hosting, or paying middleman's fees. That solved itself in the
> end, since my housemate works for a hosting company and he got one for me.
> I'm still curious about the process, though. Who does one register WITH,
> exactly? Why are the companies necessary at all?

Disclaimer:  This explanation might ramble a bit, because I'm really
tired and it's late (and I've been obliged to look after other folks for
four days in a row -- long story).

So, big-picture explanation to be explained further, below:  There's an
artificial commercial monopoly over second-level domains (SLDs).   A
bunch of firms exist that charge you fees for registering your renewable
ownership for 1+ years at a time of any unclaimed SLDs you want to pay

{deep breath}

"Top-level domains" (TLDs) traditionally comprised the familiar
three-letter .com/.net/.org/.gov/.mil "generic top-level domains" (gTLDs)
hierarchies, plus the two-letter "country-code domains" (ccTLDs) for the
various internationally recognised countries, e.g., .us=United States,
.ca=Canada, .mx=Mexico, .au=Australia, etc.   (Later, some weird special 
cases and additions have arisen, such as ".int" for international
organisations, and some others.)  A "second-level domain" is some
sub-category of one of those TLDs, such as linuxmafia.com (my domain)
and irs.gov (Internal Revenue Service) -- i.e., two levels down from the
hypothetical "root" of the namespace tree.

                          DNS NAMESPACE SCHEME

                               .  (the hypothetical "root")
       com      net     org   gov  mil  us   int  info   name    (TLDs)
        |                      |
    linuxmafia                irs

A lot of the structure of the Internet got established with US
government funding and participation, and the DNS scheme -- what we're
talking about, here -- is no exception.   Initial funding and oversight
came (partially) from the DoD's "DARPA" research group, then from the
National Science Foundation (NSF), then more recently the US Commerce

NSF invited a contract for DNS commercial supervision from industry, and
four firms created a consortium called "Network Solutions, Inc."
(NetSol) to bid on (and win) that contract, which it held for many years
as an almost-public agency (before NetSol was bought out by Verisign,
Inc., and customer service became a distant memory).  NSF, as part of
the contract, delegated to NetSol authority over .com, .net, and .org.
NetSol started charging members of the public $35/year to register SLDs
inside those TLDs.  

Note that the charge was/is to register _SLDs_.  If you want to have
subdomain "fizz.linuxmafia.com" and talk me (as linuxmafia.com SLD
owner) into delegating it to you (letting you define what hosts exist
within that subdomain), it's nobody else's business, and nobody
necessarily has to get paid.  But I have to pay for linuxmafia.com.

On one of several occasions when NetSol's contract was up for renewal,
the regulating US agency -- at that point, I believe, the Commerce
Department -- insisted that NetSol needed to open up its monopoly a bit
if it wanted to get anything at all during the renewal process.  So,
NetSol established a set of business and information-handling protocols
whereby other businesses could become accredited as "DNS registrars",
and deal with the public as sellers of SLD registration services, on an
equal footing with NetSol itself.  There are now something like a
hundred such registrars.  Pretty much any NetSol competitor gives you
better service and lower prices.  Some charge as little as maybe $8 or
so per year.  Catches?  Limitations?  Disadvantages?  You bet -- to some
degree, sometimes.  (I've seen less than $8.  People who unlike me
enthusiastically pursue bottom dollar might brief you on relevant
details -- or maybe not.)

Why, you ask, is it necessary to pay any money to anyone for this stuff?  
Good question.  As I mentioned, it's an artificial monopoly:  All that's 
really being sold is _recognition_ of a SLD via the flow of DNS
authority from the top-level DNS nameservers.

You can of course decline to pay that sort of toll, and set up DNS that
either contradicts that claimed top-level authority or supplements it.
For example, I've been known to have hosts listed in a .cabal DNS TLD
for my user group CABAL's installfests.  But that isn't going to get me
very far with the general public unless other people's DNS servers look
to my .cabal root nameserver, which they generally wouldn't.  (As Don
Marti used to say, "DNS is a consensus reality.")

There are groups who state that they operate "alternative root
nameservers" such as OpenNIC.  I could probably register the .cabal TLD
with OpenNIC and pass out registrations of SLDs within .cabal for free
-- if I wanted, and were willing to handle the work.  But most people in
the general public rely on nameservers that use TLDs are defined by
the regular root nameservers, not the OpenNIC root nameservers.  For
most people, then, "www.[foo].cabal" would not be resolvable.

Here's an outline for an overview article, circa 1999:
"ICANN" on http://linuxmafia.com/kb/Network_Other 

I hope that helps.

I personally register through a retailer agent ("reseller") operating
within the Tucows, Inc. "OpenSRS" subsidiary, and pay that guy $15 per
year for my domain.  There are reasons why I am not seeking bottom
dollar; some of them have to do with being able to rely on help from my
reseller if anything is going wrong.

The above may or may not have answered your question, but I hope it's
interesting to you.  ;->

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