Multilingual Domain Name Testing to Begin

The company that maintains the master database of Internet domain names tomorrow plans to start testing the use of multilingual Web site names, initially supporting Chinese, Japanese and Korean characters in addition to the English ones used now.

Support will follow shortly for testing domain names that use additional languages, such as Spanish, Portuguese and Arabic. VeriSign Global Registry Services (GRS), a Mountain View, Calif.-based unit of VeriSign Inc. that manages the back-end piece of the domain name registration process, has said the Multilingual Domain Names Testbed is an important step in finding ways to open the Internet to more users around the world.

However, VeriSign GRS noted late last month in an announcement detailing the test-bed plans that the ultimate disposition of multilingual names registered during the test period is dependent upon the outcome of a standards process being carried out by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

And the Internet Society, a nonprofit group in Reston, Va., that acts as the "organization home" for the IETF and the Internet Architecture Board, yesterday released a statement urging a more cautious approach regarding the use of non-English characters in domain name registrations.

The Internet Society -- which provides insurance services and other assistance to the IETF but is an entirely separate organization -- said it supports the "good intentions" of opening up the domain name system to a wider number of international users. But with the IETF still working to standardize internationalized domain names, the society added, the commercial test-bed program "is premature under the technical standards of the Internet."

Don Heath, the Internet Society's president, said in an interview today that the group wants VeriSign GRS to hold off on using multilingual domain names in commercial registrations until the IETF has finished its work. The resulting standards should prevent domain name incompatibilities from essentially creating separate Internets for people who use different languages, Heath said.

"What we're arguing against is [that] there have been some people who see a marketing opportunity [in multilingual registrations]," Heath said. But if the process is begun without having a method nailed down for guaranteeing compatibility across different languages, he added, "what that will do is fragment the Internet."

VeriSign GRS officials couldn't be reached for comment this morning. But the company has vowed to operate the multilingual test bed in adherence with the standardization work being done within the IETF. "VeriSign GRS is committed to following the IETF standards and Internet draft documents," the company said in the statement issued late last month.

Currently, the Internet Domain Name System only supports names that use English letters, numbers and other characters. But registrations to the multilingual test bed will be able to be made through any of the domain name registrars accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers and certified for participation in the testing.

The tests will be done in two steps, according to VeriSign GRS. Initially, the process will only involve registrations of multilingual domain names. The "resolution" stage of assigning actual IP addresses to the domain names "will be available at a later time and will be introduced in phases to ensure the continued stability" of existing URLs, the company said.

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