ICANN unveils first non-Latin domain names

Following through on its promise to open the Internet to international domain names, ICANN launches its first non-Latin domains for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
2 min read

The first non-Latin domain names made their debut on the Internet on Wednesday.

Choosing Arabic as the initial language, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) picked Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates as the first three regions able to use country-code specific top-level domains (TLDs). This means people in those countries will now be able to type addresses for regional Web sites using their own native language characters.

In an effort to make the Internet more user friendly to more nations around the world, ICANN approved the measure to adopt international domain names (IDNs) last October at its annual meeting in South Korea. Encouraging countries to submit requests for TLDs through its Fast Track Process, ICANN has received 21 requests representing 11 different languages since November of last year.

Selecting Arabic as the first non-Latin script, ICANN noted that the language is one of the most widely-used on the Internet today. Currently, only slightly more than 20 percent of the Middle East uses the Net, but the potential exists for much higher growth, according to ICANN.

Among the three Arabic countries with new non-Latin TLDs, Egypt is the first to create a domain name using Arabic characters, according to Reuters. Announced by Egypt's Communications Ministry on Thursday, the new domain name .misr, the Arabic word for Egypt, will be spelled out in Arabic script. The new name will be registered with three Internet providers--TE Data, Link Registrar, and Vodafone Data.

"Introducing Arabic domain names is a milestone in Internet history," Egypt Communications Minister Tarek Kamel said in a statement. "This great step will open up new horizons for e-services in Egypt. It will boost the number of online users in the country and will enable Internet services to penetrate new market segments by eliminating language barriers."

To request a top-level domain, a country goes through three phases in the Fast Track Process. First, it gets a local consensus on which domain to apply for, how it will be run, and who will run it. The country then submits the request to ICANN detailing the technical and language requirements. Requests that meet the necessary criteria are then submitted for final approval. So far, ICANN has greenlighted 13 requests through the second phase of the process.

An international domain names displays in its native character set
An international domain names displays in its native character set

To type and view the non-Latin characters in a URL, the browser must support international domain names. Such support is available in the current versions of the five major browsers--Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, and Apple's Safari. To guard against possible spoofing attacks, most of the browsers allow or restrict the display of IDNs based on whitelists and blacklists.

Each specific language must also be added to the browser's list of supported character sets. The steps for enabling the display of non-Latin scripts to the major browsers is described at ICANN's blog.