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New top-level domains on horizon

The Internet Engineering Task Force has issued a working draft of a proposal to reserve a handful of new Internet address suffixes to be used strictly as tests and examples.

An Internet standards group wants to make examples out of some top-level domains--literally.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has issued a working draft of a proposal to reserve a handful of new top-level domains, or TLDs. TLDs are the suffixes under which Internet addresses are grouped, including ".com," ".org," ".net," ".gov," and ".edu."

The IETF working draft proposes to create four new TLDs strictly for the use of tests and examples: ".test," to be used in testing DNS-related code; ".example," to be used in documentation or in other examples; ".invalid" for demonstrating domains that are invalid (such as those with spaces or apostrophes); and ".localhost," for domains that refer back to the user's own computer.

"There is a need for top-level domain names that can be used for creating names which, without fear of conflicts with current or future actual TLD names in the global DNS, can be used for private testing of existing DNS-related code, examples in documentation, DNS-related experimentation, invalid DNS names, or other similar uses," wrote working draft authors Aliza Panitz and IBM's Donald Eastlake.

The proposal may seem innocuous enough, but one person familiar with it said it is being stalled by the confusion and political anxiety surrounding the imminent expiration of the Network Solutions government-granted monopoly to administer the most popular form of domain names. NSI has enjoyed an exclusive government contract to register domain names ending in ".com," ".net," and ".org." A plan to open the system to competition by the end of this month is behind schedule.

"There are plenty of people who think the IETF working draft is reasonable, but this TLD area is very touchy right now," said Bill Woodcock, network architect at national Internet service provider Zocalo.net. "TLDs are so political right now that nobody wants to get in the middle of it with even a little thing like this. There's a fear that other companies getting into the domain name business will say, 'We want some new top level domains--we want this too.'"

Woodcock had a personal hand in the creation of a second-level example domain on the Internet: "domain.com."

That domain name came into being after Woodcock joked to the late Internet pioneer Jon Postel that novice users configuring their email servers might take the "domain.com" name listed in their instruction manuals as an example and enter it as their email server.

After registering "domain.com," Postel and Woodcock found that such a scenario was no joke; many users were indeed specifying "domain.com" as their server.

"The first ones were within IBM," Woodcock recalled. "There was a lot of mail about golf."

Woodcock used to reply to "domain.com" requests with a note explaining the user's error. But then spammers got wind of the address and started using it to falsify the origin of their email. Now the "domain.com" registry carries the notice:

"For use by vendors and authors in default configurations, examples. This is not the spam-host you're looking for. Move along."

The need for example domains is illustrated by a recent flap involving a Microsoft proxy-server tutorial. The tutorial, which showed how to exclude specified sites using a firewall, gave "www.netscape.com" as a tongue-in-cheek example of a site to shut out. After a small uproar on the example last week, Microsoft changed the page to read "www.denysite.com."

But if "denysite.com"--which Microsoft does not own--were to wind up pointing to unsavory content, Microsoft could find itself in an embarrassing situation.

Meanwhile, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority maintains three other addresses for the use of example domain names, aptly named "example.com," "example.org," and "example.net."