The same way one would connect with someone else on the phone, Internet users need a distinctive name to contact each other online. An Internet address needs to be distinctive so computers can locate one another. The job of ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is to coordinate these unique identifiers across the world.
ICANN was tasked with the technical organization of the Internet as a non-profit organization by the US Department of Commerce in 1998. Located in California, ICANN is responsible for the further development of the Domain Name System (DNS) and administration of IP addresses. Additionally, it supervises the operation of root name servers. Prior to ICANN, these tasks were conducted by IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority).
Domain Name System
In contrast to phone numbers, we know most Internet addresses only as a name and not as a number. The numbers that serve as the basis for communication between computers – referred to as Internet Protocol (IP) addresses – are hard to remember. The DNS matches letters to an exact numerical series, and translates the requested domain into the matching IP address. The requests happen in the background for most users, and within very short timeframes. This way, Web users only need to remember the domain name, and not a longer number.
A Web address like www.1and1.com, for example, can be split into three labels. The top-level domain (TLD) – in this case .com – is for commercial websites and considered a generic TLD. There are also more than 240 country-coded TLDs (ccTLDs), such as .ca for Canada or .de for Germany. ICANN delegates registration to independent, country-specific organizations (registries). The registries or Network Information Center (NIC) in charge manage ccTLDS and are responsible for their operation and technical stability. ICANN is responsible for the approval of new TLDs, the introduction of which has been discussed, prepared, and coordinated for the past ten years.
IANA is one of the Internet’s oldest institutions, and responsible for the assignment of IP addresses since the founding of ICANN. As a department of ICANN, IANA assigns local IP registrations to Regional Internet Registries (RIR). Currently, there are five active regional registries worldwide which are responsible for assigning IP addresses in a certain part of the world.
Without root name servers (root servers), the current Domain Name System would not work. Every computer connected to the Internet is assigned a name server, which translates a domain into an IP address. If a name server has not saved further information about a requested TLD, it forwards the request to an overriding root server where the name servers are determined. The root server’s zone (root zone) contains names and IP addresses of all name servers of the TLDs and is the basis of the DNS. The 13 root servers are operated by different institutions, however ICANN is responsible for their coordination.
ICANN is often referred to as “the government” of the Internet. However, it lacks responsibilities and financial means. Internet-related tasks such as content control, data protection and privacy are not part of ICANN’s responsibilities. Through supervision and coordination, ICANN enables computers in complex networks to find each other. Universal responsibility makes it possible to receive the same predictable results anywhere in the word. Without ICANN, the Internet could look and work completely different depending on a user’s location.
ICANN supervises the technical and administrative heart of the Internet and plays a key role in its design. It is also responsible for the biggest innovation regarding Internet addresses – the release of about 1,400 new top-level domains. If you’re interested in a new TLD, you can pre-reserve your ideal domain now at http://www.1and1.com/new-top-level-domains.
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