Multilingual domain names

THE PRESENT Domain Name System is incapable of accepting domain names with non-English language letters. NetSpeak explores attempts to internationalise the domain naming system so that netizens can use it in their own language.

An impact of the widespread acceptance of the Net is the decline in the proportion of netizens who speak English, which has been the Net's language from its very inception. According to the `Internet Economy Indicators' (, `an English message will not be understood by the growing number of non-English web users, 35 per cent of all users online today".

In recognition of the Net's changing language landscape, several services are available for the non-English speaking netizens. One such service category is e-translators that can be used to translate text content from one language to the other. The on-line translation service FreeTranslation ( is an example. The service can be used to translate the content from such languages as Spanish, German, French and Italian. For more details on the various e-translators, see the May 3, 2001 edition of this column.

Apart from content, there are many aspects of the Net that need to be made multilingual for making it more universal and acceptable. Here, we will discuss the attempts being made to make the domain name, another significant component of the Net, multilingual.

We know that any system linked to the Net has a unique IP-address, which is a string of cryptic numbers. As it is difficult for netizens to remember the IP-address, a more human comprehensible name, the concept of domain name, which is just a string of English alphabets and digits, was developed. The system that converts the domain name into IP-address is called the Domain Name System (DNS). One drawback of the current DNS is that a domain name has to be formed using a limited set of standard ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) characters only. That is, a domain name cannot have non-English alphabets on it.

The objective of IDN is "to specify the requirements for internationalised access to domain names". As the present DNS infrastructure is essential for the smooth running of the Net, any modification in the domain naming conventions should be done without disturbing it. One solution put forward by IDN is to allow the creation of domain names with non-ASCII characters and make the applications convert the non-ASCII characters into normal ASCII characters that will be compatible with the DNS, using a scheme called ASCII Compatible Encoding (ACE). So, if you use an international domain name (domain name with non-English alphabets), before making the DNS query, the application will convert it into a name with ASCII characters recognised by the domain name system. The significance of this proposed protocol known as `Internationalising Domain Names in Applications' (IDNA) is that an application that supports IDNA will enable netizens to register/use domain names in their preferred language without disturbing the present DNS infrastructure. For more details, check out: If you want to know more about the activities of IETF's IDN workgroup (, subscribe to its mailing list.

A few services exist have already implemented solutions for domain names with non-English characters. The Internationalised Domain Names services of VeriSign ( are an example. It allows users to register international domain names (iDN) with local characters. To resolve an iDN, first it has to be converted into ASCII characters acceptable to the domain name system. To convert it, the service has provided a toolbar plug-in that works with the IE browser.

When you try to access a site through the browser, several commands are exchanged between the web server and the browser. Most users are ignorant of this web server-browser conversation. The program, Proxomitron (https://, is capable of bringing this hidden conversation to its users. This free software will present the HTTP header messages in a separate window. To use the program with your browser, certain configuration adjustments are to be made so that whenever a web page request is made, instead of directly communicating with the web server, the browser will send the requests through Proxomitron. To do this, you need to set the browser's HTTP proxy option with hostname as local host and the port number as 8080.

Apart from displaying the browser-server conversation details, by using the program's HTML filter feature you can transform a web page completely before getting it displayed on the browser. The HTML filter feature can be used to fully customise an incoming web page and as such the user can effectively control the features of a web page. The program can be deployed to do such things as eliminating pop-up windows, GIF animations and banner advertisements.

J. Murali

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