The Domain Name System (DNS) is often referred to as the backbone of the internet. It is run by number of engineers and their organizations, it ultimately crafts the future of the internet.
How does the internet work?
You open your browser and go to mindstick.com and this awesome site loads up swiftly right in front of you in the blink of an eye. You know that this site is rendered from a range of compiled files that are stored on a server somewhere. But how does your browser able to get those files in the infinitely expanding internet? You may be thinking.
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What the heck just happened?
The very first time you went to mindstick.com, your browser didn’t know what the IP address for mindstick.com was, so it couldn’t connect to and retrieve those files. Nor for that matter did it know where the actual servers were that those files are hosted on. And therefore, it had no idea from where to pull those files to start rendering the page.
OK, let me enhance your knowledge a bit
1. A user asks their browser to visit mindstick.com
2. The browser queries a DNS Resolver (usually their ISP) “where’s mindstick.com?”
3. DNS Resolver searches the Root servers (which have a big important list that keeps this information) “where is .COM?” Replies with Verisign.
4. DNS Resolver then queries Verisign — “where is mindstick.com?” Verisign replies FOR EXAMPLE with the nameservers ns1.cloudflare.com and the IP address 192.168.178.1
5. Hosting servers are queried with the IP address. “Give me the files for IP address 192.168.178.1”
6. Website files are delivered and rendered on the page so user can learn to code…or whatever they were doing.
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Who makes it work?
In short IANA, in long ICANN, you will know about them in some time.
The reason for me to explain how it works, was to tell you who makes it work, the real question and purpose for this article. It’s easy to think things just work. But of course, it’s no accident, the reason the internet works is because of the protocols and policies that have been created and gained enough of a consensus to become universal norms, but who agrees on these and how?
In short, and with specific regard to how domain names and IP addresses are mapped, that function falls under the competency of IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority). They have the mandate of making sure the correct technical procedures are in place to have a safe and stable Domain Name System. Moving forward to ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). There’s no discussing IANA without ICANN:
Besides providing technical operations of vital DNS resources, ICANN also defines policies for how the “names and numbers” of the Internet should run. The work moves forward in a style we describe as the “bottom-up, consensus-driven, multi-stakeholder model”, According to ICANN.COM
In Sept 2015, the IANA function which has been run by ICANN since 1998 permanently transitioned from being under a contract with the United States Department of Commerce to the autonomous control of ICANN. ICANN has a board of directors and as a body, is divided up into separate member groups.
“ICANN’s inclusive approach treats the public sector, the private sector, and technical experts as peers. You can find registries, registrars, Internet Service Providers (ISPs), intellectual property advocates, commercial and business interests, non-commercial and non-profit interests, representation from more than 100 governments, and a global array of individual Internet users, in the ICANN community. All points of view receive consideration on their own merits. ICANN’s fundamental belief is that all users of the Internet deserve a say in how it is run.” according to ICANN.COM
While it is fair to say all these groups are “represented,” I would argue all are not represented equally. It’s obvious to expect that those with more financial stake and cash to burn will try to pull the conversation in a certain direction. For example, telecoms like AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Verizon, Vodafone, T-Mobile, and Orange.
They will arguably pull us in a backward direction, where they can package up websites like they did with cable TV channels, and sell them to end users, toll the traffic on the cables they control, and generally triple-dip on a more closed internet so they can make even more profit.
Some Governments will also try to influence in a direction toward their own state-interest, while others will try to be more global citizens. Intellectual Property advocates (organizations that are usually made up of IP lawyers) want things to be more about IP and brand security, so they can protect the lucrative rights of their high paying clients.
Service providers in the commercial sector like Google and Facebook are visible in the array, and tend to advocate — in part at least — for their users’ privacy, along with maintaining their own domination of the web.
Registries like Verisign, have an interest in designing favorable policy outcomes to which they are bound to comply.
Interestingly in my experience it is the Registrars — where you can register domain names (like iwantmyname) — who provide a voice of reason in the fray. They have to balance their obligations to ICANN and the Registries against those of their customers. And as a result of this, they often have to push back against various members or interest groups, or at times even the ICANN board itself.