Until this week, Latin characters were required to access a complete domain name on the Internet. That has now changed as the first full Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) are now live, enabling users for the first time ever to access websites with an entirely non-Latin character set.
The first IDNs that have been approved and are now live use Arabic characters and have been deployed for the Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates country code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs). The deployment of the IDN ccTLDs marks a major milestone for the Internet and for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) following a fast-track process that for deployment that began in late 2009 after years of discussion.
"I think everyone just views this as a very positive development," Tina Dam, senior director of IDNs at ICANN, told InternetNews.com. "In terms of who would be first, sure, there was a lot of focus on that, and a lot of countries wanted to be first."
As to why Arabic characters and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the first to go live, Dam said it's all about the process.
"It's about when the applications were sent into ICANN," Dam said. "For some countries, it was important to them that this was done very quickly."
With the new IDNs for the three countries' ccTLDs, users in those nations can now type in an entire address in Arabic for the first time.
"For these first three countries, they were just first to get the root approval, whereas others are shortly following," Dam said. "I don't see a big difference between all of them, but it is nice to celebrate whoever went first."
Other nations have also been active in trying to secure their IDN ccTLDs. Dam noted that Russia as well as China are in the process of having their IDNs go live as well.
From a technical perspective, Dam noted that the major browsers, including Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox all support IDNs. She added that, to date, she's not aware of any problems users have encountered in trying to access the new IDNs.
With the new IDN deployment, only ccTLDs are included for approved countries and their respective language scripts. However, a process is under review at ICANN for expanding IDNs beyond ccTLDs to other top-level domains, though the effort does not yet has a specific target date attached to it.
"There is no launch date for it," Dam said. "We will be publishing more information about it in the next few weeks ahead of ICANN's Brussels meeting, which takes place at the end of June."