Heading Toward Multilingual URLs

In a recent press release, ICANN, the organization in charge of the chaos that is our domain name registration system, has made multilingual domain names a priority (again).

Here’s what the press release says:

ICANN announced it will launch a broad strategic initiative to enable new generic top level domains (gTLDs). The strategic initiative will include a two-stage approach to move to the full globalization of the market for top-level domains.

It is hard to get excited about anything ICANN says these days. The need for multilngual domain names is more than critical – and has been that way for a few years now. But for reasons beyond me, ICANN just never seems to make any progress.

I realize there are a number of engineers at the IETF who are quite concerned about a domain name system in Unicode. Right now, URLs support only a subset of ASCII. If we move to Unicode, there are 90,000+ characters that could occupy a Web address – many that look quite similar to one another. Imagine the spoofing opportunities for hackers everywhere! It is quite scary when you think about it. One solution is to force the registrars to play a more active role in protecting the Internet. I realize that this alone won’t solve the problem; technical precautions will also have to be taken.

But in the end, URLs will support Unicode. Unicode makes up the core of our major software applications and it is quickly making its way into our Web pages. Google, for instance, using Unicode. Eventually URLs will support Uncode. It’s just a question of timing and, of course, ICANN.

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