Sample Non-English Domains Coming Soon
Sample addresses in nearly a dozen languages will be added to the Internet's central directories as early as next week, paving the way for Web surfers around the world to get online without knowing any English.
At this point, the 11 domain names are meant primarily for software developers and Web site designers to test the new system, but they are the first such names entered in the 13 key domain name directories, known as root servers, after years of discussions and limited-access tests.
If the global tests go well, non-English domain names could be in use by the end of 2008.
Users outside the United States long have clamored for non-English domain-name scripts, finding restrictive the current limitation to the letters a through z, the numbers 0 through 9 and the hyphen.
It is sometimes possible to create addresses in foreign languages, but the suffix -- the ".com" part of an address -- must use English characters. So the current tests involve non-English suffixes.
The 11 suffixes now under review will read "test" in Arabic, Persian, simplified Chinese, traditional Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Greek, Korean, Yiddish, Japanese and Tamil.
They were chosen based on the online communities that have expressed the most interest in and need for non-English domains, said Tina Dam, director of the Internationalized Domain Names program for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, known as ICANN, which oversees Internet addressing policies.
U.S. authorities are still reviewing the suffixes. They are expected to approve the test versions next week, and the tests will begin after that.
On Oct. 15, ICANN plans to unveil mechanisms for individuals and businesses to try out the new suffixes. They won't be able to register domain names, but will be able to create Web sites and pass around non-English Web links. They will also be able to try locally popular Web browsers, beyond the major ones already tested.
Everyone in the world will essentially be invited to try to break the new system, Dam said. A 24-hour hot line is being established to allow ICANN to quickly suspend the test if any problems might disrupt other domains such as ".com" and ".uk."
The technology for the root servers themselves will not change. ICANN and the standards-setting Internet Engineering Task Force have instead developed techniques -- using a system known as Punycode -- for software to convert the non-English domains into codes using only the 37 characters now permitted.
Among major browsers, only the one from Opera Software ASA fully implements Punycode, Dam said.
Users of Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer, Mozilla's Firefox and Apple Inc.'s Safari should be able to get to the Web sites, she said, but until developers finish their work, portions of the Web address may appear in English characters even after being entered in another language.
E-mail applications and Web-based mail systems ultimately will have to recognize Punycode as well. Approval of that technology is expected by year's end.