With solution providers such as Unstoppable Domains or Handshake, and blockchain-enabled browsers such as Brave who are more than happy to help with the implementation, decentralized alternatives to the traditional domain name system have received more and more attention lately.
Centralized vs decentralized… what will it be?
The stakes are huge in light of the fact that we are dealing with real estate on the internet rather than a marginal component of our online experience.
Moreover, this debate is not new in the cryptocurrency ecosystem. NameCoin is one of the oldest alt-coins in existence, launched in 2011. NameCoin aimed to provide a decentralized alternative to DNS. Unfortunately, Namecoin has failed to provide a viable DNS alternative on a large scale for reasons which will be discussed in our next article on the dark side of decentralized domain names.
But what is a decentralized domain name system anyway?
The name itself makes it clear that we are dealing with a domain name system where no centralized point of control or failure exists. Or at least that’s the main goal.
In traditional centralized DNS:
- The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) controls the single, authoritative root.
- The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is in charge of the management of the IANA
- ICANN then delegates the management of specific TLDs in the root to various registries, for example Verisign for .com.
- Registries allow companies called registrars to sell individual domain names to customers
Perhaps the easiest way to understand the limitations of traditional centralized DNS is through censorship. Suppose Person A manages the controversial WebsiteA.com. To do this, it has to purchase the WebsiteA.com domain name through a registrar and point it to the servers of a web hosting provider that it pays to store the files necessary for the website to function. Simply put, she needs a domain name and a website, so she’s good to go.
Person A then continues to post controversial content, with hundreds and hundreds of people complaining about the nature of that content … usually to their web hosting provider.
At this point in the game we have kind of a decentralized framework when it comes to hosting because Person A can back up their data and if their current web hosting provider closes their account and deletes all files, they can still download them. on the servers. of a new business. If that supplier so proverbially disconnects, she can choose another company and so on. With a wide range of hosting options available in many jurisdictions, it is possible to demonstrate that we are indeed not in the realm of centralized points of failure. We have seen this happen to the greatest extent possible when the Beyond Controversy social media site Parler was banned from its registration and web hosting services due to content that incites to push. violence.
But only with regard to accommodation:
With regard to domain names, the situation is different. Complaints to Person A’s registrar could cause the registrar to decide to suspend the WebsiteA.com domain name, rendering it unusable and forcing Person A to change domains. It could be catastrophic for a business. It would involve a bit more hassle, financial damage, and usability issues compared to switching web hosting providers. From a domain investor’s experience, we saw first-hand what a aggrieved party could do to a multi-million dollar wallet when GoDaddy locked down an entire domain wallet due to a questionable legal complaint regarding an alleged breach of contract having nothing to do with the actual domain portfolio, names or web content. (see, https://www.thedomains.com/2021/03/06/brent-oxley-godaddy/)
To change hosting provider, Person A simply uploads the same files to a new server and changes the DNS records in the domain name servers to point WebsiteA.com to the new host. Other than maybe some downtime caused by DNS propagation delays, WebsiteA.com visitors would not notice any turbulence. Conversely, if the WebsiteA.com domain were suspended, it would be impossible not to notice it. With them, having to know the new address of the said website via other communication media such as social networks… a logistical nightmare.
Needless to say, there are valid reasons why decentralized solutions can look attractive, with benefits such as:
- Resistance to the aforementioned censorship as there is no one to complain to about a decentralized domain name. This offers good protection for freedom of expression but little recourse against those who post the worst types of content. Working at a registrar for almost seven years, there is some disgusting illegal content that we have stopped that has gone through the abuse queue. I was glad we were able to do it.
- The fact that in some cases it is possible to simply make a one-time payment and retain ownership of a decentralized domain name indefinitely. With Unstoppable Domains, it’s possible to pay as little as $ 20 and never have to worry about renewal fees. Handshake domains, on the other hand, are subject to renewal fees and have a more complex approach to domain allocation, such as domain auctions in which interested parties can bid through the HNS coin that is generated when new blocks are added.
- The potential anonymity involved. The main caveat, however, is that in a public ledger setting, the term “pseudonym” might be more appropriate. In many cases, it is possible to trace those who initiated a transaction. Yet decentralized domain names offer the potential for improved anonymity compared to their centralized counterparts, even over existing options for traditional domains such as WHOIS privacy.
- The security dimension. For example, valuable domain names have often been lost due to social engineering or basically criminals posing as the rightful owner of a domain and successfully transferring it. Likewise, there may be other options when it comes to compromising central points of failure, such as registrars, for example, hacks and weaknesses in their code. In contrast, tampering with anything blockchain related is not orders of magnitude more difficult, with risks resulting from user errors such as loss of private keys rather than fraudulent activity.
There are other benefits besides the above four, but they illustrate the ways in which decentralized domain names represent an alternative worth considering. But, they are not without their drawbacks, which we discuss in our companion article on the dark side of decentralized domain names.