Internet phone book desperately needs to be upgraded

The websites we visit are scattered across the vast and messy underground cable web, metal box racks, and the myriad of routers that have come to be called the Internet. So can the browser know where to look by typing the address and pressing Enter?

The answer is a system that has existed since the days when the Internet was very small and compact, and could map everything into a single text file.It is called Domain name system (Or DNS for short), and it has been catching up with the evolving role of the Internet for decades, but it has also collapsed more often than ever in recent years — and with it some of the largest sites on the Web. Destroyed.

The increasing frequency has led many to seek better systems, but it is not easy to replace the very foundation of the World Wide Web.


DNS is one of the most important gears on the Internet. It functions as an internet phone book. It’s not a thick, physical type, it’s similar to the digital one on a cell phone.

The job of DNS is to translate the website name into a computer-friendly address.

You see, electronic devices like your computer and your modem router don’t understand the language we speak. They speak in numbers. So if you enter a domain name like “”, the browser isn’t sure what that means. To navigate the maze of servers and routers, track the location of a website and display it on the screen, you need a unique identification number (physical address ( for Digital Trends)) for that website. ..

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In other words, the job of DNS is to translate the website name into a computer-friendly address. This is the same as accessing a mobile phone number or address by simply entering a person’s name in the Phone Contacts app. Unlike the contacts app on your mobile phone, the Internet phonebook has nearly 2 billion website entries (and counts).

Therefore, each time you enter a URL in the address bar, the browser first calls DNS and asks you to get the website number. When DNS returns that information, the browser can find and connect to the website’s server.

This all happens in a blink of an eye, and browsers can further reduce the time it takes for the DNS process by caching the identities of frequently visited websites.

Without DNS, without a flashlight your browser will be lost in the dark. This is essential for almost anything, including web addresses that cover most of your internet activity, from sending text to someone to processing digital payments. Hundreds of billions of DNS pings are exchanged during the day. In the case of Comcast, it is 1 trillion.

Where the latest DNS didn’t work

DNS has existed since the 1970s, when the Internet was restricted to some university walls. Unlike today’s global distributed systems, it’s just a text file containing a list of the numeric addresses of all connected computers, managed by a woman named Elizabeth Finer.

However, DNS has undoubtedly evolved far beyond what the original manufacturer expected. And as a result of this forced evolution, cracks began to appear in its architecture.

A bigger concern is the integration of the DNS market.

In July 2021, some bank pages and services such as Airbnb and Amazon went offline for over an hour due to a DNS bug. Similar problems disrupted most of the Internet in 2020. In fact, such outages are so common that the phrase “always DNS” is a popular joke that makes fun of how DNS usually causes network failures. Among technicians.

According to Dan York, Internet Content Director of the Internet Society, DNS is involved in so many Internet outages simply because it “is operated on a larger scale than any other service.” There are dozens of moving parts, all of which function like high-speed relays, so if one of them fails, the entire DNS chain will be destroyed.

However, with a grand plan, DNS error rates are fairly low (remember: trillions of queries go through DNS every day). So far, DNS is only responsible for 4% of the outages of the day this year, according to data provided by Pingdom, a global network monitoring platform.

A bigger concern is the integration of the DNS market. One of the original goals behind migrating from original text files to modern DNS was to design a “distributed database” that “avoids problems caused by centralized databases”.

But what happened is that as more people went online and the demand for networks increased, large companies delegated DNS obligations to third-party hosting services such as Cloudflare and Amazon Web Services. Most of the top 1,000 domains are integrated around just four infrastructure providers. Therefore, a bug in one of these providers will take most of the mainstream web offline.

ICANN, or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a non-profit regulator that oversees DNS standards, has no control over which hosting service company chooses. For this reason, Raj Jain, a professor of computer science at the University of Washington, believes there is an urgent need for legislation against all Internet monopolies, including DNS providers and search engines.

Is there a better way to do DNS?

However, some startups have more ambitious solutions in mind. handshakeA blockchain-powered platform, DNS has been centralized in the hands of several hosting companies, claiming that “gatekeepers” like ICANN are vulnerable to cyberattacks and censorship. .. We want to fully decentralize the Domain Name System by distributing the roots of the Domain Name System across the blockchain network. In a blockchain network, instead of trusting a third party, anyone can “true” own their domain.

“With Handshake, you can create a whole new phone book,” Handshake’s head of marketing, Jake Schaeffer, told Digital Trends:

However, in reality, it is almost impossible to duplicate a DNS extension. A previous attempt similar to the handshake came and failed.

DNS processes hundreds of thousands of queries per second, and new technologies such as blockchain can’t keep up with this rapid change, said Eric Osterweil, an assistant professor of computer science at George Mason University and former vice-chairman of the team. I am. Responsible for analyzing DNS security, stability, and reliability.

“In my view, DNS collision-free namespaces are likely to never be created again,” Osterweil added.

A spokesperson for ICANN does not believe that the coalition “has serious problems with DNS management and scaling,” but “is closely following the development of new identifier technologies, such as those based on blockchain and peer-to-peer networks.” Stated.

There is no taker yet as a blockchain-based alternative to DNS. But that’s a familiar story — and the one we’ve seen before in the case of Bitcoin. However, Bitcoin has been in development for over a decade and is far from replacing traditional currencies. But its partial success is drawing a promising picture. It remains to be seen if a company like Handshake can replicate this success and build a reliable DNS alternative.

In its strategic plans for the next few years, ICANN has identified many of the common DNS issues and allocated more budget to mitigate risk. However, if the history is any indication, it will take several years to deploy, even if updates are made to resolve these issues.

Until then, DNS occasionally knocks on the most visited destinations on the Internet offline, followed by the chant “It’s always DNS.”

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