The recent unfortunate doings in Libya have made an example of how the Internet works around problem areas. And it reminded me that if you are going to put your content in the hands of a dictator, it is nice to know whom you are dealing with.
Let me explain. Many of us, including myself, use the URL shortening service Bit.ly, for promoting our content on Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn, among other places. Aside from conserving on character counts, it has a nice dashboard that shows you how many people open that link and other tracking data.
But the Bit.ly domain uses the Libyan country code .LY. So if some crazies decide to remove Libya from the Internet, does that mean that all your shortened links will die? Not necessarily.
To understand the reason why you need to know more about the Internet domain name system and how it is structured. While I don’t want to get into a tutorial here, an easy way to figure out where Libyan domains are cared for is to look here.
This is the international registry by IANA that keeps track of these sorts of things. Who made them in charge? (Jon Postel originally but getting into that is another story.) You can see by looking at this page that there are five different “name servers” where Libyan domains are kept. This doesn’t mean that these five places host any content – in fact, I am sure that they host no Libyan content whatsoever. It just means that when you type in a .LY URL, these five places keep the master directory of where those domains actually live.
If you want to see the actual physical locations where these directory servers are connected to the Internet, bring up the following site and cut and paste the IP addresses.
You’ll see that there are two servers in Oregon of all places, and another one in Holland. This means that if you want to have your content elsewhere – outside of the country that the two-letter code domain indicates such as Bit.ly — chances are good that you will still get connectivity.
Now try to track down the servers for Bahrain (country code BH) and you will see all four of them are on the same subnet 193.188.97.x that is inside the country and controlled by the national telecom authority. That means if you have a .BH site, you might have more trouble getting connected if the country pulled the plug.
I am sure there is a story why the University of Oregon is a name server for Libya (and I am sure that someone seeing this will post a reason why), this is just one of many such instances where seemingly random places and people house servers in the greater good of the overall Internet. Poking around the IANA name directory I found psg.com as the name server for a few country domains.
What this little exercise brings up is how dependent we are on the kindness of others when it comes to the Internet. In the case of using Bit.ly, or Facebook, or LinkedIn, or even Twitter to promote our content or provide links to our own servers, we think we know whom we are dealing with. But we still trust these businesses to act responsively and stay in business. Look at how many times Twitter’s Fail Whale appears, and there have been plenty of outages with other sites.
I admit that I haven’t given this a lot of thought. For the past several years, I have owned the domain Webinformant.tv to host my screencast video reviews. Until this week, I never even looked at where the Tuvalu country code .TV domain names were being served – turns out I don’t have to worry, Verisign has it under control from several locations around the world. And while I think they aren’t plotting to takeover the .TV namespace, or the many other domain names that they provide service from, it is an interesting piece of information to know.
Many of the Internet Irregulars like psg.com operate outside of any real recognition for their efforts – in some cases it is just a couple of guys that have been involved early on in the Internet infrastructure and just through inertia still are involved.
I remember many years when I got to actually visit the location for one of the lettered root domain servers in Silicon Valley. My friend had to replace one of his servers that was co-located there – this was back before the concept even was given a name. It was in some nondescript warehouse and the level of security wasn’t even near Defcon status. Now these servers have multiple backups and locations, and indeed most of them are located outside of the US to make the Internet naming system more resilient.
So, think about this the next time you are tempted to purchase an oddball domain name, or rely on a service to link to your content. And hopefully we’ll see some relief and a better situation to what is happening in Libya too.