When it comes to web addresses, the Domain Name System (DNS) isn’t always common knowledge, even though it’s one of the most important things we use on the internet. Before the internet became the easily traversed worldwide sensation it is today, web addresses were comprised of numbers separated by dots. (Example: 204.12.248.116.) The DNS system was created to provide human readable addresses that represent computer-read addresses. DNS is sort of like the old phone books of our past when people would look up a person’s name to find their phone number. DNS provides that same service to the internet. When you visit a domain such as ethnews.com, your computer follows a series of steps to turn that human-readable address into a machine-readable IP address.

As Ethereum continues to progress, developers are working on ways to make Ethereum more user-friendly, thus simplifying it for more everyday use. The Ethereum Name Service (ENS), a project created to simplify Ethereum use-cases, has launched on the Ropsten testnet. ENS is to Ethereum what DNS is to the internet. It lets users register and use human-readable names like 'vitalik.eth' instead of cryptographic addresses like '0x32b724f073ec346edd64b0cc67757e4f6fe42950'. At the time of this softlaunch, services do not have built in ENS support, however plans to add support will roll out over the course of the next few months. ENS will support wallets that are named using ENS addresses, so users can send Ether to someone's ENS name (alice.eth) instead of their wallet address (a string of characters). It will also be compatible with Swarm and IPFS addresses, which will allow people to browse sites on the 'distributed web' once browser support is available.

According to Nick Johnson of the Ethereum Foundation and creator of ENS,

“Beyond that, there's a huge variety of possible uses, including replacing existing DNS infrastructure with ENS.”

ENS is proposed to benefit Ethereum users by making it easier to send and receive funds and interact with contracts with human-readable names instead of numbered addresses. Protocols like Swarm and IPFS will be able to access distributed sites by name. With ENS available to all Ethereum-based blockchains (private as well as public), users who use Ethereum-supported browsers such as Mist, will be able to access ENS once it’s launched onto the mainnet. This will allow an easier understanding of Ethereum for people outside of this growing ecosystem, increasing widespread adoption. Aside from bridging the gap between the Ethereum ecosystem and the mainstream, this will reduce typos in Ethereum addresses.

When ENS is initially deployed on the mainnet, the ENS registrar (the software that will allow name registration) will be based upon an auction process, which will more likely ensure the fair distribution of names by preventing people from snapping up and reselling those names for a profit when the system launches. The initial registrar won’t permit registering any names shorter than seven characters. While domain squatting is certainly an issue with our current internet and DNS, Johnson hopes this auction process will deter squatters, even though the registrar is entirely automated and does not have a built-in dispute resolution process.

Nick Johnson told ETHNews, “The deployment plan calls for a one-year period with the initial registrar, after which we'll start accepting submissions for a permanent registrar to replace it, with the goal of deploying that two years after launch. What sort of dispute process the permanent registrar has - if any - will depend on what we learn from the initial deployment of ENS, what will make the service the most useful, and what the community wants to see.”

Since registering a name, and updating the address the name points to are both blockchain transactions, they will require gas, which results in a fee of Ether. However, resolving names can be done offchain by Dapps such as browsers and wallets, and requires no gas and will not cost any Ether.

“We also support onchain resolution, so contracts can resolve addresses inside transactions”. 

Unlike DNS, pricing for domain names will be different. Prices will be determined by a blind auction, with a low minimum cost if there’s only one bidder for that name. There are no value tiers, though, as stated above, names shorter than seven characters will not be allowed with the initial registrar.

“The price of the domain is held in a 'deed' account against the registered name, and after a fixed period, users can get their deposit back by relinquishing the name. When the transition to the permanent registrar happens, everyone will have the option of transferring their name to the permanent registrar, or relinquishing it and getting their deposit back.”

Once ENS is deployed, if a person wants a domain that’s already taken, they must contact the owner of the name and negotiate. The Ethereum address of the name owner will be public, but that’s all that is revealed, “though it's possible that the permanent registrar may require some form of WHOIS information.”

ENS plans to deploy on the mainnet in early 2017, but you can view the official testnet deployment here.

Brianne Rivlin

Brianne Rivlin has been writing within the internet field for over six years. For more than a year of that time, she has been heavily inundated with blockchain, virtual currency, and Ethereum technology. Read More
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