Feeds

.com celebrates 25th birthday

The afterthought that took over the internet

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

On April 26, 1985, a man called Charles Hornig complained on a mailing list that his new symbolics.com email address wasn't working. Scanning every mail server on the internet, all 1,008 of them, he discovered only one was configured to handle a .com address.

“I am not heartened by these results,” he wrote. “Maybe we should go back to .ARPA, which people at least understand?”

Twenty-five years ago today, his company, Symbolics, was the first to register a .com domain name. It was over a month before the second was registered and only three more were registered that year.

Today, there are almost 90 million .coms, with half a million new ones added every week. VeriSign, the .com registry, handles over 50 billion DNS queries every day. It's difficult to imagine an internet without it.

But there very nearly wasn't a .com at all. Draft specs published in May 1984 called for a “.cor”, for anything corporate-related. The same draft called for a “.pub”. By July, these had morphed into .com and .org, but nobody seems to know why.

Paul Mockapetris, who invented the DNS and is now chairman of Nominum, said he cannot remember whose idea it was to use the string '.com'. There was a lot of debate at the time, he said, with most of it focused on whether to create generic domains like .com or to make them all country-specific such as .uk.

“Back then none of this seemed important,” he said. “We set up .com so we could split off commercial issues and have all that dealt with separately. At the time, everybody thought that that was the tail and rest was the dog, but it turned out the reverse was true.”

Symbolics, the first .com registrant, also failed to realise the significance of its role in the nascent internet. Russell Noftsker, founder and president of the now-defunct Lisp computer maker, said that most commercial internet users were US government contractors 25 year ago.

“The driving application the funding agencies were interested in was the connectivity of researchers and contractors,” Noftsker said. “We thought there would be some commercial applications, but we did not know how broad that would be.”

It wasn't until the advent of the web in the early 1990s that domain name registrations, many of them speculative, started to take off in a big way. Early movers such as Gary Kremen, the original registrant of sex.com, went on to make millions from their investments. Even Symbolics.com was sold off last August for an undisclosed sum to a domain investor.

The engineers who created the system were not so fortunate.

“I was smart enough to invent it, but not smart enough to own it,” joked Mockapetris. “If someone had asked me, do you think you'll get 10,000 names registered, I would have said, well I hope so.”

ICANN, the body now responsible for managing new additions to the DNS, is set to soon open the floodgates for potentially hundreds of new top-level domains, many of which will compete with .com. So is .com's day over?

“I think there could be some dilution, but right now .com is the only international brand,” said Mockapetris. Many country-code domains stagnate because local businesses all want a .com, he said. “Until someone figures out how to break that, it's going to stay that way.”

VeriSign is currently running a marketing campaign to celebrate .com's birthday, at 25yearsof.com. ®

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
NSA SOURCE CODE LEAK: Information slurp tools to appear online
Now you can run your own intelligence agency
Azure TITSUP caused by INFINITE LOOP
Fat fingered geo-block kept Aussies in the dark
Yahoo! blames! MONSTER! email! OUTAGE! on! CUT! CABLE! bungle!
Weekend woe for BT as telco struggles to restore service
Cloud unicorns are extinct so DiData cloud mess was YOUR fault
Applications need to be built to handle TITSUP incidents
Stop the IoT revolution! We need to figure out packet sizes first
Researchers test 802.15.4 and find we know nuh-think! about large scale sensor network ops
Turnbull should spare us all airline-magazine-grade cloud hype
Box-hugger is not a dirty word, Minister. Box-huggers make the cloud WORK
SanDisk vows: We'll have a 16TB SSD WHOPPER by 2016
Flash WORM has a serious use for archived photos and videos
Astro-boffins start opening universe simulation data
Got a supercomputer? Want to simulate a universe? Here you go
Microsoft adds video offering to Office 365. Oh NOES, you'll need Adobe Flash
Lovely presentations... but not on your Flash-hating mobe
prev story

Whitepapers

10 ways wire data helps conquer IT complexity
IT teams can automatically detect problems across the IT environment, spot data theft, select unique pieces of transaction payloads to send to a data source, and more.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
10 threats to successful enterprise endpoint backup
10 threats to a successful backup including issues with BYOD, slow backups and ineffective security.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Website security in corporate America
Find out how you rank among other IT managers testing your website's vulnerabilities.