International domain names succeed in testing

The use of non-Latin characters such as Arabic and Chinese letters in domain names has been successfully tested by ICANN

Internationalised domain names (IDNs) have moved a step closer to reality, after ICANN announced it had successfully completed testing.

Currently, domain names can be composed of just 37 core symbols, including numbers, letters from the Latin alphabet and the hyphen.

However, many countries whose languages use other characters — such as Chinese or Arabic — have long been demanding the ability to use IDNs based on those characters. Advocates see this development as crucial to retaining a single global internet.

ICANN — the organisation that administers domain names — commissioned a laboratory test of IDNs in October 2006. The test was designed to establish whether the use of encoded internationalised characters would "have any impact on the operations of the root name servers providing delegations, or the iterative mode resolvers".

ICANN announced the results on Wednesday. "No impact at all could be detected," wrote tester Lars-Johan Liman. "All involved systems behaved exactly as expected." All details of the test setup and design are available on ICANN's website, so that it can be replicated if desired.

However, the test did not include the "end-user perspective" or a live root test, but concentrated instead on "replicating the root server environment". This suggests that significant further testing needs to be done before IDNs are allowed.