Web site operators will be able to register domain names written entirely in Chinese characters, including the final characters to the right of the last dot, in a matter of months.
Until now, site operators could register Web sites in the Chinese country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) using Chinese characters for all except the final ".cn".
The board of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) granted approval to three different organizations -- China Internet Network Information Center, Hong Kong Internet Registration Corporation and Taiwan Network Information Center -- to create Chinese-language top-level domains (TLDs). ICANN controls the creation of new Internet TLDs.
"One in five people on the planet will directly benefit from this work," ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom said in a news conference Friday afternoon.
The changes will also affect application software developers and those who maintain whitelists or blacklists of domain names for Web filters or antiphishing tools, as they will have to update their code and filters.
The Chinese-language TLDs will be created within two to three months, he said.
China uses a script that represents words as one or more ideograms, but the DNS (Domain Name System) infrastructure stores domain names using the "Latin" alphabet, the 26 letters from A to Z. That suits Internet users in English-speaking countries, but poses problems in countries for which the official language is written using other scripts, such as Chinese ideograms, Arabic script or the Cyrillic characters used in Russian. European countries such as Österreich (Austria) or España (Spain) also have problems with the Latin alphabet, as they use accented characters to spell their official name in their own language.
The Chinese-language internationationalized domain names (IDNs) are not the first IDNs that ICANN has approved. In April it allowed Egypt, Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to create country-code top-level domain names in their own script.
There are many more applications for IDNs pending, Beckstrom said, including requests from Tunisia, Qatar, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territory for the creation of IDNs in Arabic, from Sri Lanka for names in Sinhalese and Tamil, and from Thailand to add its name in Thai.
The technical underpinnings were developed not by ICANN but by the Internet Engineering Task Force, who worked for many years on the project, Beckstrom said.
The IDNs, regardless of the script or language they represent, will all be stored as a series of Latin characters beginning xn -- followed by an encoded sequence representing the name. Thus, the IDN for China will be stored as xn -- fiqs8S (in simplified Chinese script) or xn--fiqz9S (in traditional Chinese script), while that for Taiwan will be xn -- kpry57d or xn -- kprw13d. Converting the underlying TLD into the appropriate script for display will be left to the browser or other client software. ICANN hosts a test page to find out whether a browser can already do this.
Peter Sayer covers open source software, European intellectual property legislation and general technology breaking news for IDG News Service. Send comments and news tips to Peter at email@example.com.