Thursday, February 2, 2012

Domain Name Persistence

Last December a useful workshop on Domain Name Persistence was held in conjunction with the 7th International Digital Curation Conference. My comments on the need for persistent domain names are below the fold.

This is a fundamental problem with preserving Web content, in that the name for the Web resource contains a DNS name. DNS names can vanish, or be re-assigned, at any time on the whim of the domain owner. The owner of the domain name can change at any time. There are three possible approaches to dealing with the problem

  • Prevent it happening.
  • Distinguish between persistent and evanescent domain names.
  • Live with it.
Preventing domain names changing or being re-assigned is impractical, since these changes are made by the domain owner in response to changes in the real world. From the report, the workshop's focus was on distinguishing between persistent and evanescent domain names. They came up with the useful idea of persistent sub-domains of the .arpa gTLD, which are potentially feasible because the .arpa gTLD is administered by IANA, not by a registrar such as Network Solutions. I don't want to discourage thinking along these lines; a way for services such as DOI resolution to have persistent URIs would indeed be useful. However, persuading people who want to link persistently to particular Web content to use a URI with a persistent domain name would be a challenge. It has been a challenge to get people to link, for example, to published papers via their DOI, which is supposed to be a more persistent way to do it.

It should be noted that the Internet Archive, LOCKSS and Memento have all taken the approach of living with the problem. They all treat Web content as being named by a URL and a time at which that URL was valid, and provide ways to navigate to it using both the URL and the timestamp. In the end, living with the problem may be less work and more effective than trying to fix it.

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