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As far as this book is concerned, the interesting questions about the Internet's name and address spaces are economic and political. How much real control over the Internet and its users does management of the root yield? Is the root a source of power that can be seized and exploited for political or economic gain, or is its unique status a product of consensus and cooperation that would vanish the moment anyone tried to use it for such purposes? Are there important reasons for nation-states to worry about who controls the root? These questions are central to the Internet governance controversy. But any attempt to answer them leads to more specific questions about how the Internet works:
How costly and technically difficult would it be to start an alternative, competing domain name system (DNS) root? Can the root of the DNS be easily bypassed, or are there economic factors that lock us into a single supplier? What would be the economic and technical consequences of an attempt to bypass it?
Is a single, centralized root under the control of a single body technically necessary, or can this function be decentralized and distributed without sacrificing effective coordination?
How robust is the root? Is its status as the global nexus for computer interconnection so fragile that its management must be carefully sheltered from any disruptive influences, perhaps by being placed in the hands of a technical priesthood or government supervisors? Or is the Internet's architecture so flexible and distributed that failures in a few locations can be easily routed around?
How are domain names and Internet Protocol (IP) addresses related to each other in the Internet's operation? Do domain name assignment and IP address allocation need to be handled by the same organization?
To proceed along these lines we must know more about naming and addressing protocols on the Internet. This chapter describes in some detail IP addresses, the DNS, and the way they interact. The description of their technical structure is mostly abstracted from the organizations that implement them; later chapters fill in the organizational and historical dimensions. The purpose of this chapter is to establish the technical vocabulary needed to engage in an informed discussion of the political economy of the root.
Throughout this chapter I will refer to 'RFCs.' The Request for Comment (RFC) series archives and codifies Internet protocols and standards. It is the permanent document repository of the Internet Engineering Task Force. Begun informally in 1969 when Steve Crocker of ARPANET circulated a document that he wanted others to comment on, it now constitutes the official publication channel for Internet standards and other statements by the Internet research and engineering community ( including the occasional poem and humorous spoof). Draft RFCs go through a review process supervised by the RFC Editor and the Internet Engineering Task Force's governing hierarchy. Officially adopted RFCs are numbered and are available free of charge to anyone via the Internet. A number of sites on the Internet contain complete collections of the RFC series, including <http://www.rfc-editor.org> and <http://community.roxen.com/developers/idocs/rfc/ >.
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