Non-Latin web addresses go live for first time


Non-Latin characters are being used for top level domains for the first time in the internet's history.

Yesterday saw the introduction of the first three production non-Latin top-level domains, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) announced.

United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt have become the first countries to have their country code top-level domains (ccTLD) written in Arabic.

"All three are Arabic script domains, and will enable domain names written fully right-to-left," explained Icann's Kim Davies in a blog post.

Egypt's Ministry of Communications and Information Technology is one of the first to use a ccTLD for its website.

A big deal

So just how significant is this development? Phil Kingsland, director of marketing and communications at Nominet, the national registry for .uk domain names, believes it is "a major turning point in the history of the internet".

He told IT PRO: "There are currently an estimated 1.8 billion people using the internet and a further five billion who are not yet online - most of these people are from nations where their language is not based on the Latin script.

He added: "Opening up the web to allow Asian, Arabic and other non-Latin based scripts will give this large group of people easier access to the web, helping to bring them online and making the Internet more inclusive. This move will undoubtedly bring freedom to a globally connected community."

There is significance for businesses here as well and Kingsland suggested firms should prepare for the propagation of such domains.

"For brand owners there is a requirement to be aware and plan for the introduction of these new domains, whether it's for brand protection purposes, or to market via this new channel."

Teething problems?

Introducing the Arabic ccTLDs has not been smooth sailing, however.

Those with software that does not have full internationalised domain name support may not get the results they expect. "You may see a mangled string of letters and numbers, and perhaps some per cent signs or a couple of "xn--"s mixed into the address bar. Or it may not work at all," Davies added.

"Icann staff are still finishing the processing of these domains' delegations, but now that they are visible in the root zone it is fair to say these are mostly formalities."

Regardless of the technical teething issues, internet historians will want to mark this as an important event in the web's relatively brief life.

Tom Brewster

Tom Brewster is currently an associate editor at Forbes and an award-winning journalist who covers cyber security, surveillance, and privacy. Starting his career at ITPro as a staff writer and working up to a senior staff writer role, Tom has been covering the tech industry for more than ten years and is considered one of the leading journalists in his specialism.

He is a proud alum of the University of Sheffield where he secured an undergraduate degree in English Literature before undertaking a certification from General Assembly in web development.