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Comments on 20 September draft revised IDN guidelines

  • To: idn-guidelines@xxxxxxxxx
  • Subject: Comments on 20 September draft revised IDN guidelines
  • From: John C Klensin <klensin@xxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 22 Oct 2005 12:25:47 -0400

Despite considerable interest in issues associated with IDNs,
have refrained from commenting on this draft until now for
three reasons.  First, I have wanted to understand how other
comments were running.  Second, and more important, I do not
believe that the current draft for version 2.0 represents the
right direction for the Internet community and have been trying
to figure out how to address that issue.  Third, I have
gradually lost most of the confidence I once had in the quality
of ICANN's review and approval processes, so I am not sure that
writing these notes is worth the trouble.

So, while I applaud the efforts of the members of the
Guidelines committee to put this draft together and of ICANN in
finally initiating some real work on IDNs after years of
promises, I am deeply concerned about this draft and its


Comments on "Guidelines for the Implementation of
Internationalized Domain Names, Draft Version 2.0", dated 20
September 2005.

(1) Parts of the draft have the wrong tone and may represent
the wrong approach.

It is clearly in the best interest of the Internet community
that all domains -- gTLDs, ccTLDs, and domains at the second
level and beyond -- have consistent policies with regard to
IDNs.  If we do not have consistent policies, then users do not
know what to expect.  

If policies are not consistent, reasonable protection for users
encourages --some would say "forces"-- applications
implementers to develop per-domain profiles or lists of domains
with acceptable or unacceptable behavior.  We have, of course,
already seen that response.  Per-domain profiles, different
IDNA tables used in different applications, and similar
behavior, no matter how well-intentioned (or even necessary)
further damages user ability to predict how a particular
program will behave and reduces compliance with the relevant
standards.  Full compliance with IDNA requires that
applications display IDNs in fonts and glyphs appropriate to
the relevant characters if it is possible to do so.  

If a user obtains an application or operating system that is
fully Unicode-capable and that has a full set of fonts, that
user should, given the standard, be able to expect that he or
she will never see a "punycode"-encoded name.  Certainly such
names should not be seen on an arbitrary basis or on a basis
that is linked to particular domain names at the top levels of
the tree.  But that is exactly where we have found ourselves
with web browsers as a result of the recent IDN-"phishing"
problems and ICANN's unwillingness to address IDN policy and
permitted character issues when they were first identified
almost five years ago, while there was still time to address
them in the context of the basic design of IDNA.  This draft
does not significantly improve on the present situation.

In this area, and others, ICANN must decide what business it is
in and how it expects to generate and, if appropriate enforce,
policies.  Where consistency across domains is important, as it
is in this case, ICANN can, in principle, make policies
applicable to the entire Internet community, insisting that
conformance is a requirement of the long-standing provisions of
RFC 1591 that all domain managers act as trustees for the
global Internet community and act according to their
responsibilities to that community.  ICANN would also need to
insist that domain managers carry out their obligations under
the "recursive application" rule of RFC 1591, i.e., that they
enforce requirements placed on them on all subdomain
registrations they permit.

The existence of that authority in principle is, however,
meaningless without the will and ability to apply it, and apply
it consistently, in practice.  Based on the history of the last
few years, including ICANN's interactions with other
organizations and governmental entities, it seems unlikely that
ICANN, in practice, has any authority in this area that can be
exercised in a sufficiently global way to provide users with a
consistent and safe experience.

ICANN has an alternative which, in practice, would be more
likely to serve the overall community well.  That alternative
is to carefully explain the issues, provide "best practices"
guidelines for dealing with them and persuasive explanations of
why those practices are appropriate and necessary, and clearly
and logically identify the institutions that should have
responsibility for various actions and controls.  If that is
done, then ICANN should be able to assert only the level of
authority that it actually has in practice.  It would then step
back, in the presence of clear explanations of issues and
alternatives, rely for enforcement on the good sense of domain
administrators and managers, the workings of the marketplace,
and the various governmental and judicial systems around the

To accomplish that end,

(a) Any document such as this one must clearly differentiate
    between requirements of the IDNA standard and
        recommendations or requirements imposed by ICANN or based
        on other community consensus. 

(b) Any document such as this one should avoid stating
    requirements in terms of "ICANN commands and everyone else
        will comply".   That type of construction was one of the
        reasons why some of the provisions of the initial version
        of the Guidelines were widely ignored even when they were
        sensible.  Instead, ICANN should state a recommendation,
        explain why that recommendation is important, and, ideally,
        explain the adverse consequences --in terms of Internet
        behavior as seen by registrants or users-- of not following

(c) Documents such as this one should drop the pretense that
    gTLDs and ccTLDs are different from the standpoint of the
        Guidelines (the order in which IDNs should be deployed in
        different domains is a different issue).  If ICANN has no
        practical enforcement capability in one case and no will to
        attempt to enforce policies in the other, there are no
        practical differences.  Worse, making distinctions between
        "registries that have agreements with ICANN" and those which do
        not, and then imposing additional requirements on the former,
        represents poor strategic policy as it discourages those
        registries for whom reaching agreements with ICANN is
        voluntary from ever reaching such agreements.


(2) Any set of rules or guidelines should make the locus of
responsibility for specific implementations of the rules clear;
this document does not do so.

As discussed above, this draft is laden with language about
what registries "will" or "must" do.  Independent of where the
authority to make or enforce such statements comes from, it is
important to identify the reasons for those choices, rather
than possible alternatives, better than these guidelines do.
Even more important, there is an industry practice of passing
all responsibility for problematic registrations from registry
to registrar to registrant.  This is reasonable for, e.g.,
trademark conflicts where it may be plausible to expect the
would-be registrant to take responsibility for determining
rights in the chosen name.  However, there are IDN issues
involving name conflicts and name similarities in which only
the registry, by inspecting its own databases, can determine
whether it is appropriate to register a name.  For traditional,
LDH, domain name labels, registry-level appropriateness
typically involves only a determination of whether the label is
already present.  For IDNs, the necessary determination may
involve understanding whether a visually-confusable label
exists, or whether a label is not permitted due to an existing
label group (variant set).  If registries fail to establish and
enforce effective conventions in those areas, and harm results,
the responsibility must rest largely with the registry. 


(3) The draft does not go far enough to be significantly

Despite being stated as strong requirements, paragraphs 3 and 4
of the Guidelines do not provide any real guidance for marginal
cases.  Any rules of this type should start from a clear
statement of the principle that the use of the DNS as a source
of precise and unique identifiers for Internet objects is
paramount.  Without that as a primary principle, the network as
users know it simply ceases to function.  ICANN, and all domain
managers, need to accept and understand this principle and
understand that it may force banning the use of some strings as
IDNs even if those string would be culturally and
linguistically reasonable in some language considered by
itself.  As a trivial example for English-language strings, the
use of space characters, commas, and periods is usually
necessary to form sentences or phrases.  Yet those characters
have always been prohibited as part of domain name labels to be
used in applications because they would cause too much
confusion and too many risks to the integrity of DNS
references.  Similarly strong rules should be applied to the
use of such characters, or any character that maps onto them,
in IDNs, ideally with no exceptions.  If, counter to whatever
guidelines or "best practice" statements exist, registries make
exceptions to such rules, they must bear complete
responsibility for any negative consequences.

Beyond that principle, Sections 3 and 4 indicate what code
points may or may not be permissible by broad examples.  That
approach does not provide much guidance except to experts.
While there may be many experts on a single language, there are
few experts across all of the languages and scripts of the
world.  The approach of making specific prohibitions mentioned
by Neil Harris in his posting about restrictions on 11 October
appears to be a much more satisfactory method of dealing with
these issues, and a better way to provide useful guidance,
than by citing a few examples. 


(4) The draft focuses on the registration process, rather than
on impact on actual implementations and users and user

As I have indicated in other contexts, users do not generally
use domain names.  They use URLs or other URIs or IRIs, they
use email addresses, and they may use other identifiers that
incorporate domain names.   The draft Guidelines identify one
aspect of this issue in Section 5 but indicate only that the
registry should "include in its documentation a description of
the factors that determine the way that sequence appears at the
user interface".  I have no idea what that means; I would
predict that the typical registry would not have a much better
idea.  That is not "guidance".

But, more generally, DNS registries typically deal with the
registration of single labels at a single level of the system.
Several confusing situations can be introduced by sequences of
labels, especially sequences in different scripts.  However,
suggestions to restrict the language or script of labels at one
level of the DNS tree based on the language or script used at
another level have generally proven infeasible due to other DNS
constraints.  The Guidelines, especially if they are to be
titled as "Guidelines for Implementation" should either clearly
address these issues or should avoid them entirely, pointing if
appropriate to other documents and efforts.


(5) The draft is internally confusing and creates new

The draft represents an odd mix of standards from different
bodies, partially-ratified but still-changing technical
reports, and other documents as reference sources.  If the
reader is left to interpret the intersections among, and
applicability of, these documents, the only certain results are
inconsistency and confusion.

In particular, the language and script registration rules of
Section 3 rely on a mixture of an IETF Standard for language
identification that was designed primarily for another purpose
and may not be completely suitable for this one (RFC 3066), an
ISO Standard for script identification (IS 15924) that has been
controversial in some quarters and that does not contain
guidelines for use in this type of context, and a Unicode
character properties list (UTR 23) that evolves as characters
are added to Unicode and needs change.  No guidance is given
about how those various standards can and should be used
together.  An IETF effort (the products of the LTRU working
group) that might provide some assistance in the area is not
referenced (although it is mentioned under "Additional
remarks", see below).  Whether it should be depended upon now
is questionable since it is not clear at what granularity it
should be applied to this work but, since it is intended to
supersede RFC 3066, ignoring it entirely seems inappropriate.
The text indirectly indicates an understanding of the issues by
indicating that the various standards "illustrate" the relevant
designation, but, again, that approach provides little real

Worse, if the statements made in that paragraph are taken as
rules or guidance, they would essentially prohibit the use of a
few Indian languages, and a large number of African languages,
in IDNs despite the fact that all of the required characters
appear in the Unicode code tables.  If there is a language or
script for which Unicode encodings for some characters do not
exist, it is probably appropriate and necessary, although
painful, for ICANN to take the position that the encodings be
registered first and then that IETF extend the mappings
permitted by IDNA before IDN registrations are permitted: there
does not appear to be any stable alternative.  However, if
Unicode codings are available for all of the characters
relevant to a particular language and script, but 
no standardized names exist for those characters as a single
script or unique to that language, it seems unreasonable to
ban, or even significantly postpone, IDN registrations for that


(6) The status of the "Additional remarks" is unclear.

Are these remarks part of the Guidelines?  Suggestions about
areas for future revisions?  An indication that the Guidelines
are complete enough for community comment but not for any
instantiation into policy?  Neither the text nor the
"Additional remarks" title provides any answers to those
questions.  The questions are important because several of the
remarks that appear to be statements of fact are actually
statements of highly controversial opinions.  For example, UTR
36 remains controversial both within and outside the Unicode
development community.  

Whether the status of ISO 639-3 (which is an improper way to
refer to it, it is ISO/DIS 639-3) is "advanced stage" is in the
mind of the beholder: the relevant technical committee
identifies a "Publication target date" of "2006-12-03" and a
"Status" of "Under Development".  It is worth noting that the
initial DIS version of ISO 10646, the ISO counterpart to the
Unicode standard, was completely replaced by a new version and
model at a later stage than 636-3 has now achieved.

There are other examples, but these comments are already too
long.  If the "Additional remarks" section is intended to
suggest that this draft of new Guidelines is unsuitable for
incorporation into any policy process as it is now written, I
would completely agree.  If that section somehow is not
expected to count, then it is even more clear to me that the
draft Guidelines need an extensive reworking, starting from
different principles about policies, relationships, and
actions and then continuing on to address the technical issues
in a way that provides more actual guidance.

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