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Paul Mockapetris

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DNS What? Celebrating 30 Years of a Technology That You Use Every Day and Don't Know It

Posted: 05/06/2013 6:09 pm

The Domain Name System, or DNS, came to life in 1983 as part of Internet technology, making it possible for people to create and use domain names for the things they wanted to access instead of numerical addresses. Today, we use the DNS in email addresses, web addresses, etc., but more often the DNS is being used invisibly by applications inside our phones and laptops, meaning we are enjoying it without even knowing it. Network providers like Verizon and Comcast also analyze DNS traffic to identify cyber security threats, or build service delivery platforms layered atop the DNS to create personally tailored Internet experiences for individual users.

I couldn't know then -- in the early days of the Internet -- just how vital the DNS would be in our every day interactions, or all of its roles in advancing the Internet user experiences we are seeing today. But the DNS, like all good technologies, was designed to explore new frontiers and not be put to one particular use. Its design was purposely extensible.

As we approach the 30th anniversary of this prolific technology, let us take a moment to reflect on the assorted ways that DNS touches our lives every day. You know about your favorite web activities, but do you know DNS is at the heart of all these transactions? Below are five common ways that DNS touches our lives:

1) Connect: Your favorite form of communication -- Emails, SMS, Tweeting; whatever way you prefer to communicate, it must be processed by a DNS engine to find the recipient or audience.

2) Own: The DNS distribution system is so efficient that domain names aren't just for countries, companies or even celebrities - anyone that can afford an Internet device can also afford their own public domain if they want one. Your own computers, printers, video servers may already use a private DNS variant to talk to each other without your attention. By 2015, every product that is based on a silicon chip, whether automobile or microwave oven or thermostat will have the capability to connect to your home network. And DNS will be there to help.

3) Watch: More content is being streamed over the internet, through services like Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and the recently launched HitBliss -- the future of watching television on the Internet is now. The content networks that stream the video use the DNS to match millions of users to millions of servers in the blink of an eye.

4) Understand: Your least favorite cyber presence -- Whether it is pesky malware on your computer or a phishing ploy disguised as a text message meant to trick you into sharing personal information, these threats are Internet applications that use the DNS layer. DNS traffic analysis can identify these.

5) Protect: The same DNS can keep track of the bad guys and their names and addresses to warn or block harmful content. In reality, the typical email server uses more DNS lookups to filter out spam than to deliver email; luckily DNS servers have gotten faster and faster as quickly as we have built more and more applications for DNS.

I am pleased to see the DNS evolving and advancing the way we interact with the Internet, and its influence on our lives. I can only imagine what the future has in store -- flying cars, anyone?

 
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