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Naming and addressing
The network and the transport layers rely on addresses that are encoded as fixed size bit strings. A network layer address uniquely identifies a host. Several transport layer entities can use the service of the same network layer. For example, a reliable transport protocol and a connectionless transport protocol can coexist on the same host. In this case, the network layer multiplexes the segments produced by these two protocols. This multiplexing is usually achieved by placing in the network packet header a field that indicates which transport protocol should process the segment. Given that there are few different transport protocols, this field does not need to be long. The port numbers play a similar role in the transport layer since they enable it to multiplex data from several application processes.
While addresses are natural for the network and transport layer entities, humans prefer to use names when interacting with network services. Names can be encoded as a character string and a mapping services allows applications to map a name into the corresponding address. Using names is friendlier for humans, but it also provides a level of indirection which is very useful in many situations.
Because names are at a higher level than addresses, they allow (both in the example of programming above, and on the Internet) to treat addresses as mere technical identifiers, which can change at will. Only the names are stable.
The first solution that allowed applications to use names was the :term:`hosts.txt` file. This file is similar to the symbol table found in compiled code. It contains the mapping between the name of each Internet host and its associated address [#fhosts]_. It was maintained by SRI International that coordinated the Network Information Center (NIC). When a new host was connected to the network, the system administrator had to register its name and address at the NIC. The NIC updated the :term:`hosts.txt` file on its server. All Internet hosts regularly retrieved the updated :term:`hosts.txt` file from the SRI_ server. This file was stored at a well-known location on each Internet host (see :rfc:`952`) and networked applications could use it to find the address corresponding to a name.
A :term:`hosts.txt` file can be used when there are up to a few hundred hosts on the network. However, it is clearly not suitable for a network containing thousands or millions of hosts. A key issue in a large network is to define a suitable naming scheme. The ARPANet initially used a flat naming space, i.e. each host was assigned a unique name. To limit collisions between names, these names usually contained the name of the institution and a suffix to identify the host inside the institution (a kind of poor man's hierarchical naming scheme). On the ARPANet few institutions had several hosts connected to the network.
However, the limitations of a flat naming scheme became clear before the end of the ARPANet and :rfc:`819` proposed a hierarchical naming scheme. While :rfc:`819` discussed the possibility of organizing the names as a directed graph, the Internet opted for a tree structure capable of containing all names. In this tree, the top-level domains are those that are directly attached to the root. The first top-level domain was `.arpa` [#fdnstimeline]_. This top-level name was initially added as a suffix to the names of the hosts attached to the ARPANet and listed in the `hosts.txt` file. In 1984, the `.gov`, `.edu`, `.com`, `.mil` and `.org` generic top-level domain names were added. :rfc:`1032` proposed the utilization of the two letter :term:`ISO-3166` country codes as top-level domain names. Since :term:`ISO-3166` defines a two letter code for each country recognized by the United Nations, this allowed all countries to automatically have a top-level domain. These domains include `.be` for Belgium, `.fr` for France, `.us` for the USA, `.ie` for Ireland or `.tv` for Tuvalu, a group of small islands in the Pacific or `.tm` for Turkmenistan. The set of top-level domain-names is managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (:term:`ICANN`). :term:`ICANN` adds generic top-level domains that are not related to a country and the `.cat` top-level domain has been registered for the Catalan language. There are ongoing discussions within :term:`ICANN` to increase the number of top-level domains.
Each top-level domain is managed by an organization that decides how sub-domain names can be registered. Most top-level domain names use a first-come first served system, and allow anyone to register domain names, but there are some exceptions. For example, `.gov` is reserved for the US government, `.int` is reserved for international organizations and names in the `.ca` are mainly `reserved <>`_ for companies or users that are present in Canada.
The syntax of the domain names has been defined more precisely in :rfc:`1035`. This document recommends the following :term:`BNF` for fully qualified domain names (the domain names themselves have a much richer syntax).
BNF of the fully qualified host names
This grammar specifies that a host name is an ordered list of labels separated by the dot (`.`) character. Each label can contain letters, numbers and the hyphen character (`-`) [#fidn]_. Fully qualified domain names are read from left to right. The first label is a hostname or a domain name followed by the hierarchy of domains and ending with the root implicitly at the right. The top-level domain name must be one of the registered TLDs [#ftld]_. For example, in the above figure, `` corresponds to a host named `www` inside the `computer-networking` domain that belongs to the `info` top-level domain.
Some visually similar characters have different character codes
The Domain Name System was created at a time when the Internet was mainly used in North America. The initial design assumed that all domain names would be composed of letters and digits :rfc:`1035`. As Internet usage grew in other parts of the world, it became important to support non-ASCII characters. For this, extensions have been proposed to the Domain Name System :rfc:`3490`. In a nutshell, the solution that is used to support Internationalized Domain Names works as follows. First, it is possible to use most of the Unicode characters to encode domain names and hostnames, with a few exceptions (for example, the dot character cannot be part of a name since it is used as a separator). Once a domain name has been encoded as a series of Unicode characters, it is then converted into a string that contains the ``xn--`` prefix and a sequence of ASCII characters. More details on these algorithms can be found in :rfc:`3490` and :rfc:`3492`.
This hierarchical naming scheme is a key component of the Domain Name System (DNS). The DNS is a distributed database that contains mappings between fully qualified domain names and addresses. The DNS uses the client-server model. The clients are hosts or applications that need to retrieve the mapping for a given name. Each :term:`nameserver` stores part of the distributed database and answers the queries sent by clients. There is at least one :term:`nameserver` that is responsible for each domain. In the figure below, domains are represented by circles and there are three hosts inside domain `dom` (`h1`, `h2` and `h3`) and three hosts inside domain `a.sdom1.dom`. As shown in the figure below, a sub-domain may contain both host names and sub-domains.


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