[David Strom's Web Informant] February 28, 2011: Dealing with an unreliable Internet

David Strom david at strom.com
Mon Feb 28 09:09:23 EST 2011


Web Informant, February 28, 2011: Dealing with an unreliable Internet

The recent unfortunate doings in Libya have made an example of how the
Internet works around problem areas. And it reminded me that if you
are going to put your content in the hands of a dictator, it is nice
to know whom you are dealing with.

Let me explain. Many of us, including myself, use the URL shortening
service Bit.ly, for promoting our content on Twitter and Facebook and
LinkedIn, among other places. Aside from conserving on character
counts, it has a nice dashboard that shows you how many people open
that link and other tracking data.

But the Bit.ly domain uses the Libyan country code .LY. So if some
crazies decide to remove Libya from the Internet, does that mean that
all your shortened links will die? Not necessarily.

To understand the reason why you need to know more about the Internet
domain name system and how it is structured. While I don't want to get
into a tutorial here, an easy way to figure out where Libyan domains
are cared for is to look here:

http://www.iana.org/domains/root/db/ly.html

This is the international registry by IANA that keeps track of these
sorts of things. Who made them in charge?  (Jon Postel originally but
getting into that is another story.) You can see by looking at this
page that there are five different "name servers" where Libyan domains
are kept.  This doesn't mean that these five places host any content –
in fact, I am sure that they host no Libyan content whatsoever. It
just means that when you type in a .LY URL, these five places keep the
master directory of where those domains actually live.

If you want to see the actual physical locations where these directory
servers are connected to the Internet, bring up the following site and
cut and paste the five IP addresses:

http://www.yougetsignal.com/tools/visual-tracert/

You'll see that there are two servers in Oregon of all places, and
another one in Holland. This means that if you want to have your
content elsewhere – outside of the country that the two-letter code
domain indicates such as Bit.ly -- chances are good that you will
still get connectivity.

Now try to track down the servers for Bahrain (country code BH) and
you will see all four of them are on the same subnet 193.188.97.x that
is inside the country and controlled by the national telecom
authority. That means if you have a .BH site, you might have more
trouble getting connected if the country pulled the plug.

I am sure there is a story why the University of Oregon is a name
server for Libya (and I am sure that someone seeing this will post a
reason why). This is just one of many such instances where seemingly
random places and people house servers in the greater good of the
overall Internet. Poking around the IANA name directory I found
psg.com as the name server for a few country domains, whoever they
are.

What this little exercise brings up is how dependent we are on the
kindness of others when it comes to the Internet. In the case of using
Bit.ly, or Facebook, or LinkedIn, or even Twitter to promote our
content or provide links to our own servers, we think we know whom we
are dealing with. But we still trust these businesses to act
responsively and stay in business. Look at how many times Twitter's
Fail Whale appears, and there have been plenty of outages with other
sites.

I admit that I haven't given this a lot of thought. For the past
several years, I have owned the domain Webinformant.tv to host my
screencast video reviews. Until this week, I never even looked at
where the Tuvalu country code .TV domain names were being served –
turns out I don't have to worry, Verisign (now owned by Symantec) has
it under control from several locations around the world. And while I
think Symantec isn't plotting to takeover the .TV namespace, or the
many other domain names that they provide service from, it is an
interesting piece of information to know.

Many of the Internet Irregulars like psg.com operate outside of any
real recognition for their efforts – in some cases it is just a couple
of guys that have been involved early on in the Internet
infrastructure and just through inertia still are involved.

I remember many years when I got to actually visit the location for
one of the lettered root domain servers in Silicon Valley. My friend
had to replace one of his servers that was co-located there – this was
back before the concept even was given a name. It was in some
nondescript warehouse and the level of security wasn't even near
Defcon status. Now these servers have multiple backups and locations,
and indeed most of them are located outside of the US to make the
Internet naming system more resilient.

So, think about this the next time you are tempted to purchase an
oddball domain name, or rely on a service to link to your content. And
hopefully we'll see some relief and a better situation to what is
happening in Libya too.




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