Arabic Scripts Approved For Internet Addresses

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As part of the move to make the web more inclusive, net regulator ICANN has permitted full web addresses to contain no Latin characters, for the first time ever

Countries that do not use Latin characters in their languages will now be able to use their own local scripts in full international domain names, following an announcement from the web regulating body.

Historical Development

ICANN (otherwise known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) announced that it would open up the domain name system to non-Latin characters in late October last year.

However, the technical issues associated with including other characters in domain names have not been easy to resolve. Indeed, ICANN claims the process has actually taken years of technical testing and development to make it possible. In December the EU announced that member states could now register website names that contain non-Latin characters.

And now, in something of a historical move, countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have become the first to utilise “country codes” written in Arabic scripts. According to the BBC, the website for the Egyptian Ministry of Communications is amongst the first live web addresses.

Previously websites were able to use some non-Latin letters, but the country codes such as the .eg extension used for Egypt, had to be written in Latin script. The three new Arabic suffixes announced today will allow web addresses to be completely written in native characters.

Eventually, it is envisaged that web addresses in the future could contain other foreign scripts including Chinese, Russian, Sinhalese, Thai and Tamil.

“For the first time in the history of the Internet, non-Latin characters are being used for top-level domains,” said ICANN. “The first IDN (internationalised domain name) country-code top-level domains were inserted in the DNS root zone earlier today.”

More On The Way

“These are the first IDN ccTLDs (or country-code top-level domains) to appear online as a result of the IDN ccTLD Fast Track Process which was approved by the ICANN Board at its annual meeting in Seoul, South Korea on 30 October 2009,” said ICANN.

“Arabic has now become the first non-Latin script to be used as an IDN ccTLD,” the regulator said. “Arabic is among the most highly used languages on the Internet today. The Middle-East has an average Internet penetration of just over 20 percent, and shows a big potential for growth. Users in the region will now have easier access to the Internet, with the ability to use their primary language for the entire domain name.”

According to the blog of Kim Davies, Manager, Root Zone Services, all three top-level domains are Arabic script domains, and will enable domain names written fully right-to-left. However he warned that there may be some teething problems if your software does not have full IDN support.

“You may see a mangled string of letters and numbers, and perhaps some percent signs or a couple of “xn--”s mixed into the address bar,” Davies said.

ICANN has apparently received 21 requests for IDN ccTLD(s) which represent 11 languages in total. Thirteen of these requests have successfully passed through the “String Evaluation” (the second stage of the process) and now ready for the requesting country or territory to initiate the request for TLD Delegation (the final stage of the application process).

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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