>>> 2024-02-11 the top of the DNS hierarchy (PDF)

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2024-02-12 06:30:03

In the past (in fact two years ago, proof I have been doing this for a while now!) I wrote about the "inconvenient truth" that structural aspects of the Internet make truly decentralized systems infeasible, due to the lack of a means to perform broadcast discovery. As a result, most distributed systems rely on a set of central, semi-static nodes to perform initial introductions.

For example, Bitcoin relies on a small list of volunteer-operated domain names that resolve to known-good full nodes. Tor similarly uses a small set of central "directory servers" that provide initial node lists. Both systems have these lists hardcoded into their clients; coincidentally, both have nine trusted, central hostnames.

This sort of problem exists in basically all distributed systems that operate in environments where it is not possible to shout into the void and hope for a response. The internet, for good historic reasons, does not permit this kind of behavior. Here we should differentiate between distributed and decentralized, two terms I do not tend to select very carefully. Not all distributed systems are decentralized, indeed, many are not. One of the easiest and most practical ways to organize a distributed system is according to a hierarchy. This is a useful technique, so there are many examples, but a prominent and old one happens to also be part of the drivetrain mechanics of the internet: DNS, the domain name system.

My reader base is expanding and so I will provide a very brief bit of background. Many know that DNS is responsible for translating human-readable names like "computer.rip" into the actual numerical addresses used by the internet protocol. Perhaps a bit fewer know that DNS, as a system, is fundamentally organized around the hierarchy of these names. To examine the process of resolving a DNS name, it is sometimes more intuitive to reverse the name, and instead of "computer.rip", discuss "rip.computer" [1].

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