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Last Updated: Monday, 12 March 2007, 11:39 GMT
Net copes with key character test

Chinese net users, AFP/Getty
The Chinese are rapidly becoming big net users
Tests have been carried out to see if spelling internet domains with non-English characters will disrupt the smooth running of the net.

The tests are a step towards the formal use of non-English character sets such as Chinese and Arabic in domain names.

Internationalised domain names will make the net easier to use for the majority of net users who do not have English as their first language.

The work to introduce these character sets should be finished by 2008.

Dummy run

The tests were carried out by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann) that oversees the running of the net's addressing system.

Currently net domains, such as bbc.co.uk, can only be written with 37 characters from the Roman alphabet which includes the letters A-Z, numbers 0-9 and the hyphen.

This can cause problems in nations such as China where many new net users have scant knowledge of that character set.

The tests carried out by Icann involved up-to-date versions of the live master address books, or root servers, that direct users' computers to the actual location of an internet domain.

In October 2006, Vint Cerf - widely known as one of the creators of the internet - warned that the creation of internationalised domain names was "risky".

Early work on the technical feasibility of using non-English character sets suggested that the address system would cope with the introduction of international characters tests were called for to ensure this was the case.

"All answers were consistent with expected behaviour, and no unexpected delays were discovered," wrote Lars-Johan Liman from Swedish company Autonomica AB, in a report about the tests.

The actual tests of the international character sets were carried out in October 2006 but the results are only now being made available.

Further tests are now being scheduled to see how the system fares when actual web users try it out with the live root servers.

Also needed are policy decisions by Icann on how the internationalised domain names fit in and work with the existing rules governing the running of the address books.

Icann is under pressure to get the international domain names working because some nations, in particular China, are working on their own technology to support their own character sets.

In March 2006 the Chinese government started rolling out a software add-on for web browsing programs that helped them display Mandarin characters.

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