Page last updated at 11:26 GMT, Monday, 16 November 2009

Net gets set for alphabet changes

Icann oversees the structure of the net

Users of scripts other than that in which English is written will soon have web addresses in their own language.

The net regulator Icann has invited countries to ask for "internationalised domain names" in non-Latin characters.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia have announced their intentions to apply for the first Arabic domains.

Countries can also apply for domains in other scripts, such as Chinese. The first official international web addresses are expected in 2010.

"The IDN [International Domain Names] program will encompass close to one hundred thousand characters, opening up the internet to billions of potential users around the globe," said Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann).

The regulator has described the introduction of IDNs as the "biggest change" to the net "since it was invented 40 years ago".

"Over half the internet users around the world don't use a Latin-based script as their native language," said Icann president Rod Beckstrom.

"IDNs are about making the internet more global and accessible for everyone."

He said Icann had "already received six applications from around the world for three different scripts.

These included a bid from Egypt's bid for .misr, meaning Egypt in Arabic, and one from Russia.

Plans for IDNs were approved at a meeting in June 2008. However, it has taken until now to make sure that the translation system needed to make it work functions correctly.

The changes have been made to the net's Domain Name System, which acts like a phone book, translating easily understood domain names such as into strings of computer readable numbers known as IP addresses.

The tweaks will allow this system to recognise and translate the non-Latin characters.

Some countries, such as China and Thailand, have already introduced workarounds that allow computer users to enter web addresses in their own language.

However, these were not internationally approved and do not necessarily work on all computers.

Icann has now invited registrations from countries to apply for internationalised country codes, such as .uk or .us.

It said that people will be able to apply for an entire web address at a later date through the body which wins the right to control a nation's internationalised country-code.

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