Monday, March 29, 2010

Zone File Access Concept Paper

ICANN and Verisign are contemplating changes to how the domain Zone Files are accessed and distributed.

If you don't know, a zone file is a text file containing a list of all registered domains for a TLD. Depending on the TLD, it can also contain miscellaneous information about domains like name servers, etc. Typically there is one domain entry per line in the file.

The zone file is critical for domain drop services (like Snapnames, Namejet, etc). They use it to determine which domains will be dropping soon by comparing the zone file each day to the previous file. Other sites, use the file as a quicker way to see if a domain is taken (quicker than WHOIS anyway), if you load the entire zone file into a database). Computer scientists and researches also use zone files to find trends, etc.

The current way you get the zone file is to sign up with Verisign (for the .COM zone file), sign a long contract, and then Verisgn will give you an FTP account. The file is 6+ GB (compressed) and is updated daily. Part of what the contract says is that you can't share the contents of the file with anyone else... more on that later.

Verisign also provides registrars (e.g. Godaddy, Enom, etc) with a "rapid feed" that is updated more often [than the daily zone file] and contains just the changes. Since it contains just recent changes, the "rapid feed" can be downloaded quickly. Last I checked, the "rapid feed" cost about $15k/month. I think that registrars use this to avoid selling a domain that has been registered by another registrar. But whatever the use, Verisign probably makes a nice chunk of change on this feed. And I think that's probably why the contract you sign with Verisign disallows sharing the zone files.

So what are the proposed changes? See this link. Basically, ICANN is complaining that it's going to become onerous to manage all these zone files once start deploying hundreds of new TLD's. A new way is required, and hopefully one that generates some revenue.

In my next post, I'll go over the proposed changes, so you can see what ICANN is trying to get away with.

And in the post after that, I'll propose an alternative that follows the one of the basic tenets of the Internet: "Information wants to be free."

Happy Domain Hunting!


  1. Hi Jorge,

    Thanks for your posts on this topic, I've been wondering myself why there should be any changes as to how Zonefile access currently works. Glad to see you've also added your comment to the public comment period for the report, which still runs until April 8th:

    I highly doubt that NameJet and Snapnames use the zonefiles to Monitor for dropping domain names. For most gTLD registries registrars have access to a list of the domains that will be deleted over the coming five days and for their "pre-expiry" listings they receive the same information from their partners.

    It's an interesting topic, and I'm looking forward to seeing the outcome - I'm still thinking about my two cents for the comment period at ICANN.

    All the best,

  2. Thanks Frank.

    I was basing that SnapNames/Namejet speculation on things I have read about the "old days". Before it became a big business, the early drop catchers built their own tools off the zone files to try to figure out which names were dropping.

    There are 828 registered downloaders of the COM/NET zone file. So I'm sure folks use it for all kinds of goofy purposes.

    There are probably quite a few, like me, who have access to the files but rarely (if ever) download them anymore. Verisign probably has some statistics on that, but they didn't include them in the report.