[AfrICANN-discuss] Current Difficulties With Displaying Internationalized Top-Level Domains

Anne-Rachel Inné annerachel at gmail.com
Thu Oct 18 13:38:12 SAST 2007

Current Difficulties With Displaying Internationalized Top-Level Domains
Oct 15, 2007 8:50 AM PST | Comments: 1
By Kim Davies

Earlier this week, we inserted eleven new top-level domains in the DNS root
zone. These represent the term "test" translated into ten languages, in ten
different scripts (Chinese is represented in two different scripts, and
Arabic script is used by two different languages).

This blog post is not about that. (If you're interested about it, read our
report on the delegations.)

What I would like to talk about is some of the difficulties we face today in
expressing scripts in a consistent way over the Internet. The fact is,
whilst we are at the best time in history for having computers represent
many different languages clearly and consistently, we are still a long way
from the level of support needed to give us strong confidence that people
can always see what we intend them to see.

To illustrate, I will list all the eleven new top-level domains. On the left
is the version your web browser wants to present to you, and on the right is
how it should actually look.


If you find some of the versions don't match, you would be in the majority
of Internet users. The fact is most people cannot see these labels properly
and consistently.

The most likely problem you will face is that there will be some labels that
you simply cannot see, because your computer does not have any font that can
express the characters. When the correct font can not be found it will
usually display something like the following:

Computers never come with the complete set of fonts that will allow it to
show every possible IDN in the world. The primary concern is to supply fonts
that allow the language used on the computer to work, and the rest are
optional. Often this is fixed by downloading additional language packs for
the missing languages, or specifically finding and installing fonts that
support the wanted languages.

Finding fonts is sometimes only half the battle. English, on the scale of
languages, is one of the simplest to represent by computer. It has 26
letters, and they always look the same and are presented the same no matter
what order they are in. Sure, they may be stylistic variants, but in terms
of composing letters it is very simple.

Take a look at this:

On the left is the correct way to present this, but those of you that do
have Arabic fonts may find that you see the version on the right. This is
because Arabic has more complex rules on how letterforms should be connected
and formed. Some software is more accurate than others on how it does this.

The same issue may present itself in Devanagari script:

Again, on the right you can see the composing is not working correctly.

If you're really unlucky, for the Arabic version you may be seeing this:

This comes about because Arabic is written right-to-left. English, on the
other hand, is written left-to-right. However, this corrupted example of
Arabic has been written left-to-right - .siht ekil etorw I if sa

Ordering problems may also arise when fully blown domain names are used.
Imagine a domain like maps.google.com. Now imagine it showing up as
com.google.maps. That's confusing, but imagine the confusion of
google.com.maps, or worst of all, as google.com.spam. These are some of the
variants that have shown when right-to-left ordering issues appear due to
software problems. (More on this issue is in this presentation from the
Israel ccTLD registry.)

Apart from the visual display issue, there can also be issues simply in
transmitting these domains in communications. The DNS has been carefully
upgraded to support these new domains, but that doesn't mean you will get a
consistent experience in other areas. In a discussion on these new test
domains on an Internet mailing list, one person found they were showing like

This is because the encoding in the email is incorrect. Generally speaking,
to fully express all the possible IDNs you need to use an encoding like
UTF-8. However, ISO 8859-1 is often the default on many mail programs for
users of English and other Western European languages. The result of viewing
UTF-8 encoded labels in ISO 8859-1 results in the undecipherable letter soup
you see above. If you've ever received foreign spam that just looked like a
list of random letters, this is probably why.

This is just touching on the number of problems that can express themselves
when dealing with the world's languages and scripts. With the release of the
evaluative top-level domains, it will provide additional opportunity to
identify these types of problems, and work with software vendors and other
parties to help improve their applications so these issues will no longer
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