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RFC 6912

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Principles for Unicode Code Point Inclusion in Labels in the DNS


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Internet Architecture Board (IAB)                            A. Sullivan
Request for Comments: 6912                                     Dyn, Inc.
Category: Informational                                        D. Thaler
ISSN: 2070-1721                                                Microsoft
                                                              J. Klensin

                                                              O. Kolkman
                                                              NLnet Labs
                                                              April 2013

    Principles for Unicode Code Point Inclusion in Labels in the DNS


   Internationalized Domain Names in Applications (IDNA) makes available
   to DNS zone administrators a very wide range of Unicode code points.
   Most operators of zones should probably not permit registration of
   U-labels using the entire range.  This is especially true of zones
   that accept registrations across organizational boundaries, such as
   top-level domains and, most importantly, the root.  It is
   unfortunately not possible to generate algorithms to determine
   whether permitting a code point presents a low risk.  This memo
   presents a set of principles that can be used to guide the decision
   of whether a Unicode code point may be wisely included in the
   repertoire of permissible code points in a U-label in a zone.

Status of This Memo

   This document is not an Internet Standards Track specification; it is
   published for informational purposes.

   This document is a product of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB)
   and represents information that the IAB has deemed valuable to
   provide for permanent record.  It represents the consensus of the
   Internet Architecture Board (IAB).  Documents approved for
   publication by the IAB are not a candidate for any level of Internet
   Standard; see Section 2 of RFC 5741.

   Information about the current status of this document, any errata,
   and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at

Page 2 
Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2013 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents
   ( in effect on the date of
   publication of this document.  Please review these documents
   carefully, as they describe your rights and restrictions with respect
   to this document.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
     1.1.  Terminology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
   2.  Background  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
     2.1.  More-Restrictive Rules Going Up the DNS Tree  . . . . . .   6
   3.  Principles Applicable to All Zones  . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     3.1.  Longevity Principle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     3.2.  Least Astonishment Principle  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   6
     3.3.  Contextual Safety Principle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
   4.  Principles Applicable to All Public Zones . . . . . . . . . .   7
     4.1.  Conservatism Principle  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
     4.2.  Inclusion Principle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
     4.3.  Simplicity Principle  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
     4.4.  Predictability Principle  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
     4.5.  Stability Principle . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   5.  Principle Specific to the Root Zone . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
     5.1.  Letter Principle  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
   6.  Confusion and Context . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   7.  Conclusion  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   8.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   9.  Acknowledgements  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   10. IAB Members at the Time of Approval . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
   11. Informative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10

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1.  Introduction

   Operators of a DNS zone need to set policies around what Unicode code
   points are allowed in labels in that zone.  Typically there are a
   number of important goals to consider when constructing such
   policies.  These include, for instance, avoiding possible visual
   confusability between two labels, avoiding possible confusion between
   Fully Qualified Domain Names (FQDNs) and IP address literals,
   accessibility to the disabled (see "Web Content Accessibility
   Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0" [WCAG20] for some discussion in a web
   context), and other usability issues.

   This document provides a set of principles that zone operators can
   use to construct their code point policies in order to improve
   usability and clarity and thereby reduce confusion.

1.1.  Terminology

   This document uses the following terms.

      A-label: an LDH label that starts with "xn--" and meets all the
      IDNA requirements, with additional restrictions as explained in
      Section of the IDNA Definitions document [RFC5890].

      Character: a member of a set of elements used for the
      organization, control, or representation of data.  See Section 2
      of the Internationalization Terminology document [RFC6365] for
      more details.

      Language: a way that humans communicate.  The use of language
      occurs in many forms, the most common of which are speech,
      writing, and signing.  See Section 2 of RFC 6365 for more details.

      LDH label: a string consisting of ASCII letters, digits, and the
      hyphen, with additional restrictions as explained in Section 2.3.1
      of RFC 5890.

      Public zone: in this document, a DNS zone that accepts
      registration requests from organizations outside the zone
      administrator's own organization.  (Whether the zone performs
      delegation is a separate question.  What is important is the
      diversity of the registration-requesting community.)  Note that
      under this definition, the root zone is a public zone, though one
      that has a unique function in the DNS.

      Rendering: the display of a string of text.  See Section 5 of RFC
      6365 for more details.

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      Script: a set of graphic characters used for the written form of
      one or more languages.  See Section 2 of RFC 6365 for more

      U-label: a string of Unicode characters that meets all the IDNA
      requirements and includes at least one non-ASCII character, with
      additional restrictions as explained in Section of RFC

      Writing system: a set of rules for using one or more scripts to
      write a particular language.  See Section 2 of RFC 6365 for more

   This memo does not propose a protocol standard, and the use of words
   such as "should" follow the ordinary English meaning, and not that
   laid out in [RFC2119].

2.  Background

   In recent communications [IABCOMM1] [IABCOMM2], the IAB has
   emphasized the importance of conservatism in allocating labels
   conforming to IDNA2008 [RFC5890] [RFC5891] [RFC5892] [RFC5893]
   [RFC5894] [RFC5895] in DNS zones, and especially in the root zone.
   Traditional LDH labels in the root zone used only alphabetic
   characters (i.e., ASCII a-z, which under the DNS also match A-Z).
   Matters are more complicated with U-labels, however.  The IAB
   communications recommended that U-labels permit only code points with
   a General_Category (gc) of Ll (Lowercase_Letter), Lo (Other_Letter),
   or Lm (Modifier_Letter), but noted that for practical considerations
   other code points might be permitted on a case-by-case basis.

   The IAB recommendations do, however, leave some issues open that need
   to be addressed.  It is not clear that all code points permitted
   under IDNA2008 that have a General_Category of Lo or Lm are
   appropriate for a zone such as the root zone.  To take but one
   example, the code point U+02BC (MODIFIER LETTER APOSTROPHE) has a
   General_Category of Lm.  In practically every rendering (and we are
   unaware of an exception), U+02BC is indistinguishable from U+2019
   (RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK), which has a General_Category of Pf
   (Final_Punctuation).  U+02BC will also be read by large numbers of
   people as being the same character as U+0027 (APOSTROPHE), which has
   a General_Category of Po (Other_Punctuation), and some computer
   systems may treat U+02BC as U+0027.  U+02BC is PROTOCOL VALID
   (PVALID) under IDNA2008 (see the IDNA Code Points document
   [RFC5892]), whereas both other code points are DISALLOWED.  So, to
   begin with, it is plain that not every code point with a

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   General_Category of Ll, Lo, or Lm is consistent with the type of
   conservatism principle discussed in Section 4.1 below or the previous
   IAB recommendations.

   To make matters worse, some languages are dependent on code points
   with General_Category Mc (Spacing_Mark) or General_Category Mn
   (Nonspacing_Mark).  This dependency is particularly common in Indic
   languages, though not exclusive to them.  (At the risk of vastly
   oversimplifying, the overarching issue is mostly the interaction of
   complex writing systems and the way Unicode works.)  To restrict
   users of those languages to only code points with General_Category of
   Ll, Lo, or Lm would be extremely limiting.  While DNS labels are not
   words, or sentences, or phrases (as noted in the next steps for IDN
   [RFC4690]), they are intended to support useful mnemonics.  Mnemonics
   that diverge wildly from the usual conventions are poor ones, because
   in not following the usual conventions they are not easy to remember.
   Also, wide divergence from usual conventions, if not well-justified
   (and especially in a shared namespace like the root), invites
   political controversy.

   Many of the issues above turn out to be relevant to all public zones.
   Moreover, the overall issue of developing a policy for code point
   permission is common to all zones that accept A-labels or U-labels
   for registration.  As Section 4.3 of the IDNA Protocol document
   [RFC5891] says, every registry at every level of the DNS is "expected
   to establish policies about label registrations".

   For reasons of sound management, it is not desirable to decide
   whether to permit a given code point only when an application
   containing that code point is pending.  That approach reduces
   predictability and is bound to appear subject to special pleas.  It
   is better instead to produce the rules governing acceptance of code
   points in advance.

   As is evident from the foregoing discussion about the Letter and Mark
   categories, it is simply not possible to make code point decisions
   algorithmically.  If it were possible to develop such an algorithm,
   it would already exist: the DNS is hardly unique in needing to impose
   restrictions on code points while accommodating many different
   linguistic communities.  Nevertheless, new guidelines can be made by
   starting from overarching principles.  These guidelines act more as
   meta-rules, leading to the establishment of other rules about the
   inclusion and exclusion of particular code points in labels in a
   given zone, always based on the list of code points permitted by

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2.1.  More-Restrictive Rules Going Up the DNS Tree

   A set of principles derived from the above ideas follows in Sections
   3 through 5 below.  Such principles fall into three categories.  Some
   principles apply to every DNS zone.  Some additional principles apply
   to all public zones, including the root zone.  Finally, other
   principles apply only to the root zone.  This means that zones higher
   in the DNS tree tend to have more restrictive rules (since additional
   principles apply), and zones lower in the DNS tree tend to have less
   restrictive rules, since they are used within a more narrow context.
   In general, the relevant context for a principle is that of the zone,
   not that of a given subset of the user community; for the root zone,
   for example, the context is "the entire Internet population".

3.  Principles Applicable to All Zones

3.1.  Longevity Principle

   Unicode properties of a code point ought to be stable across the
   versions of Unicode that users of the zone are likely to have
   installed.  Because it is possible for the properties of a code point
   to change between Unicode versions, a good way to predict such
   stability is to ensure that a code point has in fact been stable for
   multiple successive versions of Unicode.  This principle is related
   to the Stability Principle in Section 4.5.

   The more diverse the community using the zone, the greater the
   importance of following this principle.  The policy for a leaf zone
   in the DNS might only require stability across two Unicode versions,
   whereas a more public zone might require stability across four or
   more releases before the code point's properties are considered long-
   lived and stable.

3.2.  Least Astonishment Principle

   Every zone administrator should be sensitive to the likely use of a
   code point to be permitted, particularly taking into account the
   population likely to use the zone.  Zone administrators should
   especially consider whether a candidate code point could present
   difficulty if the code point is encountered outside the usual
   linguistic circumstances.  By the same token, the failure to support
   a code point that is normal in some linguistic circumstances could be
   very surprising for users likely to encounter the names in that

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3.3.  Contextual Safety Principle

   Every zone administrator should be sensitive to ways in which a code
   point that is permitted could be used in support of malicious
   activity.  This is not a completely new problem: the digit 1 and the
   lowercase letter l are, for instance, easily confused in many
   contexts.  The very large repertoire of code points in Unicode (even
   just the subset permitted for IDNs) makes the problem somewhat worse,
   just because of the scale.

4.  Principles Applicable to All Public Zones

4.1.  Conservatism Principle

   Public zones are, by definition, zones that are shared by different
   groups of people.  Therefore, any decision to permit a code point in
   a public zone (including the root) should be as conservative as
   practicable.  Doubts should always be resolved in favor of rejecting
   a code point for inclusion rather than in favor of including it, in
   order to minimize risk.

4.2.  Inclusion Principle

   Just as IDNA2008 starts from the principle that the Unicode range is
   excluded, and then adds code points according to derived properties
   of the code points, so a public zone should only permit inclusion of
   a code point if it is known to be "safe" in terms of usability and
   confusability within the context of that zone.  The default treatment
   of a code point should be that it is excluded.

4.3.  Simplicity Principle

   The rules for determining whether a code point is to be included
   should be simple enough that they are readily understood by someone
   with a moderate background in the DNS and Unicode issues.  This
   principle does not mean that a completely naive person needs to be
   able to understand the rationale for including a code point, but it
   does mean that if the reason for inclusion of a very peculiar code
   point, even a safe one, is too difficult to understand, the code
   point would not be permitted.

   The meaning of "simple" or "readily understood" is context-dependent.
   For instance, the root zone has to serve everyone in the world; for
   practical purposes, this means that the reasons for including a code
   point need to be comprehensible even to people who cannot use the
   script where the code point is found.  In a zone that permits a
   constrained subset of Unicode characters (for instance, only those
   needed to write a single alphabetic language) and that supports a

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   clearly delineated linguistic community (for instance, the speakers
   of a single language with well-understood written conventions), more
   complicated rules might be acceptable.  Compare this principle with
   the Least Astonishment Principle in Section 3.2.

4.4.  Predictability Principle

   The rules for determining whether a code point is to be included
   should be predictable enough that those with the requisite
   understanding of DNS, IDNA, and Unicode will usually reach the same
   conclusion.  This is not a requirement for algorithmic treatment of
   code points; as previously noted, that is not possible.  Rather, it
   is to say that the consistent application of professional judgment is
   likely to yield the same results; combined with the principle in
   Section 4.1, when results are not predictable, the anomalous code
   point would not be permitted.

   Just as in Section 4.3, this principle tends to cause more
   restriction the more diverse the community using the zone; it is most
   restrictive for the root zone.  This is because what is predictable
   within a given language community is possibly very surprising across

4.5.  Stability Principle

   Once a code point is permitted, it is at least very hard to stop
   permitting that code point.  In public zones (including the root),
   the list of code points to be permitted should change very slowly, if
   at all, and usually only in the direction of permitting an addition
   as time and experience indicate that inclusion of such a code point
   is both safe and consistent with these principles.

5.  Principle Specific to the Root Zone

5.1.  Letter Principle

   "Requirements for Internet Hosts - Application and Support" [RFC1123]
   notes that top-level labels "will be alphabetic".  In the absence of
   widespread agreement about the force of that note, prudence suggests
   that U-labels in the root zone should exclude code points that are
   not normally used to write words, or that are in some cases normally
   used for purposes other than writing words.  This is not the same as
   using Unicode's General_Category to include only letters.  It is a
   restriction that expands the possible class of included code points
   beyond the Unicode letters, but only expands so far as to include the
   things that are normally used to create words.  Under this principle,
   code points with (for example) General_Category Mn (Nonspacing_Mark)
   might be included -- but only those that are used to write words and

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   not (for instance) musical symbols.  In addition, such marks should
   only be used within a label in ways that they would be used when
   making a word: combinations that would be nonsense when used in a
   word should also be rejected when tried in DNS labels.  This
   principle should be applied as narrowly as possible; as the next
   steps for IDN document [RFC4690] says, "While DNS labels may
   conveniently be used to express words in many circumstances, the goal
   is not to express words (or sentences or phrases), but to permit the
   creation of unambiguous labels with good mnemonic value".

6.  Confusion and Context

   While many discussions of confusion have focused on characters, e.g.,
   whether two characters are confusable with each other (and under what
   circumstances), a focus on characters alone could lead to the
   prohibition of very large numbers of labels, including many that
   present little risk.  Instead, the focus should be on whether one
   label is confusable with another.  For example, if a label contains
   several characters that are distinct to a particular script, and all
   of its characters are from that script, it is inherently not
   confusable with a label from any other script no matter what other
   characters might appear in it.  Another label that lacks those
   distinguishing characters might be a problem.  The notion extends
   from labels to domain names, in the sense that distinguishing
   characters used in a higher-level label may set expectations with
   respect to the characters in the lower-level labels.  This
   expectation might be regarded as a benefit, but it is also a problem,
   since there is no technical way to require consistent policies in
   delegated namespaces.

7.  Conclusion

   The principles outlined in this document can be applied when
   considering any range of Unicode code points for possible inclusion
   in a DNS zone.  It is worth observing that doing anything (especially
   in light of Section 4.5) implicitly disadvantages communities with a
   writing system not yet well understood and not represented in the
   technical and policy communities involved in the discussion.  That
   disadvantage is to be guarded against as much as practical, but is
   effectively impossible to prevent (while still taking action) in
   light of imperfect human knowledge.

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8.  Security Considerations

   The principles outlined in this memo are intended to improve
   usability and clarity and thereby reduce confusion among different
   labels.  While these principles may contribute to reduction of risk,
   they are not sufficient to provide a comprehensive
   internationalization policy for zone management.

   Additional discussion of security considerations can be found in the
   Unicode Security Considerations [UTR36].

9.  Acknowledgements

   The authors thank the participants in the IAB Internationalization
   program for the discussion of the ideas in this memo, particularly
   Marc Blanchet.  In addition, Stephane Bortzmeyer, Paul Hoffman,
   Daniel Kalchev, Panagiotis Papaspiliopoulos, and Vaggelis Segredakis
   made specific comments.

10.  IAB Members at the Time of Approval

   Bernard Aboba
   Jari Arkko
   Marc Blanchet
   Ross Callon
   Alissa Cooper
   Spencer Dawkins
   Joel Halpern
   Russ Housley
   David Kessens
   Danny McPherson
   Jon Peterson
   Dave Thaler
   Hannes Tschofenig

11.  Informative References

   [IABCOMM1] Internet Architecture Board, "IAB Statement: 'The
              interpretation of rules in the ICANN gTLD Applicant
              Guidebook'", February 2012, <

   [IABCOMM2] Internet Architecture Board, "Response to ICANN questions
              concerning 'The interpretation of rules in the ICANN gTLD
              Applicant Guidebook'", March 2012, <

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   [RFC1123]  Braden, R., "Requirements for Internet Hosts - Application
              and Support", STD 3, RFC 1123, October 1989.

   [RFC2119]  Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
              Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.

   [RFC4690]  Klensin, J., Faltstrom, P., Karp, C., and IAB, "Review and
              Recommendations for Internationalized Domain Names
              (IDNs)", RFC 4690, September 2006.

   [RFC5890]  Klensin, J., "Internationalized Domain Names for
              Applications (IDNA): Definitions and Document Framework",
              RFC 5890, August 2010.

   [RFC5891]  Klensin, J., "Internationalized Domain Names in
              Applications (IDNA): Protocol", RFC 5891, August 2010.

   [RFC5892]  Faltstrom, P., "The Unicode Code Points and
              Internationalized Domain Names for Applications (IDNA)",
              RFC 5892, August 2010.

   [RFC5893]  Alvestrand, H. and C. Karp, "Right-to-Left Scripts for
              Internationalized Domain Names for Applications (IDNA)",
              RFC 5893, August 2010.

   [RFC5894]  Klensin, J., "Internationalized Domain Names for
              Applications (IDNA): Background, Explanation, and
              Rationale", RFC 5894, August 2010.

   [RFC5895]  Resnick, P. and P. Hoffman, "Mapping Characters for
              Internationalized Domain Names in Applications (IDNA)
              2008", RFC 5895, September 2010.

   [RFC6365]  Hoffman, P. and J. Klensin, "Terminology Used in
              Internationalization in the IETF", BCP 166, RFC 6365,
              September 2011.

   [UTR36]    Davis, M. and M. Suignard, "Unicode Security
              Considerations", Unicode Technical Report #36, July 2012.

   [WCAG20]   W3C, "Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0",
              W3C Recommendation, December 2008,

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Authors' Addresses

   Andrew Sullivan
   Dyn, Inc.
   150 Dow St
   Manchester, NH  03101


   Dave Thaler
   One Microsoft Way
   Redmond, WA  98052


   John C Klensin
   1770 Massachusetts Ave, Ste 322
   Cambridge, MA  02140

   Phone: +1 617 491 5735

   Olaf Kolkman
   NLnet Labs
   Science Park 400
   Amsterdam  1098 XH
   The Netherlands