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Last Updated April 23, 2008
Copyright 1998-2008,
ZookNIC Inc.

Mapping the Internet:

Domains Names & Nameservers


Matthew Zook, February 15, 2008

Click here to access kmz file

Reasons Behind Making this Map

I have a long standing interest in mapping the Internet.  There are, however, many different ways in which one can measure and map the Internet.  Fiber optic cables, webhosts, users, e-commerce activity, domain names, data packet routing, etc., all provide insight on different slices of this network.  (See the Atlas of Cyberspace for a wonderful collection of these visualizations). Given my long standing interest and work with domain names I decided to create a map in kmz format (deployed in Google Earth) to create a representation of the domain name system. 

 The Multiple Geographies of Domain Names

Domain names are organized under about 270 top level domains (TLDs).  TLDs are subdivided between gTLDs (such as .com or .org) and ccTLDs (such as .de, .cn or .uk).  ccTLD are based on ISO 3166 country names and codes.

As of December 2007, there were about 153 million domain names registered worldwide.  There are 246 ccTLDs and 20 gTLDs displayed in this visualization.

As with many things associated with the structure of the Internet, TLDs were designed to parallel offline institutional structures but over time these connects can become quite tenuous.  For example, gTLD domains were to distinguish between different types of organizations on the Internet, e.g., .com for business, .org for non-profits, etc, but in practice this association is often extremely loose.  Likewise ccTLDs were created to identify Internet use in specific countries/territories.  While the operators of many ccTLDs require that owners of domains have some kind of territorial connection to the country, others operations such as .tv or .cc, function as quasi gTLDs.  Thus, each ccTLD has what I refer to as a political location or the physical territory by which the justification for its existence depends.

No matter what form of organization or regulation TLDs take, they are all subject to certain technical requirements so that that users can access and use domain names.  The most fundamental requirement is that each TLD have a root name server and most (if not all) TLDs operate redundant nameservers.  Root nameservers are computers that act as authoritative sources that translate domain names into IP addresses to make sure that Internet traffic gets to its proper destination.  It is good practice to distribute these servers across a wide geography so that any localized disturbance (power failure, nature disaster) does not prevent the TLD from operating.  Thus, each TLD also has several technical locations or the physical location of where its root nameservers are located.

In other words, despite the seemingly placeless network of the Internet, there remain strongly territorialized aspects of the Internet.  This map highlights these political and technical locations of the domain name system.


Observations on the Map  

ccTLDs in Caribbean and Latin America
One of the interesting aspects of the domain name system structure is that small countries/territories are unusually well represented in domain space.  Since the criteria for a ccTLD is a political one, nations (large and small) are each assigned one ccTLDs.  Thus while North American has three ccTLDs (us-United States, ca-Canada and mx-Mexico), the Caribbean has much higher density of TLDs.  Of course, many of these TLDs are very small (particularly when compared to .us or .ca) but they nevertheless show up.


Political Locations of ccTLDs in the Pacific
This can also be observed in the Pacific with island nations.  Since many of these TLDs act as generic TLDs, they can have a much larger presence in domain space than their population or economy would suggest.
Political and Technical Locations in Europe
Europe provides the technical locations for many TLDs.

Technical/Political Locations of gTLDs
When one adds the links between the political and technical locations of TLDs one sees a tight concentration in the United States and Europe.
Unexpected Key Technical Locations
Many unexpected locations (such as Ashland, Oregon) show up as important technical locations for the operation of TLDs -- 38 in the case of Ashland.

About the Data

The data for this map comes from a range of sources.  The most important source was the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) database on ccTLDs and gTLDs.  This provided information on (1) the sponsoring organization responsible for the TLD; (2) the URL for domain registration; and (3) the list of root nameservers for the TLD.  I also consulted NORID's helpful website to collect a second source for the URL for domain registrations.

 The political location for gTLDs is based on the address for the headquarters of the company/organization charged with its operation.  The political location for ccTLDs is the capital city of the country/territory that provides the justification for its existence.  In some cases, the actual technical contact for a ccTLD is located in a country other than its political location but this map does not show this.

 The location of each root name server (based on its IP address) was obtained from IP2Location.  This is what I am calling the technical location of the TLD.  Each TLD may have several technical locations.  Nameservers that IP2Location was unable to geocode to a city location (unknown subnational location) were placed in the capital of the country/territory in which the nameserver was located.  Thus, placement of nameservers does not show micro- location of nameservers (i.e., server farms) but a macro city location.

 The number of domains for each TLD was based on ZookNIC's data.

 The linkage between the political and technical locations of a TLD is simply a visual representation, i.e., drawing a line between two points.  It does NOT represent the actual route of Internet data packet (e.g., via traceroute) would travel between the political and technical locations.  This route depends upon the physical infrastructure of the Internet which is an entirely different type of mapping activity.

Top ranked websites for each TLD (accessed by clicking the political location placemark for each TLD) is based on Google's search algorithms and reflects the rankings at the time you click the link

 All data is from December 2007.


All data presented in this visualization is believed to be accurate and is based on the methods outlined here.  I also recognize that there are many aspects of the domain name systems which are NOT included in this map.  Please let me know of any problems with any of this data and I will do my best to make necessary updates.

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