What Is ICANN and What Does It Do? – DreamHost

It’s easy to jump online and buy a domain name for your website. However, understanding the process that controls and manages all those names is something you should understand as well, in case you have to deal with name disputes or potential fraud.

That’s where the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) comes into play. You can think of it as the postal system of the internet. It’s the governing body that works to standardize and maintain the naming system used for the worldwide web.

In this article, we’ll explain what ICANN is and how it operates. We’ll also shed some light on how it relates to your Domain Name System (DNS), your Internet Protocol (IP) address, and your website. There is a lot to cover, so let’s jump right in!

Understanding ICANN’s Purpose and Process

Founded in 1998, ICANN is a partnership of people around the world that’s focused on managing the unique identifiers that enable us all to find websites online. The non-profit organization also helps to keep the internet open and secure for everyone.

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The ICANN ‘about us’ page.

Without a global approach like this, it would likely be challenging to find anything online. Every website needs a unique identifier, so web browsers can quickly locate it. We’ll dig into specific terms and definitions later on, but first, let’s take a look at how ICANN is structured and how it works.

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ICANN’s Internal Structure and Partners

ICANN’s structure is fairly complex, but we’ll give you a basic outline of how it’s all put together. Additionally, if you’re interested in getting involved, there are ways you can do that which we’ll touch on later.

Three main pillars make up the organization’s structure, including:

  • Community. This pillar includes three Supporting Organizations (SOs) and four Advisory Committees (ACs). SOs primarily focus on policy development for different kinds of Top-Level Domains (TLDs) and IP addresses. ACs, on the other hand, provide advice for operations, activities, and administration to stakeholder groups. These include individual internet users, governmental groups, security, and the root server system.
  • Board of Directors. This group is made up of 16 voting members and 5 non-voting members. Board members are selected from the various community groups, but serve the best interests of ICANN and the public good as a whole. For that reason, they are treated as somewhat separate from other Community members.
  • Staff. Members of this pillar help to implement policies that have been approved by the Board. Additionally, they provide the SOs and ACs with administrative support, as well as policy development assistance.
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As we mentioned, there are several ways you can get involved with ICANN’s work. For example, the organization provides opportunities for public comment on any of the active issues it is working on.

Alternatively, you can volunteer to serve in a Working Group. These are formed to address specific policies and issues being faced by the internet community or its stakeholders. You can also join the ICANN mailing list or attend one of its public meetings. Each arm of ICANN has its own list, so you’ll have to investigate each one individually.

ICANN’s Accountability Model and What It Means for You

With so many different groups involved, you might be wondering who has the final say in the decisions made by ICANN. Referred to as a “bottom-up and multistakeholder” operating model, ICANN’s oversight and accountability are built into the structure and membership of the organization.

This means that any members of the ACs, SOs, or ICANN Board can submit issues for review. These are areas where they feel that policy development is needed. Working Groups made up of volunteers then consider the issue. This is critical for everyday web users and developers, as these decisions can impact how we all operate online.

To promote accountability, accuracy, and transparency, all Working Group discussions are recorded and transcribed. Essential documents and summaries are translated into six languages, and everything is made available to the public.

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Public comment opportunities are also offered throughout the process. Once complete, the appropriate SO can take the recommendations to the Board. That group has the final say on adopting or denying new policy recommendations.

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Now that you know a bit about how ICANN is structured, we can explain how its work directly impacts your website setup. We’ll cover three key areas where the organization plays a role. This includes your Internet Protocol (IP) address, your domain name, and your root server.

1. IP Address

IP addresses are strings of numbers that identify locations on the internet. These are how computers find each other, as well as view and exchange content or information. You can think of these like phone numbers for servers and websites.

ICANN’s role is to serve as a central repository for all IP addresses. It is responsible for distributing them to the five main internet registries that exist globally. These are called Regional Internet Registries (RIRs).

The five RIRs ICANN is responsible for distributing IP addresses to.

RIRs manage the distribution of IP addresses and domain registrations for their regions. In turn, ICANN distributes IPs in blocks to the five different RIRs through the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).

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2. DNS

Domain names are managed by the Domain Name System (DNS). These names are what we actually use to access websites. They use letters instead of numbers, unlike IP addresses, in order to help people locate content online more efficiently.

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Since remembering all the IP addresses of your favorite websites might be somewhat difficult, domain names act as a memorable replacement for the IP address of each site. There are also several layers to any given domain name. The two main elements are:

  • Top-Level Domains (TLDs). The TLD is what you see at the end of a web address. The most common options are .com, .org, and .net. There are also several subsets of TLDs. This includes Country Code TLDs (ccTLDs), such as .ca for Canada. Additionally, there are sponsored TLDs (sTLD) like .gov, which represents a specific community and is sponsored by the US government.
  • Second-Level Domains (SLDs). The SLD is the part of your site’s URL that comes before the TLD. This is the most crucial part of your domain, as it’s where you can emphasize your business’s name and brand. For example, in the domain “google.com,” the SLD is “google.”

While ICANN does not control the pricing of domains, it does manage a registry of domain name registrars. Registrars are services where you can go to buy a domain name, if it’s not handled directly through your hosting provider.

Registrars can become ICANN-accredited and be placed on its list of domain name registries. If you’re not sure where to get a domain name from, you can start by looking for registrars that have ICANN accreditation. That way, you’ll know the registry you pick has met ICANN’s technical, operational, and financial requirements for registry businesses.

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The good news? DreamHost is one of those accredited registrars, making it easy to keep your domain registration and web hosting under one roof.

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3. Root Server

The root is the server at the base of your DNS registry hierarchy. It fields all requests to the root zone and delegates out other requests to the appropriate TLDs.

There are 13 root servers that function as the base for all the websites on the internet. You can think of it this way: If every website belongs to one of 13 main “address books,” the root servers are those books.

Where ICANN comes into play is the coordination of IP addresses. Since ICANN distributes IP addresses, and each root server needs to have the primary IP for the websites it encompasses, root servers and ICANN have to coordinate regularly.

How You Might Need to Use ICANN in the Future

Knowing that ICANN is out there and understanding how it works can be helpful to domain owners in certain scenarios. For instance, one of the major roles ICANN plays is that it handles domain name disputes.

For example, you might find that someone else is using a domain name you own a trademark for. In this case, you can use the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). ICANN’s role in this process is as a facilitator. It created and continues to maintain the process, and established lists of providers who can suggest panelists for each dispute submission.

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While one of the requirements of domain registrants is to agree that the name they are purchasing does not infringe on the intellectual property of others, disputes still occur. Should you find yourself in that situation, a good starting point for information is the UDRP Intake Report System on the ICANN website.

Related: Definitive Guide to the ICANN Domain Dispute Resolution Process

The Domain Registrar You’re Looking For

ICANN plays a vital role in keeping the internet open and secure for all users, through the management of a variety of naming systems. Additionally, should you run into a dispute over a domain name that infringes on your brand or intellectual property, ICANN is where you’ll need to go to resolve the dispute.

You can keep ICANN’s influence on your website in mind by remembering the three key areas where it has an impact:

  1. IP Addresses: ICANN divvies up IP addresses and distributes them to the five main registries around the world.
  2. DNS: ICANN manages the registration of DNS registrars but does not determine the prices of domain names.
  3. Root servers: These are the servers at the base or “root” of your DNS hierarchy, and ICANN coordinates with them to assign IP addresses.

Now that you understand more about what makes up the base structure of your website, check out our domain registrations and get the perfect name for your site today!