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Nomulus: Google’s Open-Source TLD Registry Platform

In mid-October, Google open-sourced the core software behind their TLD registry: Nomulus. This software allows creation and management of new top-level domains (TLDs) in the cloud, enabling current businesses in the Internet real-estate market to expand into the new, rapidly growing generic TLD (gTLD) space, as well as reducing the technological barrier for prospective newcomers.

Nomulus provides a wealth of core features out-of-the-box. Because it is designed to run on Google App Engine, Nomulus is cloud-based and can scale quickly and efficiently as domains leased increase in popularity and number of registrations or inquiries.

To provide insightful business metrics, Nomulus can generate reports about registration activity. Its reporting functionality also covers several ICANN requirements, such as a monthly registry activity report, but not all of the ICANN-required reports are included. Specifically, Registry Data Escrow reports, monthly transaction reports, and Zone File Access reports are not currently available, although Nomulus does provide some partial support for generating them.

Nomulus includes a web console that provides self-service tools for registrars, and an admin command-line tool is included for managing gTLD’s and creating domains. Nomulus serves DNS requests and WHOIS queries, as well as tracking domain ownership, registration renewal (or creation), and checking availability.

Prospective users of Nomulus should be aware of several early shortcomings, however. Despite offering many features out-of-the-box, Nomulus is not a turn-key solution for new registries; an operational DNS system must be supplied (besides the aforementioned ICANN-required reports). Moreover, because it was designed to run on Google AppEngine, Nomulus does not offer support for other cloud providers.

Finally, powering a registry with Nomulus is liable to come with all of the surprises and rough edges of operating cutting-edge software, like lack of features and enterprise support. Other than Google themselves, the only company using Nomulus in production at the time of writing is a registry named Donuts. According to Google’s announcement, Donuts is expected to share details on their instance of Nomulus in the future.

Inspired by a 2011 decision by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to dramatically increase the number of Internet TLDs, Google built Nomulus as a framework and set of tools to run a registry for generic TLD’s. A gTLD registry operator is the authoritative source for domain registrations for their approved TLDs; as such, domain registrars such as GoDaddy or 1&1 may sell domains by connecting with a gTLD registry operator.

Google’s announcement to open-source Nomulus is expected to add even more momentum to the gTLD market. Nomulus is poised to be instrumental in transforming the landscape of Internet domain names for the general public. Domain name registrars may be similarly affected.

For those interested in becoming a registry, it is important to note that the decision to get into the gTLD business should not be undertaken without significant consideration. For example, becoming an independent gTLD registry requires a steep investment, including a standard $185,000 (USD) evaluation fee. For those prepared to take the plunge, a registry guidebook to help newcomers get started is supplied.

Nomulus is written in Java 7 and released under the Apache Software 2.0 License.

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