Internet domains no longer only English

The internet's domain name system underwent a radical overhaul yesterday, when the first fully non-Latin domains went live.

Three Arabic-speaking nations went live with versions of their country's domains in Arabic script, after domain overseer ICANN added them to the DNS root servers.

Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the first countries to benefit from the transition to localised scripts. In future, domains in other character sets, such as Russia's Cyrillic .РФ, will go live.

An example of one of the first so-called “internationalised domain names” or IDNs is http://وزارة-الأتصالات.مصر , which leads to the Egyptian communications ministry.

If your browser has the correct fonts installed, you should see an Arabic domain name. When you mouse-over or click on the link, what you see will depend on the browser.

You may see the Arabic script, or you may see http://xn--4gbrim.xn----rmckbbajlc6dj7bxne2c.xn--wgbh1c, the Punycode transliteration actually stored in the ASCII-only DNS.

Unlike ASCII, Arabic domain names are written from right to left, with the top-level (the equivalent of .com or .uk) found at the left of the dot.

If this all sounds very confusing, consider that the reverse situation has been how most of the world's Arabic internet users have been forced to navigate the web since its creation.

It has taken ICANN many years to figure out a way to allow users of non-Latin scripts to use their own languages without breaking the DNS.