Steven Murdoch has done some experiments and written an excellent blog post elucidating the technical details behind the new Chinese top level domains. He makes the argument that, while CCNIC has not technically “split the root” by creating a rival DNS rootserver, they’ve done something almost indistinguishable in practical terms. When you access a Chinese DNS server and ask for a .com or .net domain, you’re directed to the A-M rootservers (A.ROOT-SERVER.NET, etc.) But when you ask for one of the new TLDs (.中国, .公司, .网络), you skip the root servers and move directly to hawk2.cnnic.net.cn, the nameserver which has authority for these new domains.
Here’s the rub – because this change has been made within Chinese DNS servers, it’s unlikely that most non-Chinese users will be able to access these domain names through the domain name system. Murdoch offers an experiment – like him, I find that I can follow a link to http://北京大学.cn/, but not the link to http://北京大学.中国/, which should point to the same server. This suggests that my browser (Firefox, if you’re curious) supports Chinese characters in domain names, but that my DNS service (126.96.36.199, if you must know… :-) doesn’t recognize the .中国 domain.
You could imagine non-Chinese domain name servers being updated to point requests for the new TLDs to the hawk2 nameserver… or you could imagine ISPs and other DNS maintainers deciding not to redirect those requests as part of a refusal to support nameservers outside the root nameserver structure. Another solution might be to find a way to map these new TLDs to second-level domains – 百度.公司 might be mapped within non-Chinese DNS servers to 百度.com.cn, which could then be resolved through the existing DNS system – but this would still require patching DNS servers to recognize these three new domains and would require sites to maintain both a .公司 and .com.cn interface to a server.
It’s very much worth reading Steven’s post closely if you’re trying to figure out precisely what Tuesday’s announcement means – again, the indication seems to be not that China is in any way trying to create domain conflicts over .net or .com, but is instead creating some new TLDs that will work primarily in China.