An internationalized country code top-level domain is a top-level domain (TLD) in the Domain Name System (DNS) of the Internet. IDN ccTLDs are specially encoded domain names that are displayed in an end user application, such as a web browser, in their language-native script or alphabet, such as the Arabic alphabet, or a non-alphabetic writing system, such as Chinese characters. IDN ccTLDs are an application of the internationalized domain name system to top-level Internet domains assigned to countries, or independent geographic regions.
Although the domain class uses the term code, some of these ccTLDs are not codes but full words. For example, السعودية (as-Suʻūdiyya) is not an abbreviation of "Saudi Arabia", but the common short-form name of the country in Arabic.
Countries with internationalized ccTLDs also retain their traditional ASCII-based ccTLDs.
As of December 2014 there are 45 approved internationalized country code top-level domains. The most used are .рф (Russia) with over 900,000 domains names, .台灣 (Taiwan) with around 500,000 and .中国 (China) with over 200,000 domains.
The ICANN board approved the establishment of an internationalized top-level domain name working group within the Country Code Names Supporting Organization (ccNSO) in December 2006. They resolved in June 2007 inter alia to proceed and asked the IDNC Working Group to prepare a proposal, which the group delivered in June 2008, "to recommend mechanisms to introduce a limited number of non-contentious IDN ccTLDs, associated with the ISO 3166-1 two-letter codes in a short time frame to meet near term demand." The group proposed a methodology using ICANN's Fast Track Process based on the ICANN charter to work with the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority
- Identify technical basis of the TLD strings and country code specific processes, select IDN ccTLD personnel and authorities, and prepare documentation;
- Perform ICANN due diligence process for technical proposal and publish method;
- Enter delegation process within established IANA procedures.
In October 2009, ICANN resolved to start accepting applications for top-level internationalized domain names from representatives of countries and territories in November. Starting November 16, 2009, nations and territories could apply for IDN ccTLDs. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the Russian Federation were among the first countries to apply for the new internationalized domain name country code top-level domains. In January 2010 ICANN announced that these countries' IDN ccTLDs were the first four new IDN ccTLDs to have passed the Fast Track String Evaluation within the domain application process. In May 2010, 21 different countries representing 11 languages, including Chinese, Russian, Tamil, and Thai, had requested new IDN country codes.
On May 5, 2010, the first implementations, all in the Arabic alphabet, were activated. Egypt was assigned the مصر. country code, Saudi Arabia السعودية., and the United Arab Emirates امارات., (all reading right to left as is customary in Arabic). ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom described the launch as "historic" and "a seismic shift that will forever change the online landscape." "This is the beginning of a transition that will make the Internet more accessible and user friendly to millions around the globe, regardless of where they live or what language they speak," he added. Senior director for internationalised domain names Tina Dam said it was "the most significant day" since the launch of the Internet. According to ICANN, Arabic was chosen for the initial roll out because it is one of the most widely used non-Latin languages on the Internet. There are problems entering a mixed left-to-right and right-to-left text string on a keyboard, making fully Arabic web addresses extra useful.
As of June 2010, four such TLDs have been implemented: three using the Arabic alphabet,
امارات. (for Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, respectively), and one using Cyrillic,
.рф (for Russia). Five new IDN ccTLDs using Chinese characters were approved in June 2010:
.中国 with variant
.中國 (for mainland China),
.香港 (for Hong Kong), and
.台灣 with variant
.台湾 (for Taiwan).
The new country codes were available for immediate use, although ICANN admit they may not work properly for all users initially. According to Egypt's communication and information technology minister, three Egyptian companies were the first to receive domain licenses on the new "masr" [مصر transliterated] country code. Egypt's Ministry of Communications was possibly the first functional website with an entirely Arabic address. The ccTLD
.рф for Russia launched on May 13. Bulgaria's
.бг was rejected by the ICANN due to its visual similarity with
Five new ccTLDs using Chinese characters, the first using a non-alphabetic writing system, were approved by the ICANN Board on June 25, 2010:
.中国(encoded as "
.中國(encoded as "
.zhongguo"), delegated to China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), the registrar for ccTLD
.香港(encoded as "
.hongkong"), delegated to Hong Kong Internet Registration Corporation (HKIRC), the registrar for ccTLD
.台灣(encoded as "
.台湾(encoded as "
.taiwan"), delegated to Taiwan Network Information Center (TWNIC), the registrar for ccTLD
The dual domains delegated to each of CNNIC and TWNIC are synonymous, being purely orthographical variations differing only in using simplified forms (国 and 湾), as preferred in mainland China, versus traditional forms of the same characters (國 and 灣), as used in Taiwan.
Ukrainian string .укр was approved by the ICANN Board on February 28, 2013. The zone was added to the root servers on March 19, 2013.
Bulgarian string .бг was approved by the ICANN Board in 2014.