After a failed initial launch, an effort to create a decentralized domain register on top of the ethereum blockchain is ready for round two.
The Ethereum Name Service (ENS), a leaderless domain system spearheaded by Ethereum Foundation employees Nick Johnson and Alex Van de Sande, originally opened back in mid-March, but when two critical bugs were found at the last minute, the team shut down the launch to regroup, fix problems and hunt for overlooked issues.
Now, two months later, after a thorough post-mortem, including a formal independent audit and the launch of a bug bounty program, the new service is kicking off again. Hopefully, the relaunch will go without a hitch and users could soon begin bidding on domain names using the service.
But, still, the team is remaining diligent should anything else go wrong.
In a recent blog post, Chris Remus, ENS community launch manager, wrote:
“The team will watch the relaunch closely. Contingency plans are in place to alert the root key holders of the need, if any, to take further action to address unexpected critical bugs.”
What’s in a name?
So, why does ethereum need a name service anyway?
The idea is that humans naturally don’t do well with hexadecimal addresses. Such addresses are long, too difficult to type out and simply not user friendly.
For example, it will be much easier to do simple things like send ether (the token of the ethereum blockchain) to ‘alice.wallet.eth’ or pull up content on Swarm (etherum’s decentralized storage space) by typing ‘alice.swarm.eth’, rather than cutting and pasting, or worse having to type, ‘0x123f681646d4a755815f9cb19e1acc8565a0c2ac’.
Johnson told :
“It is too easy to make a mistake, accidentally mislay funds or interact with the wrong thing. Being able to type in a human recognizable name and verify it as the correct name is a huge advantage.”
The ENS will come in handy for a number of ethereum resources, for example, smart contracts, wallet addresses, data storage project Swarm hashes, public keys on ethereum’s privacy-minded messaging layer Whisper and more.
You could think of ENS as a crucial piece for building decentralized apps on ethereum. Startup project Aragon, for instance, plans to incorporate the system to make DAOs on the platform easier to search for.
In summary, the ENS does two things. It allows users to register domain names, which are then run by smart contracts, which spell out the rules for letting users create subdomains. And it works like an address book, resolving those names with their underlying machine identifiers.
Once the initial ENS becomes active on the main blockchain, anyone will be able to register a top-level domain name ending in “eth” using an open auction.
But because ENS is undergoing a ‘soft launch’, not all the names will be available at once. Instead, names will gradually become available over an eight-week period. Short names (anything less than seven characters) won’t be available at all for about two years, until the system is upgraded.
In choosing a name, you initiate an auction. The auction has two parts: a three-day sealed bidding period, where you enter the most ether you are willing to pay, and a two-day reveal, where bids become publicly viewable.
A hidden bid ensures that people will not lay in wait and overbid you in the final moments of an auction. New bids are prohibited in the reveal stage.
You won’t lose money on the bids. Any ether used to purchase a name are held in a separate deed account against your name. Deeds become transferable only after a year. Once you relinquish a name, you get your deposit back.
As Johnson explained to , the purpose for the auction and deed program is to avoid a “land rush” whereby speculators grab popular names and hold on to them for resale. And to establish a fair price for names.
With this plan, Johnson is confident the launch will be a success this time around, concluding:
“I think we’ve crossed all the Ts and dotted all the Is.”