ISI Marks 20th Anniversary of Domain Name System

June 26, 2003

A group of computer scientists gathered June 23 to mark the 20th anniversary of the now universally-used Domain Name System (DNS), which was invented at USC's Information Sciences Institute and first tested on that date in 1983.

In a small private remembrance, University of Southern California computer scientists opened champagne at ISI's Postel Center for Experimental Networking (PCEN) to mark the occasion.

Dr. Paul Mockapetris invented the system as part of his collaboration with Internet pioneer and PCEN namesake Dr. Jon Postel, who worked at ISI until his untimely death in 1998.

Postel asked Mockapetris to create a distributed index of the Internet, then a fledgling community of only a few thousand computers.

Before the DNS, all publicly listed computers on the Internet were listed in a single directory, in a file maintained by SRI. That file, edited biweekly, was becoming too large and too frequently out of date, according to PCEN Director Dr. Joseph D. Touch, who hosted the memorial.

Mockapetris devised a system that automatically directed name lookup requests where they were supposed to go, creating a distributed database that could be managed locally, but accessed from anywhere.

"Once you got your organization connected to the network, you could have as many computers on it as you wanted, and you could name them yourself," Mockapetris said.

With further refinement, the DNS system of ".com," ".edu," ".gov," and other top-level domains still used by e-mail and Web users was able to expand to billions of addresses.

Mockapetris is now chief scientist and chairman of the board at IP (Internet Protocol) address software vendor Nominum and a visiting scholar at PCEN.

ISI is part of the USC School of Engineering.