Back in the days, when the Internet wasn’t so mainstream, one of the main problems that users faced was that domain names hadn’t been matched up to internet protocol (IP) addresses.
This made them very unfriendly towards the average Joe, who had to type in the IP address of the website they wanted to visit, as in to literally type in the numbers.
Unlike traditional IPs, cryptocurrency addresses represent even longer strings of numbers and letters. If a user wants to send another user funds over Ethereum’s network, they would have to input the address and make sure that each number and letter is written correctly.
It’s also important to know that, in this regard, blockchain-based technology is very punishing. This is because if you fail to input the address correctly and mistype a letter, the funds you send will be irreversibly lost. There’s no central authority to contact to reverse or refund the transaction – that money is lost.
And just like Domain Name Services (DNS) came to life when using the Internet, the Ethereum Name Service (ENS) came to be.
What is Ethereum Name Service (ENS)?
Ethereum Name Service (ENS) takes the exact same concept as the Domain Name Service (DNS) but adjusts it for the needs of Ethereum users. At its core, the Ethereum Name Service is distributed, open, and extensible naming system that’s operating on the Ethereum blockchain.
It aims to map human-readable names to machine-readable identifiers. In this case, the human-readable name can be something like “cactus.eth,” whereas the machine-readable identifier can be the Ethereum address (or other cryptocurrency addresses, for that matter.)
In the image below, we have given an example of what it looks like. The address belongs to the Ethereum foundation. The ENS domain name that we created is just an example for the purpose of this guide:
The standard Ethereum Address is converted into a human-readable text (foundation.eth). This means that users are able to send funds or interact with “foundation.eth” instead of with the standard address. Obviously, this makes it a lot easier for regular users and also tightens the possibility of a mistake considerably.
According to the official ENS documentation, the system “has similar goals to DNS, the Internet’s Domain Name Service, but has significantly different architecture due to the capabilities and constraints provided by the Ethereum blockchain.”
Similar to DNS, ENS also operates on a system made of dot-separated hierarchical names that are called domains. The owner of a domain also has full control over the subdomains.
How Does ENS Work?
There are two core components to the Ethereum Name Service. Namely, these are the registry and the resolvers. The architecture of the system looks like this:
The registry is composed of a smart contract designed to maintain a list of all the domains and subdomains while also storing three essential pieces of information about each. These pieces are:
- The owner of the domain
- The resolver of the domain
- The caching time-to-live for all the records that are under the domain
The purpose of the ENS registry is very straightforward – it’s to map from a name to the resolver who’s responsible for it. Meanwhile, owners of domains in the ENS registry are allowed to:
- Change the ownership of the subdomains
- Transfer ownership of their domain to another address
- Set the resolver and the time-to-live (TTL) for the domain
Resolvers, on the other hand, are responsible for the process of translating the names into addresses. Every contract that implements the required standards is capable of being a resolver in the Ethereum Name Service. However, resolving a name in ENS is a process composed of two steps.
The first one is to ask the registry what resolver is responsible for the said name. The second one is to ask that particular resolver for the answer to the query. In terms of architecture, it looks like this:
The Difference Between DNS and ENS
The Domain Name Service (DNS) was created by Paul Mockapetris – a computer scientist from the US – in 1983. It followed the research of another American scientist – Elizabeth Feinler.
Put in simple terms, the purpose of the DNS is to match internet protocol (IP) addresses with human-friendly names of the domain. This allows users to type in the name of the website instead of having to input the literal numeric IP address.
In a similar yet different way, Ethereum Name Service attempts to give people (as well as applications) an easier way to read and share cryptocurrency addresses.
How to Register an Ethereum Name Service (ENS) Domain?
Registering an Ethereum Name Service domain is pretty straightforward, and all you need to do is have a hot wallet such as MetaMask.
Go to app.ens.domains (the official website for registering an ENS domain), and type in the domain name that you want to register. This will check its availability.
Once you have selected your name, all you need to do is follow the instructions given below:
Ethereum Name Service Governance
The Ethereum Name Service is governed through a few different arms, each one of which carries its own significance.
ENS Token + Distribution
The ENS token is a standard token using the ERC-20 standard on the Ethereum blockchain. Its main purpose is to be used for the governance of the system.
Token holders can submit proposals and cast their votes. The main place where community members can discuss ideas and have governance-related discussions is the forum discuss.ens.domains.
The ENS token was airdropped to early adopters who had previously registered an ENS domain name. The claiming process started on November 8th, 2021, and users had until May 4th, 2022, to claim their allotted tokens.
25% of the total supply was distributed through the airdrop, while the rest is designated as shown in the following piechart:
In the spirit of decentralization, the Ethereum Name Service is operated by a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO). The DAO itself is governed by holders of the ENS token, who are able to submit proposals and vote on them to determine the future development of the protocol.
The ENS DAO itself is represented by an existing Cayman Islands Foundation called the ENS Foundation.
It has a few purposes, including:
- To comply with tax requirements because without a legal entity, DAO participants may be responsible for a certain proportion of the DAO’s income, even if they don’t have access to these funds.
- To enter into contracts with other companies.
- To provide limited liability for participants in the DAO for the actions of the DAO.
ENS is a critical advent in the cryptocurrency field and a step towards solving some of the pressing issues that riddle the industry – namely, user experience.
Having to deal with long strings of random numbers and letters is oftentimes the reason for mistakes, and in the field of crypto, mistakes are quite commonly very expensive. Normalizing addresses and presenting them in a human-readable and friendly way is a step towards improving the overall user experience the way DNS improved the UX for Internet users.
At the same time, though, DNS records of domains and names are typically stored on centralized servers, making them prone to hacks. ENS, on the other hand, are secured by Ethereum’s blockchain, making them multifold and more secure.
That said, the Ethereum Name Service is undoubtedly a very important invention and an innovation that’s quickly become widespread and used by thousands of people.