Recap from OST LIVE with Nick Johnson, Lead Developer of Ethereum Name Service (ENS)

Nick Johnson is a core developer of go-ethereum and a lead developer of Ethereum Name Service (ENS). ENS is a naming system that offers a secure & decentralised way to address resources both on and off the Ethereum blockchain using simple, human-readable, names. ENS eliminates the need to copy or type long addresses and uses simple addresses like yourname.eth instead of ‘0x4cbe58c50480…’ ENS recently launched a new way to claim .test ENS domains for easy testing on the Rinkeby, Ropsten, and Gorli test networks.

Human Readable Blockchain Identifiers

Private and public key strings have long been a user experience challenge for cryptocurrency. There have been several instances of users sending funds to a wrong address, either due to a typo or hacking techniques like the CryptoShuffler. Johnson says “ENS’s primary goal is that users shouldn’t have to deal with these long, hexadecimal identifiers” adding that “they should be as rare as any user typing an IP address into their browser.” Luckily, Ethereum has the flexibility to improve user experience. ENS is building a system that lets users assign human readable names to blockchain identifiers.

ENS heavily draws inspiration from Domain Name Service (DNS). In fact, the first version of ENS was a near transcription of DNS onto the blockchain. Johnson quickly realized that there were a number of improvements that could be made because DNS wasn’t designed for the same architecture that the blockchain runs on. The current version of ENS has significant differences from DNS, but it’s still draws a lot of inspiration in terms of its overall structure.

ENS is designed as a general purpose naming system. To some degree, it can replace the functions of DNS. ENS is working on integrations that make it possible to insert DNS records into ENS, and host them on the Ethereum blockchain. Johnson says that ENS is not really seeking to replace the entire DNS hierarchy, rather, they hope to extend and improve DNS with solutions such as name resolution.

ENS and Swarm / IPFS

Swarm uses ENS as it’s landing system. Anytime a user interacts with the Swarm gateway, or runs a Swarm node on their own machine, users can enter an ENS address into the gateway and it will look it up via ENS. The system also supports IPFS integration. Given that MetaMask installed, when a user goes to a “.eth” website that has an IPFS content hash into ENS, then MetaMask will resolve that query. ENS is currently transitioning to a new standard called EIP-1577, which represents resources so that both Swarm and IPFS can be represented in the same way.

The Vickrey Auction

ENS launched two years ago with the .eth TLD and a system for allocating those domains on what’s called a Vickrey Auction. In a Vickrey Auction, or second price auction, users place a bid for the domain that they desire. The bid is placed in a secret, so nobody can see what name a user is bidding on or how much they’re bidding. Then users are given a reveal phrase for every auction, they use this phrase to reveal their bid, and everyone else who bid on the same name has to reveal it as well. At this stage, the highest bidder is assign ownership of the domain, but they only stake the amount of the second highest bidder. This auction style finds the optimum price because users are incentivized to bid the maximum they are willing to pay. Johnson says that this worked really well for the initial allocation of names when there was a land rush to get all the names as they first came out.

Now that all remaining domains over 7 characters are available for registration, the “land rush” is gone. The Vickrey Auction is a complex process. It involves three transactions, two of which have to be executed in a certain time window. Users have three days to bid and two days to reveal. If a user miss the time windows, then they could end up losing their bid. The staked ETH is locked for as long as a user want to keep the name. Users can retain the name indefinitely.

BaseRegistrar

ENS is planning to launch a new registration process that on the 4th of May 2019 called BaseRegistrar. The goal is that it will replace the current auction registrar with a much simpler system where users can simply pick and register unused name for a fixed yearly fee, much the same as DNS domains are rented today.

To register a name in the new process, there’s two steps required. First, users send a first transaction to reserve the name. Then 10 minutes later, users send a second transaction to get the name. The big difference between this and the auction process is that the time lines are a lot shorter, so that the minimum wait is 10 minutes as opposed to 5 days. There’s no funds locked up, so if you send the first transaction and you get distracted and go and make yourself a cup of tea, and forget about it, the worst you lose out on is the cost of that transaction, which is just a little bit of gas fee, a fraction of a cent ideally. Funds are not locked up, it’s a lot more friendly to user mistakes. It also doesn’t require any bidding.

For all names that are seven letters long or longer, the registration fee is currently set at about $5 a year. Those funds go into the multisig wallet that governs the root of ENS. It will be up to 7 individuals to disperse funds to projects that enhance ENS and help move the ecosystem forward. Johnson hopes that True Names, his nonprofit that is currently handling all the ENS development efforts, will be included in the funding.

3–6 Character Domains

After the new registration process is launched on May the 4th, ENS will have an allocation process for 3–6 character domains.

Users that have an existing domain name that is six characters or less can submit an application to claim the same .eth name. If multiple people want to claim the same short name based on their existing DNS ownership, then whoever’s owned a name for the longest will be assigned the .eth name. For any remaining names that haven’t been claimed, they’ll be auctioned off using a Vickrey Auction with the highest bidder winning, The funds will go to the multisig, just like the registration funds mentioned earlier.

ENS anticipates a registration through the pre-process will cost two years worth of registration fees, and users will have the name reserved for one year. ENS will also have tiered pricing in for three character names to be substantially more expensive than normal. Four character names will be moderately more expensive than normal, and everything longer than that will be roughly $5 a year. ENS expects to open applications in June or July and will keep them open for about 30 days. The auction for remaining names will be held after the pre-registration process is finished.

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OST blockchain infrastructure empowers new economies for mainstream businesses and emerging DApps. OST leads development of the OpenST Protocol, a framework for tokenizing businesses. In September 2018 OST introduced the OpenST Mosaic Protocol for running meta-blockchains to scale Ethereum applications to billions of users. OST KIT is a full-stack suite of developer tools, APIs, and SDKs for managing blockchain economies. OST partners reach more than 300 million users. OST has offices in Berlin, New York, Hong Kong, and Pune. OST is backed by leading institutional equity investors including Tencent, Greycroft, Vectr Ventures, and 500 Startups.