A decentralized, alternative Domain Name System (DNS) with domains ending in “.bit” gives webmasters a private way to be in control of their own domain names. Bitcoin.com looked into how to obtain, browse, and deploy these domains.
.bit Domains are Namecoin Assets
The .bit DNS system is a feature of the cryptocurrency namecoin, which is one of the very first altcoins, and is closely modeled after Bitcoin. Namecoin is often mined at the same time using the same equipment as Bitcoin, a process called ‘merged mining.’ Nearly one-third of all Bitcoin miners merge-mine Namecoin, giving the network about a third of the hashrate security that Bitcoin has, which is far more than any other altcoin.
A .bit domain could be used to point to files anywhere such as a Tor hidden site like the Silk Road, a standard webhost without an ICANN-regulated domain name, a Zeronet zite (website), or a folder on a laptop. The ownership of a .bit domain is held in a Namecoin wallet, much like a colored coin or counterparty asset except that it expires after a while.
The purpose in using a cryptocurrency to secure and distribute the domains is to give it very strong decentralization, much like Bitcoin has. Finding the owner of a .bit domain is very difficult to do since the wallets and registrars do not ask for personal information, plus some website owners hide their IP address with Tor.
How to View .bit Domains
These domains can be viewed by installing a web browser extension or through a web page that acts like an extension, such as Opennicproject. Google’s Chrome browser has a few extensions made for viewing .bit websites such as “dotbit.me web surfer,” “dot-bit-proxy-extension,” and “PeerName.” After loading one of those extensions, browsing .bit sites is just like browsing any other websites.
Buying .bit Domains
Owning .bit domains can either be done by purchasing them at a Namecoin registrar for a premium or inexpensively in a Namecoin wallet. Unfortunately, Namecoin does not have the plethora of wallets that Bitcoin has, so you have to use either the command-line-only namecoind or the Namecoin Core wallet, both of which require the whole 50 Gigabyte blockchain to be downloaded first.
Inside wallets, the domains are traded for namecoins (NMC), which are available to buy at many exchanges including BTC-E, Shapeshift, Poloniex, and the decentralized Bitsquare exchange. The cryptocurrency is currently trading for 4,153.125 NMC per 1 BTC on Shapeshift, which is roughly $0.30 each. During bitcoin’s November 2013 price peak, namecoins peaked at their all-time high of $10.60, but they have never recovered from the subsequent fall.
Buying From Namecoin Registrars
The advantages include convenience on a level wallets do not offer yet. Registrars do not require you to run your own wallet or node to keep them online, and do not need you to renew your own domain’s registration.
Meanwhile, there are several disadvantages. Registrars’ prices are far higher than using a wallet. A typical price is well over $5 per .bit domain even for periods shorter than a year. Buyers also have to trust the registrar, making this option too risky for many dark web merchants and other privacy advocates. Lastly, just like keeping bitcoins at Coinbase, buyers don’t really own their .bit domain this way. The registrar can go out of business tomorrow and they will not have access to it anymore.
Buying Inside Namecoin Wallets
With a little patience and research, .bit domains can be registered for 0.02 NMC ($0.006) using the namecoind software or Namecoin Core wallet. Once installed, the blockchain synched, and a small amount of namecoin sent to the wallet, you can head to the “Manage Names” tab inside the wallet and type in the domain name you would like to own.
The wallet software will tell you if the domain is available, and if so, let you buy it simply and quickly. The wallet will then keep up with the domain and tell you how long you have until it expires. You can also view these domains in a Namecoin block explorer.
Using .bit Domains for Websites or Zeronet Zites
Using a .bit domain to point to a website is technically challenging. Configuring a server to work with one is usually difficult unless the user is already knowledgeable about DNS and server configurations. Using typical shared hosting like Hostgator or Digital Ocean for websites can be even trickier than usual, but it is still possible for those proficient at editing server files and can add virtual host entries to Apache configurations. A .bit domain can be similarly set up to serve a website locally such as from a desktop.
Other hosts, like Zeronet, make the task easier by setting up a page to register and configure a .bit domain to a zite. One Zeronet user has put together a set of instructions for flipping .bit domains on Zeronet, which is one of the first viable business models there.
Finally, once a .bit domain is up and running, the associated Namecoin wallet must be kept open since it acts as the site’s DNS server, unless the domain is purchased from a register which will be responsible for keeping it live.
Images courtesy of Shutterstock, Namecoin, Zeronet