Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority (FICORA)
Switchboard +358 9 69 661
Customer service of Fi-domain names +358 9 6966 700
Native language characters (å, ä, ö and Lappish) in domain names
As of 1 September 2005, it has been possible to apply for Internationalized Domain Names (IDN), i.e. Finnish domain names represented by native language characters such as å, ä and ö. In addition, as of 14 August 2006, it has been made possible to apply for fi-domain names containing characters used in the Samí language spoken in Finland.
The permitted characters for a domain name are the letters a to z, the numbers 0 to 9, hyphen (-, hyphen-minus), and the following native language characters:
A domain name can be between 2 and 63 characters. A domain name must not begin or end with a hyphen. A domain name in plain text (e.g. ääkkönen.fi) must not have hyphens in both the third and fourth positions. However, the technical ACE form (ASCII Compatible Encoding) of an IDN, i.e. domain name containing native language characters, can have hyphens in the third and fourth positions (e.g. xn--kknen-fraa0m.fi).
Such software as Internet browsers and email programs supported by national domain names, automatically convert from plain text to an ACE string, a form understood by name server systems. However, all browser and email programs do not yet support domain names with native language characters. The browser gives an error message if native language characters do not support it. Additional information on this can be found in section “software”.
Due to technical restrictions, we do not recommend that an IDN is used as a primary domain name.
The ACE form of the domain name
Internet name server systems can only process the traditional letters (a to z) of the Latin alphabet. Therefore, native language characters should be converted to a form, which can be processed by name server systems.
An ACE string is a technical form understood by name server systems and is configured to serve the name servers of the domain name.
Unicode provides individualised character codes for tens of thousands of different characters. Punycode is an international standard, which is defined in RFC 3492. It transforms special characters in domain names from a Unicode form into an ASCII string. Punycode enables the use of characters other than the Latin alphabets in domain names. An alternative name for punycode is ACE (ASCII Compatible Encoding).
An example of an IDN that has been transcribed into an ACE string:
ääkkönen.fi ?> xn--kknen-fraa0m.fi
The use of .fi domain names containing native language characters involves significant technical restrictions both in application and keyboard support.
Writing .fi domain names that contain native language characters requires that the keyboard have the letters å, ä and ö. Therefore, writing .fi domain names containing native language characters with a foreign keyboard may be difficult or even impossible. In case there is no keyboard support, it is possible to write the letters å, ä and ö in the Windows operating system by e.g. using a program called Character Map.
The following Internet browsers are supported by IDNs:
Mac OS X
Mozilla Firefox and Microsoft Internet are currently the most popular browsers that support native language characters. Internet Explorer 6.0 or later versions do not support domain native containing native language characters. This also concerns the Outlook and Outlook Express email programs. The majority of Internet users use Internet Explorer, which comes with the Windows operating system.
Version 7.0 has in-built support for IDN domain names, which increases significantly the support for domain names containing native language characters.
Verisign has released an IE plug-in, i-NavTM, which can be downloaded into the IE versions 5.0, 5.5 and 6.0. Verisign has also created the i-NavOutlook and i-NavOE plug-ins for the Outlook 2000, 2002, 2003 and Outlook Express email programs. Verisign charges nothing for these plugins. The plug-ins enable the use of IDNs in IE browsers and Microsoft’s email programs.
IDNs do not work in Microsoft's browser or email programs without the plug-in, without the exception of Internet Explorer version 7 Beta 2 or later.
Differences between browser programs
Most new browser programs (also IE version 7 or later) support IDNs. The user does not need to take any specific measures when s/he uses IDNs with the above-mentioned browser programs. The address displayed in the address bar and which is visible for the user varies slightly, depending on the browser and even the browser version.
Some browsers display the address the user has submitted in plain text, e.g. www.ääkkönen.fi whereas others display the address in the address bar as an ACE string, e.g. www.xn--kknen-fraa0m.fi. There are differences between the different versions of same browser programs.
If the user wants to use domain names containing the letters å, ä and ö when sending email, the sender’s email program must support IDNs or the sender must use an ACE string email address. Contact directly the program manufacturer to inquire whether the email program in question supports IDNs. Microsoft Outlook email programs will support native language characters when you install the above-mentioned Verisign Microsoft plug-ins. However, email programs support IDNs insufficiently at the moment.
An example of an email address:
info@ääkkönen.fi ?> email@example.com
If the receiver’s address contains an IDN which is represented by the ACE string firstname.lastname@example.org, the sender’s email program need not support native language characters. Since the program support of email programs is insufficient, the use of IDNs in email addresses is not recommended.
Email programs with IDN support:
Microsoft Outlook 2000, 2002 (XP), 2003; Outlook Express 5.0 or later. NOTE! i-Nav plug-in is necessary for it to work
Purpose of use
A domain name containing the letters å, ä and ö is, at the moment, most suitable for geographically local, non-critical use. Due to technical restrictions, it is recommended that an IDN be applied for together with an equivalent domain name that lacks native language characters. In this case, native language characters are replaced by the letters a and o.
According to FICORA's established opinion, a holdership to a domain name that does not contain native language characters gives no priority to the holder to obtain an equivalent IDN – a domain name represented by native language characters (å,ä,ö), or vice versa. In these cases, a domain name will be granted, on a first come, first serve basis, to the one who first applies for it.
Who can apply
A person, who is over 15 years, and has home municipality in Finland and a Finnish identity number, can apply for a domain name containing native language characters. This rule also applies to other domain names. A guardian can apply for a domain name on behalf of a minor who is over 15 years and no older than 17, and an adult who has been appointed a guardian.
A company or a private entrepreneur, a Finnish public body, an unincorporated state enterprise, an independent public corporation, a public association, and a diplomatic mission of a foreign state registered in the trade register or the registers of associations or foundations in Finland may apply for a domain name. The registration into the trade register or the registers of associations or foundations must be final before you can apply for a domain name. A registration pending is not sufficient. The business identification code alone, or the fact that the holder has merely been entered into the register of the tax administration, does not give the right to apply for a domain name.
Examples of public corporations are the state, municipalities, the province of the Åland Islands, native language governments, the Helsinki Metropolitan Area Council, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland and the Orthodox Church of Finland and their congregations. Statutory organisations with public responsibilities are also considered as a public corporation.
In marketing and providing domain names, service providers must pay attention to restrictions concerning domain names containing native language characters. When they apply for a domain name, customers must be informed of the technical problems concerning IDNs. They should in particular pay attention to the users’ need to also apply for a domain name without native language characters that corresponds to an IDN (e.g. ääkkönen.fi, aakkonen.fi).
The domain name is always represented by an ACE-string when it is configured to serve name servers, and it must contain special characters. When a domain name is registered, the fi-domain name service displays the domain name both in plain text and as an ACE string.
If the domain name is configured to serve the name service prior to the registration, it is possible to find out what the ACE form is, e.g. by using a IDN - ACE converter. Here's an example of a link found from the VeriSign site that has an IDN converter.
Technology-oriented users and service providers may be interested in the following RFC documents of the IETF concerning IDNs.