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Network Information Center (NIC)

Last Edit: 04/04/17

The Network Information Center (NIC) was created in the early 1970's to manage the information resources of ARPANET. The NIC managed a master list of hostnames for ARPANET in the 1970's, and would later (1980's) become the primary naming authority for top level domains within the Domain Name System (DNS). The Network Information Center (NIC) was in operation from the early 1970's until the late 1980's, and was primarily managed by Elizabeth J. "Jake" Feinler (1974-1989). The NIC was created in 1974, and was originally located at Doug Engelbart's Augmentation Research Center (ARC). Doug Engelbart had recruited Elizabeth Feinler in 1972 to manage the resource space of ARPANET.

ARPANET was a computer network that was a forerunner to the Internet. The technical architecture created for ARPANET would evolve and would eventually become the Internet. ARPANET was the first computer network in the United States to use packet switching, and each device that connected to ARPANET was assigned a numerical address. The problem with numerical addresses is that they are difficult for humans to remember. Therefore, a system of assigning hostnames - alphabetical names - to the numerical addresses of the computers of ARPANET was developed.

The process of assigning hostnames to host computers had to be managed. The Network Information Center (NIC) was created to handle the process of assigning hostnames and publishing/distributing a list of hostnames; akin to a phone book for ARPANET. The list of hostnames was included in a file named: HOSTS.TXT; which was downloaded from the Network Information Center (NIC). The structure of the HOSTS.TXT was outlined in RFC 810, 608 and 953, and was devised by: K. Harrenstien, M. Stahl, J.Reynolds, M. Kudlick, amongst others.

The Network Information Center (NIC) became the first 'authority' of ARPANET, managing it's namespace, and was located at the Augmentation Research Center (SRI). The Augmentation Research Center was a research laboratory located at the Stanford Research Institute, and was founded by pioneering electronics genius Douglas Carl Engelbart. The Stanford Research Institute was located in Menlo Park, California, United States of America. The early NIC manually managed a master list of hosts that was updated on a daily basis. The problem with this system was that each host computer had to manually download and install the HOSTS.TXT file onto their system. This manual process was time consuming, and it became difficult for network managers to keep the HOSTS.TXT file up-to-date as more and more nodes were connected to ARPANET. Eventually, the Domain Name System (DNS) was created (1983-85) to solve this issue: the DNS created namespace, converted domain names into resource addresses (IP) and resolved naming issues. Jon Postel had joined the Information Sciences Institute (ISI) in 1977, and, alongside Reynolds, created IANA; it was Postel who inspired the creation of the Domain Name System (DNS), and administrated it's root zone through his leadership of IANA. It was decided that the NIC would administer the top level domains of the DNS, alongside other duties, like managing a root nameserver for the root zone file distributed by IANA.

The Network Information Center (NIC) was renamed to the Defense Data Network (DDN-NIC) in 1984, and was under contract to the United States Department of Defense to manage aspects of the DNS and IP allocation. When the NIC was created, the only operational wide area network was ARPANET, by the 1980's, ARPANET had inspired the creation of more networks - like NSFNET - and these networks formed a 'network of networks' that interconnected to form the Internet. Therefore, the NIC evolved to manage more resources. In 1989, Ed Krol stated: "There are three means of NIC contact: network, telephone, and mail. The network accesses are the most prevalent and interactive. Network queries are available by using: %telnet nic.ddn.mil." Ed krol also published a list of email addresses that NIC questions or problems could be forwarded to:

  1. ACTION@NIC.DDN.MIL
  2. HOSTMASTER@NIC.DDN.MIL
  3. NIC@NIC.DDN.MIL
  4. REGISTRAR@NIC.DDN.MIL
  5. SUGGESTIONS@NIC.DDN.MIL

However, Krol's information would not stay timely for long: in 1989 the Internet Activities Board (IAB) recommended that the centralised NIC/IANA arrangement of managing the Domain Name System (DNS) should be changed. Management of the top level domains would no longer be managed by NIC - Network Solutions, Inc. (NSI) would be contracted to manage top level domains - which led to Elizabeth Feinler leaving the NIC in 1989. The NIC's primary role had been supplanted and the organisation had become toothless.

By 1993 the Network Information Center (NIC) had evolved into the InterNIC project: which managed aspects of regional IP allocation and some DNS services from 1993-1998. When ICANN was created in 1998, many services managed by InterNIC were discontinued, as were it's links to the NSF and NSFNET. Therefore, the history of the Network Information Center (NIC) spanned a timeline from 1972-1998, when ICANN would eventually manage the namespace of the Internet, and usurp the role that the NIC had previously held.