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PUBLISHED ON MAY 16, 2021

Handshake: a decentralized DNS root naming system

Handshake is my favourite discovery of 2021. It’s a decentralized DNS root naming system, based on a proof-of-work blockchain. You can buy and own TLDs. It’s an experiment, but a possible future where you can own names instead of renting subdomains.

Real money is being spent on Handshake names right now. The .NFT TLD sold for US$84,000 and .p for $230,000 (it was bought by Namecheap, a big ICANN accredited registrar). Check out the Namebase marketplace to see what’s for sale and recently sold.

You can think of Handshake names as tradeable things like NFTs, but you can also rent subdomains like any TLD owner does. The .c TLD owner is already making $133k annually and growing fast. You can register .c subdomains here.

The handshake coin is HNS.

They reserved roughly 70% of the coin supply for open source developers, you qualify for the airdrop if you had enough GitHub followers in January 2019, and an SSH or PGP key that’s been on your GitHub account since then. (I thought I couldn’t get the airdrop because I had changed my ssh key since 2019, but yesterday I found an old hard drive with a backup and successfully claimed my 4,246 HNS!)

Most DNS providers don’t support Handshake names yet (I use NextDNS which does, and HDNS is another alternative) but the route to wider adoption will probably start with browsers supporting it. Puma Browser does and there’s a rumour that Brave might soon. And in the meantime you can visit Handshake domains by using use http://hns.to as a bridge, e.g.: http://pauld.hns.to.

For Handshake to eventually cross the chasm to mainstream adoption it will require normal DNS servers to support it, or at least adoption by mainstream browsers. But don’t underestimate the strength of the growing movement towards decentralized infrastructure.

For some folks it’s a desire for more censorship-resistance, but more generally it’s a need for more resilient infrastructure. We don’t notice it daily but every once in a while there’s an event that brings it into view.

As Ben Thompson of Stratechery wrote:

This process will take years; I would expect governments in Europe in particular to initially try and build their own centralized alternatives. Those efforts, though, will founder for a lack of R&D capabilities, and be outstripped by open alternatives that are perhaps not as full-featured and easy-to-use as big tech offerings, at least in the short to medium-term, but possess the killer feature of not having a San Francisco kill-switch.

If you want to get started with Handshake check out handshake.org, the main hosted exchange Namebase, and the dWeb Foundation.

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