Byron Holland is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA). View bio
A few years back an author named Lynne Truss wrote a book called Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. The title was meant to highlight the importance of properly used punctuation. Had the commas been left out, the resulting title (Eats shoots and leaves) would have a completely different, albeit less violent, meaning.
Truss’ book came to mind after I heard that the Internet in Sweden was down for about an hour on Monday. Why did the dot-se (.se) websites stop working? A dot character stopped being added to the update script. A single dot: “.”
This wasn’t just any ordinary dot, however. This “.” is called a trailing dot. It is a critical part of the DNS lookup chain in that it specifies that .se is the top-level domain. Without it, the whole chain breaks down. When it wasn’t there, almost 905,000 domain names ending in .se were unavailable – all because of a dot.
These are the things that keep the people at CIRA, myself included, awake at night. There are over one million .ca domain names. CIRA resolves 25,000,000 transactions per hour on our DNS servers. These transactions include banking, email, research, and a host of other activities. The Internet has simply become integral to our lives as Canadians. To lose access to the Internet, even for an hour, would not be just a minor inconvenience for Canadians – it would be a nightmare.
At CIRA, we’re very proud of the fact that we operate in 100 percent uptime. But we also know that it only takes something as simple as a dot not being in the right place to crash the entire system. Small details, big consequences, and we’re the people who are responsible for making sure this doesn’t happen here. It’s a big responsibility, and it’s one we do not take lightly.
Commas, periods, dots. Pretty simple stuff that can come with pretty big consequences. Period.