1983: Paul Mockapetris and Jon Postel run the first successful test of the automated, distributed Domain Name System. DNS will lay the foundation for the massive expansion, popularization and commercialization of the internet. The fledgling internet of the time (Arpanet and CSnet) relied on a bulky and exponentially growing “phonebook” of addresses called the “host tables.” It was a text file maintained by SRI International in Menlo Park, California. You contacted another computer on the network by looking up its numerical address, and typing it in.
He worked at the University of Southern California Information Sciences Institute, and his manager, Jon Postel, assigned him to devise a new way of assigning and recording internet addresses.
Their solution was brilliant. It still used an underlying system of numerical designations, but allowed you to reach a computer by name as well. It was also hierarchical and distributed. Top-level domains would mark out various types of users, like .mil or .edu. Once a name like berkeley.edu got assigned to the University of California at Berkeley, its local network administrator could independently add computers within the domain, numbering and naming them. Or the Berkeley administrator could subdelegate areas of the domain.
After testing the new plan and tweaking it for a few months, Mockapetris, Postel and Partridge published their idea in a Request for Comments (RFC) memorandum in November 1983. The system gained gradual adoption over the next few years (with prodding from the Arpanet overlords at Darpa), first supplementing and then entirely supplanting the host tables.
Paul Mockapetris expanded the Internet beyond its academic origins by inventing the Domain Name System (DNS) in 1983. At USC’s Information Sciences Institute, Mockapetris recognized the problems with the early Internet (then ARPAnet)’s system of holding name to address translations in a single table on a single host (HOSTS.TXT). Instead, he proposed a distributed and dynamic naming system, essentially the DNS of today.
Rather than simply looking up host names, DNS created easily identifiable names for IP addresses, making the Internet far more accessible for everyday use. After the formal creation of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in 1986, DNS became one of the original Internet Standards.
Throughout his career, Mockapetris has contributed significantly to the evolution of the Internet through both research and industry. His earliest work at UC Irvine on distributed systems and LAN technology preceded the commercial Ethernet and Token Ring designs. During the early 1990s, he served as program manager for networking at ARPA, supervising efforts such as gigabit and optical networking. He has also held leadership roles at several Silicon Valley networking startups, including @Home, Software.com (now OpenWave), Fiberlane (now Cisco), and Siara (now Redback Networks).
Today, he serves as Chief Scientist and Chairman of the Board at Nominum, Inc., where his mission is to shepherd DNS and IP addressing to the next stage.