In brief

  • The Ethereum Name Service (ENS) is a lookup system. It links information to a name.
  • It works in a similar way to the internet's DNS system, helping users find websites via names rather than numbers.
  • ENS is not designed to replace DNS, instead to work alongside it.

In the early days of the web, to access a website you needed to type in the IP address, a string of numbers that were difficult to remember and almost impossible to guess. Then came human-readable names, to make life easier for us humans to surf the world wide web. That shift turned 104.26.3.128 into Decrypt.co! Cryptocurrency is still very much in the IP address phase: users need long, difficult to remember addresses in order to access the services they need. That's where the Ethereum Name Service comes in. It wants to make using crypto as easy as surfing the web.

Below we explore how it works, where it comes from and how you can secure an emoji domain name.

What is the Ethereum Name Service (ENS)?

Simply, the Ethereum Name Service (ENS) is a lookup system. It links information to a name. It is not a naming service just for Ethereum; it is a name service built on Ethereum. It offers a secure and decentralized way to address resources using human-readable names. It is a totally distributed domain name provider that allows anyone to buy and manage domains meaning you could send ETH or ERC20 tokens to “realsatoshi.eth” instead of to “8e866f012fb8fb…” 

Who invented ENS?

Nick Johnson and Alex Van de Sande of the Ethereum Foundation led the initial development of the ENS.

Did you know?

You can register unicode in your domain name, which means you can claim an emoji ENS address. So you could maybe use 🤘🤘🤘.eth for crypto donations to your satanic temple? Visit ethmojis.com to claim your emoji-based Ethereum domain today!

What’s so special about it?

ENS is built on Ethereum’s smart contracts, making it more secure, private, and resistant to censorship than the Internet’s Domain Name Service (DNS). The team behind ENS see internet naming infrastructure as a fundamental component that therefore should be open, decentralized, community-driven and not-for-profit. On a technical level, the ENS can make use of the existing Ethereum ecosystem, meaning it is highly programmable and can interact with other smart contracts outside of naming. 

What else is different?

The ENS, unlike some of its competitors, does not want to replace DNS. The ENS focuses first and foremost on providing distributed, trustworthy name resolution for Web3 resources such as blockchain addresses and distributed content, while Namecoin, Blockstack and Handshake are making efforts to replace DNS. 

Inside the ENS

Under the hood, ENS is basically two smart contracts. The ENS registry records all the domains and subdomains, as well the owner’s details and the link to the Resolver, which is another smart contract that handles the translations from names to addresses or other types of resources and vice-versa. 

ENS runs similarly to the Internet’s DNS, in that it has a hierarchical system that allows the domain owner total control of any subdomains. So realsatoshi.eth can create wallet.realsatoshi.eth and email.realsatoshi.eth.

How to get your own ENS domain?

Using an Ethereum wallet like MetaMask, you can visit manager.ens.domains to search for an available domain name. Once you have found your domain, the system will walk you through registration, which will require you to confirm two transactions from your wallet. You will also have to select how many years you want to register a domain with rent costing $5.00 a year. Now, as the owner of that domain you can set up the different addresses or information you want that name to link through as well as any subdomains.  

What can you do with ENS?

The best thing to do with ENS is to replace your long, unreadable Ethereum address with a friendly, memorable ENS address such as realsatoshi.eth. This makes it easier to receive crypto assets as well as enter your ENS address into Ethereum dapps without needing to copy and paste the long public address.

Aside from this, the decentralized web is being built on the partnership between ENS and the file storage system IPFS. A great place to start is at almonit.eth, where you can search a directory of decentralized websites. You can access this site as it is written with MetaMask enabled or – thanks to their efforts in bridging Web3 and the internet's DNS – you can add .link to decentralized websites and access them without MetaMask or special browsers. 

The Future

ENS is not just .eth. That is just one top-level domain and the ENS has plans to integrate the whole of the DNS namespace–that is more than 1,300 top-level-domains–so that owners of a DNS site can claim use of that name on ENS. Not as .eth but also as .org. So, realsatoshi.org can be linked to realsatoshi.eth and visitors can view content and send money to the exact same place. The future, it seems, looks a lot like the past.