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What is a zone file and how can you use it?

The Estonian Internet Foundation (EIF) recently updated the .ee zone file with license conditions. The decision increases the user friendliness of the zone file and thus helps contribute to society.
What is a zone file and how can you use it?

The zone file contains information about the domain name and related services, including name servers. Simply put, the zone file helps Internet browsers find web or IP addresses corresponding to domain names. The existence of information about the domain in the zone file is necessary so that the services related to the domain can be found and used on the Internet.

In 2016, EIF Head of Development Timo wrote in our blog about the reasons why the .ee zone file is not public. The main arguments were related to domain catchers, i.e. dropcatchers; data received via file; and questions related to trademark protection. Thus, at this point in time, the arguments against the disclosure of the zone file prevailed, and it was left to wait for developments that would allow this step to be taken in the future. It should be emphasized that in 2016, the "first come, first served'' principle applied to the registration of all .ee domains, including those that are being deleted.

In 2017, a trial No. 3-15-1050 took place regarding the disclosure of zone file information. With the decision of April 6 of the same year, it became clear that EIF does not perform a public task in managing the .ee top-level domain or keeping the register. According to the Estonian Public Information Act, the zone file is not public information and does not belong to publicly available information. The judgement stated that EIF has the right to decide for itself how and in what manner the zone file will be made available to the public.

However, we decided to make the .ee zone file public in 2019. Disclosure primarily serves one of the core values ​​of EIF, i.e. openness. In addition, sectoral developments also gave additional support to the decision. One of them was the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which limited the public's access to personal data through the WHOIS service. The GDPR initially classified IP addresses under personal data, but in the course of later disputes, it was decided to be not as that. This is due to the fact that it is not possible to identify a person through IP addresses. In addition, name server records are part of the DNS infrastructure, which is already public by nature. Therefore, the IP addresses provided in the zone file are also considered public information.

In addition, it became possible to register a domain without a name server, thanks to which the corresponding domain and related information are not reflected in the zone file. This was an important change for those who want to register their own branded domain before entering the market in a way that does not become visible in the public DNS or zone file. Thus, information about a new company or a brand does not reach the public until the name servers have been added to the domain registration.

The biggest innovation, however, was the Auction Portal, through which EIF started to bring expiring .ee domains to the market through blind auctions. Along with this, previous problems with domain catchers also disappeared. All in all - all the concerns that caused the zone file not to be disclosed had been resolved by 2019. We had created a favorable ground for change, and so we took the step of making the zone file public. Similar to the practice of other countries, the .ee zone file became available as a collection in the form displayed in the database, i.e. it can be downloaded via the AXFR protocol.

As the administrator of the Estonian top-level domain, the .ee zone file is legally the property of EIF, i.e. the information there is not open data. On the other hand, with an available zone file, the openness of the .ee namespace increases and it contributes to the development of the Estonian Internet through data analysis or use in research, as well as application for business purposes. To make the zone file more user-friendly, we added a Creative Common BY 4.0 license to the file. This allows EIF to better protect its property on one hand, while also making its use more convenient for all interested parties – the zone file can be shared, modified, adapted and used for commercial purposes. All that is required is to refer to the author and license of the zone file and note the changes made to the zone file. The addition of the license conditions is motivated by the convergence of the Swedish registry, so it is a practice that is applied by other European registries in addition to ours.

In conclusion, the zone file and the principles related to it have changed over time and become more and more user friendly. If you are interested in using the zone file and its data, feel free to contact us at and we will help you act in a way that is in accordance with the license conditions applicable to the .ee zone file.

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