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https://cddo.blog.gov.uk/2022/11/15/is-it-time-to-retire-the-gb-top-level-domain/

Is it time to retire the .gb top level domain?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: CDDO, Digital transformation

Credit: Nick Fewings [unsplash]
The domain name system allows people to easily find websites and other Internet services. You are probably familiar with top-level domains like .com, .org, and .net. But, there are also top-level domains for countries. For example, New Zealand has .nz, Germany has .de, and China has .中国.

To two domain, or not to two domain 

As you may have guessed, the United Kingdom has the top level domain of .uk. But we also have the top level domain for Great Britain - which is .gb!

It is staggeringly unlikely that you would ever have encountered a .gb domain in the wild. The only domain which is registered, though inactive, is hmg.gb - standing for His Majesty's Government.  The domain was originally created in the mid 1980s, and abandoned at some point in the 1990s. There are no active domains which use .gb and today, the government only uses .gov.uk for its domains.

The Securing Government Services team at CDDO are currently in the middle of a housekeeping exercise to clean up and remove legacy services. As part of that, we are considering whether we should remove the .gb top level domain from the internet. And, we'd like your opinion on whether or not we should do that.

Administratively, it is quite simple. The .gb top level domain is delegated to the government from an organisation called ICANN - the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.  We would simply need to tell them that .gb is no longer needed, and it can thus be removed from the Internet.  

To domain

One of the Cabinet Office's key responsibilities is supporting collective government. As such, we have no desire to set up a separate set of domains solely for Great Britain rather than the United Kingdom.

Rationalising the estate of top level domains we have to monitor and protect will free up resources in our team.  As we begin the process of moving to a new domain registry for .gov.uk it makes sense to remove any obsolete top level domains, so we don't have to pay to administer them.

There is no cost to us to hand the domain back. In fact, removing it might save us a small amount of money because we will have one less resource to monitor for security issues.

To not domain 

There is a risk that if handed back another country might try to claim it for themselves.  We judge this risk to be extremely low.  Great Britain is assigned the .gb domain because of the policies in ISO 3166.  The UK could then officially object to another country using .gb if we were concerned.

However,  even if that unlikely event did occur - almost no-one would mistake a .gb domain for a .uk domain, because .gb has, as outlined, been obsolete for over thirty years.

That is the question 

So, it is our intention to inform ICANN early in 2023 that the UK wishes to retire .gb.  We expect this to be a straightforward administrative procedure.

We are contacting organisations which we think might be interested in this proposal and will assess their responses.

If you have any comments or questions about this proposal, please leave a comment on this blog post.

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41 comments

  1. Comment by Fili posted on

    Retire .gb, with the new gTLDs it is unlikely any other country or organization will claim it.

    Reply
    • Replies to Fili>

      Comment by Jon Ribbens posted on

      They couldn't claim it, it's the ISO-3166 code for the UK. (I think because Ukraine also wanted UK so nobody got it, but don't quote me on that.) Unless Scotland and Northern Ireland leave the UK of course, in which case neither "UK" nor "GB" will be appropriate and we might end up with everyone in England having to move their domains to .EN or something...

      Reply
    • Replies to Fili>

      Comment by William Poel posted on

      If it ain't broke, don't fix it. It seems like a valuable resource with negligible maintenance cost.

      I have proposed a strategic use for .gb to one of the several recent erstwhile Culture Secretaries, but that discussion was lost in the shuffles.

      Email me and I will send you the proposition.

      Reply
  2. Comment by Dan Brickley posted on

    There may also be costs associated with losing control of it.

    
Plus it could look like, or be spun as, pre-judging the outcome of political processes (“We will never need .GB because NI will forever be part of the UK. And to prove it, we are throwing it away on behalf of all future occupants of these rainy Isles”.)

    Reply
  3. Comment by Mike Meredith posted on

    Blimey that's a blast from the past. It also used to be used for some X.400-based email stuff - someone from JANET might remember. Might have been tied in with UK.AC.MHS-RELAY? As I recall, there was a certain amount of pressure in favour of X.400 email in the mid-1990s.

    I'd lean in favour of hanging on to it - if you "own" a thing you have better control over it.

    Reply
  4. Comment by Mark Tomkins posted on

    Thanks, Terence. Been working in this space for 30 years and admit I never knew it existed. It's simple - it should be retired. It's 100% obsolete and such a low risk of reuse and misuse. The only other country that I can think of is Gabon but they have .ga and unlikely to change. And ICANN would consult CDDO if there was ever a request for use. Means there's a bit more resource to manage the .gov.uk framework to help wider parish & town council domain adoption for improved Tier 1 government security and message authenticity.

    Reply
  5. Comment by greg posted on

    Is there a low cost option to park the domain, so it can't be reused?

    Reply
  6. Comment by Harry posted on

    Clarification: GB is the ISO 3166-1 code for the United Kingdom, and not for Great Britain. UK doesn't denote any country (though it's 'reserved').

    That's why the UK's Olympic team is 'Team GB', and until very recently the international code for UK number plates (including in Northern Ireland) was GB.

    I don't think this changes your conclusion though – there's no need to hold on to .gb.

    Reply
    • Replies to Harry>

      Comment by Terence Eden posted on

      Thanks for the clarification Harry. The terminology is easily confused and it is good to be precise about such matters.

      Reply
  7. Comment by Wayne posted on

    If since mid 80’s there’s only ever been one user, and most people assume (correctly) it’s .uk rather than .gb inform icann and retire the tld.

    Reply
  8. Comment by Jon Ribbens posted on

    dra.hmg.gb, dfhnet.dra.hmg.gb, delos.dra.hmg.gb, and hermes.dra.hmg.gb are all "active" in the sense of having published DNS records, and I assume DRA I mean DERA I mean RDERA I mean DSTL are not the sort of people you want to annoy if it turns out they're still using them 🙂

    Reply
    • Replies to Jon Ribbens>

      Comment by Terence Eden posted on

      Thanks Jon. We've chatted with DSTL and - after some digging - they've confirmed that they aren't using those domains.

      Reply
  9. Comment by Robert Watts posted on

    I’d say keep it.

    The international ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 code for the UK is GB. ( not Uk ) To send the tld off back into the pot, might just confuse issues further. Appreciate it’s all a bit messy out there..

    Further, down the line when we lose Scotland or Wales or NI due to the behaviour of English politicians in Westminster and are no longer a “United” Kingdom we may well decide that a .Uk tld just is no longer fit for the island of Britain and in this regard the largest of which will be “Great” Britain.

    Will someone then decide that the use of .uk is politically inept or embarrassing and hark for the return of gb? Possibly

    I’d keep it, contingency etc.

    Reply
  10. Comment by Matthew Harris posted on

    Great rid... Hardly anyone outside of government even recognises the distinction between the UK and Great Britain.

    Reply
    • Replies to Matthew Harris>

      Comment by Maximilien posted on

      We do, it's English lesson 101. And English is universal, quite unfortunately

      How can you learn it without some understanding of the difference between each nation, GB, and the UK ?
      UK politics has also been all over the news for some years.

      But from oversea, I don't see much impact of removing the .gb domain.
      It's actually cool, as using GB refers to some geographic place, and not a country per se.
      What makes the UK ? Ruling on its land all over GB and beyond ? Or serving UK ideals to citizens ?

      It's a positive message to retire the GB domain.

      Reply
  11. Comment by Simon Gray posted on

    What might help inform the commentary is knowledge of exactly how much resource it takes to hold on to it? There’s a difference between it taking a staff member a day a month and £100,000 a year to keep on top of it and it take a staff member a day every three, six, 12 months and £10,000 a year.

    .gb might be reserved anyway as a country TLD, but are all two-letter TLDs reserved as country TLDs? So basically, whilst ICANN policy might prevent the newly-formed Republic of Gabloggi from taking over the TLD, is there a potential risk if it’s released of ICANN creating a new gTLD for companies which specialise in some kind of cosmetic surgery for mouths?

    (I have no horse in the chukkah on this so have no opinion one way or the other as to the outcome, beyond wanting to ensure a decision isn’t made which is regretted in the future)

    Reply
  12. Comment by Chris Woods posted on

    Keep it, start using it for select things (akin to how public services and government and Royals get top-level .UK domains), or gift it to Gibraltar, but don't relinquish it to ICANN. They will surely hawk it commercially as a generic top-level TLD regardless of its current association with ISO country codes. Meanwhile the cost to HMG is surely incremental for maintaining .GB, even if parked and not actually serving registrations.

    Reply
    • Replies to Chris Woods>

      Comment by Anthony Pitcher posted on

      Absolutely agree. I didn't know we had this. I have always disliked .UK. and UK itself. I am British and live in Britain, not Ukania.
      Very glad recently to see Great Britain returning into more frequent use.

      Reply
    • Replies to Chris Woods>

      Comment by Terence Eden posted on

      Hi Chris. Gibraltar already have a TLD - it is .gi.

      ICANN don't offer two-letter TLDs as gTLDs. We have a good working relationship with them - as do most other countries - so I think that is unlikely to change.

      Incremental costs are still costs. When we're looking for maximum efficiency from the public purse, we consider it prudent to examine whether we need to keep paying for this indefinately.

      Reply
  13. Comment by Rex Wickham (2020Media.com) posted on

    The cost to keep this .gb extenion must surely be so tiny that it pales into insignificance. As others have said, our ISO country code is GB.
    Re-obtaining in the future - beyond what we in the here and now can predict - would probably be far more difficult and expensive than maintaining the trivial cost of maintaining it.

    Reply
  14. Comment by Mark Goodge posted on

    Are you able to tell us (via a subsequent blog post if you can't just comment on this one) how much resources are currently spent on maintaining it? Or should I just FOI it?

    Reply
  15. Comment by Hugh Davies posted on

    How much resource is involved in keeping it? I'd wager virtually none, at least by government standards. How much resource would be involved in getting it back, were we to relinquish it? Again I'd wager a great deal, years of lawyer time, court cases and international wrangling. Keep it.

    Reply
  16. Comment by Steven Mc posted on

    Guinea-Bissau may be interested in this TLD. Currently they use .gw.
    Some sort of agreement may be necessary to remove spoofed websites, in this case.
    Regardless of the status of NI or Scotland, the UK will remain an entity in its own right for quite some time, and thus .uk is enough. I see no need to hold on to it because it's already yours. The UK tried that with Ireland and India, and the British Museum continues to do so. It doesn't work out well and it's unnecessary also.

    Reply
  17. Comment by Jonathan Esk-Riddell posted on

    Give it to Nominet to sell, someone will find it useful. The opening up of the domain names I'm recent years is a good thing.

    The UK will likely be disbanded after October 2023 and it will be useful to have a domain for the landmass we live on.

    Reply
    • Replies to Jonathan Esk-Riddell>

      Comment by Mark Goodge posted on

      Yeah, I'd buy team.gb. Assuming the domain squatters don't get there first.

      Reply
  18. Comment by David Cutts posted on

    I would favour keeping it. In fact, it might be good to bring it into use. The distinction between the UK and GB is real, especially if you consider the differences of law, tradition and now economics of NI. There are businesses that only operate in GB. Removing it is surely a political act, dressed up as tidying up the appendices to a standard...Leave it in please.

    Reply
  19. Comment by Samuel Pinder posted on

    I'd say keep it with an empty DNS zonefile for minimal cost (just a set of passive nameservers like it already is now at JANET aka Jisc), that way it would be very easy to reactivate it administratively.
    Norway already does this with the TLDs BV (Bouvet Island) and SJ (Svalbard and Jan Mayen) just in case they wish to bring them into use.
    Like others say, it is possible in future we might not be such a "United" kingdom at some point and having GB already in the root zone would make it much easier to transition away.
    Also let us not forget that historically TLDs have represented their countries' communities as a whole, not just their governments. Remember the TP TLD registered to the then 'Portugese Timor' whilst they were under Indonesian occupation before they gained independence and moved to the TL TLD (after renaming to Timor-Leste)? That was done on behalf of that country's community by Connect Ireland in the early days, because it was a community decision to establish it.
    The UK TLD was originally run by JANET (as Ukerna) just like the GB TLD, but was redelegated to Nominet in 1996. Nominet was specifically founded on behalf of the Internet community to manage the increasing use of the UK TLD. My point is, it should not be just a government decision, but the decision of the community as a whole. I think at the very least GB should be redelegated to Nominet with an empty zonefile to keep it as a resource for minimal cost should the community decide to open it up in future should the need arise. In fact given that Nominet is a non-profit entity they might even be willing to keep the empty domain zone maintained free of charges on behalf of the community.
    It would set a sad precedent if the decision to eliminate GB was made solely by the government.

    Reply
    • Replies to Samuel Pinder>

      Comment by Terence Eden posted on

      Thanks Samuel - some important and interesting points there. I suppose part of what this blog post is trying to do is see if there's any interest in it.

      Given that no-one has used it for a couple of decades, and there has been no stampede of people banging on our door to register it, I don't think the community can miss what it never used.

      We can certainly look and see if there's commercial potential to sell .GB domain names. Given the paucity of registrations on some of the newer gTLDs, I don't think it will make significant money. But we'll consider it.

      Reply
      • Replies to Terence Eden>

        Comment by Jack Bond-Preston posted on

        I could see people buying this domain. On top of the Great Britain meaning, people could also use to represent things like giga{byte,bit}, Gameboy, I'm sure there's more.

        I will admit to not knowing anything about tld profitability, but I reckon it's worth investigating.

        Reply
  20. Comment by Isaac R-G posted on

    Given that the UK remains the assigned state to this ccTLD by virtue of the relevant ISO standard, and to remove it would be to pre-judge the future changes to the nature of our country, this is a bad idea.

    The cost of maintaining the ccTLD is nominal at most, while the cost of disposing of it could be quite negative - not just in a future-facing sense. The UK government could suffer from losing control of domain it previously(albeit minimally) utilised. The domain as I understood was primarily utilised by the MoD for longer than most, and that alone should provide caution to the removal of it, though I appreciate that is under way.

    Removal of this ccTLD from government usage is logical. To seek to end control of it is ill-advised. The UK continues to be recognised as GB or GBR in international standards around country codes and should not surrender while that remains the case.

    It may, however, be worth permitting Nominet to grant usage of this ccTLD to those who own equivalent .uk domains. The geographic meaning of this domain is distinct from its country meaning, and for GB-wide insitutions, like the planned Great British Railways operation, or other such island-wide entities. Likewise (or alternatively), the UK government should make efforts to obtain England (eg. .en) or Northern Ireland domains, to recognise these nations in the same way Wales and Scotland are.

    I am willing to submit additional details around this if requested.

    Reply
    • Replies to Isaac R-G>

      Comment by Terence Eden posted on

      Interesting points, Isaac. As we start the process of looking for a new registry operator for .gov.uk, we'll discuss whether some of your ideas can be incorporated.

      Reply
  21. Comment by James D. Stallard posted on

    I say keep it. This is less about tidying up something that isn't really in a mess, and more about getting rid of something we can't see a current use for. Why focus on this? I know you guys aren't strapped for work over there!

    Standards compliance is important and we probably erred by universally adopting .uk in the first place. Why err further by dumping .gb when we don't need to?

    Further, there are plenty of uses for a universally accepted tld that would be closed off permanently if we decided to hand it back.

    There is nothing whatsoever stopping us from continuing to park it and prevent registrations.

    Reply
  22. Comment by Paul Battley posted on

    It's an unfortunate quirk of ISO 3166 that it gifted UKOGBANI with a code that describes only its largest island, and which excludes the most contended part.

    It's hard to foresee any use of the .gb TLD here, beyond a hypothetical future Republic of Great Britain. However, domain name and (recent) number plates aside, the ISO code GB is widely used. I can imagine confusion, and even nefarious uses, from a TLD that matches the ISO code but refers to something else.

    You can give up the TLD and rely on ICANN policies and vetos to prevent its reuse. That's a small risk. Or you can make sure that never happens by continuing to hold the TLD. That's an even smaller risk.

    > Rationalising the estate of top level domains we have to monitor and protect will free up resources in our team.

    > In fact, removing it might save us a small amount of money because we will have one less resource to monitor for security issues.

    It seems to me that, if this were a Wikipedia article, someone would by now have come along and tacked a "citation needed" onto those statements. As others have pointed out, without any indication of what this cost is, it's hard to say whether the money and effort saved outweigh the risks of relinquishment.

    Nonetheless, I suspect that the number is not going to be the kind of figure you'd emblazon on the side of the bus.

    Reply
  23. Comment by LeeGB posted on

    Keep it and remove UK. If you tell someone you are from the UK they assume Ukraine.
    The country really is GB and people say British. co.gb or gb makes more sense than UK to me.

    Reply
  24. Comment by David Prime posted on

    Never give up a scarce resource. Keep it, pay the trivial cost to maintain it. One day we might need it.

    Reply
  25. Comment by A posted on

    Why not make it available for the public to register like with .uk? It could generate a small amount of money and we would have another 2 letter top-level domain which is always nice to have.

    Reply
  26. Comment by MATTHEW MALTHOUSE posted on

    I've changed my view on this since first reading about the question.

    In the light of a few comments made I'd favour keeping it parked and unused.

    Reply
  27. Comment by Isaac posted on

    Seems like virtue signalling that's unnecessary. I think it would be a cool TLD to buy domain names on, which will likely not even be related to Great Britain. UK might as well make a bit of profit off the TLD or even just park it to save future hassle.

    Reply
  28. Comment by sam posted on

    I agree with the decision to retire the domain.

    Regarding suggestions of holding on to it: digital hoarding is still hoarding. Something is either an asset or a liability: a small financial cost doesn't justify keeping something, benefits do. What's the benefit of owning .gb? What value does it add to the government's operations? If there's no value in owning .gb, then whether it's free to own or expensive to own, it should be released, because perhaps someday it can provide value to another entity (I am not convinced by the argument that we should hold on to it so nobody else can use it: it has never been associated with the UK, it is unlikely to be confused as referring to Great Britain if it were used by, say, Gibraltar).

    Reply
  29. Comment by Zoe Edwards posted on

    Keep it and let anyone buy the domains like Tuvalu did with .tv. Could be a great source of revenue!

    Reply
  30. Comment by JB posted on

    Is there an alternative option: making it available for registrations? Would much prefer over .uk

    Reply

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