One day in .UK

January 11, 2018

Every time someone uses a browser to look at a website or sends an email, their computer generates a Domain Name System (DNS) query. The DNS translates the domain name into an IP address, which is how computers address one another. The DNS is a core component of the infrastructure of the internet, the equivalent of a telephone directory, storing the names of computers and their IP addresses. Without DNS we couldn’t send email, surf the web or share important data. It’s the glue that holds the internet together.

When Nominet was established to run the .UK registry in 1996, we had around 28,000 domains under management, it now exceeds 10 million with around three billion DNS requests every day. In 1996 only 36 million people were using the internet daily, less than one per cent of the world’s population. Today there are three billion; though that’s still less than half of the world’s population. That’s a lot of people and a lot of time spent online – in the UK alone, 80% of adults use the internet on a daily basis and we’re online more than we are asleep.

.UK is one of the world’s largest country codes and attracts visitors from all over the world every day, but who are they? Take a look at our One Day in .UK animation to find out.

The sheer volume of DNS data can make real-time analysis almost impossible; but using powerful analytics tools built in-house to monitor the UK registry, Nominet can understand billions of data packets in seconds. We used the tools to take a look at the .UK’s virtual visitors across just one day, the 5th April 2017.

To get closer to actual visitors, as opposed to machine-to-machine traffic, we filtered the data using Alexa Top Sites as it’s a list compiled based on visits from web browsers and so will tend to favour humanly-driven traffic over infrastructure lookups[1]. The traffic you see in our animation is created from authoritative DNS queries to .UK domains over 24 hours. The source of the queries is the location of the IP address that the query came to us from – this is likely to be the ISP provided resolver rather than the actual client. In reality, the destination of the query is one of our servers which are distributed worldwide, however to simplify the visualisation we made the destination the location of the domain owner.

Across the day, you can see visits from right across the globe, from Buenos Aires to Tokyo, with the largest number coming from the US, followed by Germany and France. All in all, our infrastructure handled 2.2 billion DNS queries over the course of that day, hitting 37k queries per second at its lunchtime (GMT) peak.

Of course, our analytics tools can do far more than just create cool videos; we use them to constantly evolve and refine our processes and systems to best serve users of the .UK domain. Using this phenomenal power to analyse the DNS, one of the fundamental protocols of the internet, is the bedrock of the cyber security services we provide to clients, helping them to monitor their networks for suspicious activity, and identify specific threats and trends.

So next time you visit a website that ends in .uk, take a moment to imagine the trajectory of your request and the buzz of your traffic through our systems. You can also imagine the team of people hard at work to make sure you are seamlessly directed to the website you wanted, keeping your journey across the .UK domain smooth and safe.

[1] Where, e.g., nominet.uk was on that list we also included www.nominet.uk but _not_, e.g., ns1.nominet.uk . We also only included requests for addresses of domains, so no nameserver (NS) or email (MX) queries were included.