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Handshake Explainer

Namebase did not make Handshake — we're just big fans of Handshake and want to enable Handshake adoption. Handshake is a decentralized project with dozens of contributors across different individuals and organizations. You can get a sense of some of the contributors by looking at the first reference implementation for Handshake's fullnode on GitHub. As a community member, you too can get involved and officially call yourself a Director of Handshake.

Anyone can be a Director of Handshake

Both cases refer to the same name, the ".name" vs "name/" convention is just a reference to how you can use your name. For instance, if you own "nakamoto" on Handshake, you can use "nakamoto" as a domain itself. In that case, you would point "nakamoto" to your website and visit it at http://nakamoto/ in your browser. You can also use "nakamoto" as a TLD and issue your own subdomains. In that case you can create "satoshi.nakamoto" and visit it at http://satoshi.nakamoto in your browser. A Handshake name can be used as both a domain name directly and as a TLD at the same time.

Founders Fund, Andreessen Horowitz, INBlockchain, DHVC, Scalar Capital, Draper Associates, Sequoia Capital, Greylock Partners, Polychain Capital, Pantera Capital, IDEO Colab, Elad Gil, Jack Herrick, Alok Vasudev, Pamir Gelenbe, Sizhao Yang, and a ton of other amazing investors.

Handshake names are released over the course of the first year after the mainnet launch so that users who learn about Handshake late will still have access to good names. This means that many of the names will open for bidding at a later date. Importantly, if you’re a Namebase user you can add top-level domains to your watchlist to get notified when they release.

First, the top 100,000 alexa domains are reserved, so you can’t register Google and go redirect it to your site selling pet rocks. This was a big problem with previous attempts at decentralized systems. Second, the existing top-level domains are also reserved, so you can’t just go register .com domains that will eventually conflict with Versign-managed .coms.

Good question! Actually it's a little complicated. Handshake replaces the very highest level of the DNS system—in the traditional system, subdomains (what we think of as “domains” i.e. Google.com) are administered by various different Registrars. On Handshake, anyone can become a registrar. So if I register the top-level domain “trip” then I can charge people to register fun.trip, day.trip, bad.trip, etc. This isn’t built into handshake like the top-level domain auction is, though, so it's up to you how you charge people and manage the subdomains. Namebase will soon offer a service that handles the subdomain service and marketplace for you.

The easiest way is by using Namebase, which has a nice graphical user interface for interfacing with the Handshake blockchain. You can also manually buy domains via a command-line interface, if you are comfortable with that.

Handshake top-level domains are purchased via an on-chain Vickery auction. A bid and a lockup are submitted: the bid is the max amount you are willing to pay for the domain, and the lockup is the sum of your bid and extra coins that you can use to blind the amount other people see, so they don’t know how much you bid.

Handshake domains work just like the centralized ICANN domain system, with a few key exceptions. In the world of domains, stuff like “com” “net” and “org” are referred to as Generic Top Level Domains or top-level domains. In addition to those ones, there are new top-level domains like .pizza or .business, and Country Code top-level domains like .io (Indian Ocean) or .ly (Libya). ICANN decides, through a complicated auction and voting process, what top level domains will be approved, and then individual domain registrars who own those top-level domains get to sell access to the subdomains on top of them.

On Handshake, anyone can register a new top-level domain, without having to ask for anyone else's permission! So in the beginning on Handshake there is likely to be a rush to register top-level domains that will be in demand for people who want to put subdomains on top of them. For example, if you registered “lee” on Handshake, then say Bruce Lee could come and buy bruce.lee from you! So that will probably be where most people direct their attention initially.

However, because anyone can register a top-level domain, another option is to simply USE top-level domains as your domain. So for example, bruce lee can just register “brucelee” and use it, sans any subdomains. This is pretty awesome, but it's also a new pattern for users, and they will have to get used to it. Browsers will also have to choose to adopt allowing bare top-level domains instead of assuming they are search terms (currently if you type brucelee into a browser, it won’t do a DNS lookup but will just google brucelee for you). That said, if you enter "brucelee/" your browser will correctly recognize that as a domain. We believe that browsers will offer optional support for this pretty quickly (Brave is already evaluating, and perhaps some will make it the default soon, but in the beginning domains that follow the “thing.domain” pattern will be most in demand because they will simply "work" with existing browsers, as long as users point their DNS at a handshake-supporting server, or if the large DNS servers begin to support Handshake domains.

First, domains are one of the original “digital assets” and have been established to be extremely valuable. Domains are one of the only naturally scarce digital assets! Artificial scarcity can be made to work (see Cryptokitties) but is at the end of the day a social construct. The namespace is finite, and the desirable namespace is a small fraction of that already finite namespace, so domains have a true scarcity that drives value.

Second, domains are uniquely suited for decentralization because they are a frequent target of seizure—for example, the US Government seized the domain names of many online poker sites, a form of censorship far more insidious even than the Chinese great firewall, since it blocks everyone’s access.

Third, extremely high value domains, even ones which are not at high risk of government seizure, can be compromised very easily by social engineering attacks on registrars. This happened to several ICO websites causing the loss of tens of millions of crypto. A domain on Handshake can be stored as a private key, and private keys can be stored extraordinarily securely if one wishes, for example via cold storage of shamir-secret-split keys.

On a technical level, Handshake is a fork of bcoin, a Bitcoin fullnode implementation, which allows users to register domain names that will be maintained by a decentralized network of nodes. Importantly, Handshake is fully compatible with the existing domain name system, and can easily be integrated with mainstream browsers.

Handshake uses the Bitcoin software with some extra transaction types that allow users to bid on names on-chain. Importantly, Handshake forked the Bitcoin node software but did not fork the UTXO set—like Zcash, it's a complete start-over from a new genesis block.

Getting Started on Namebase

Customers with USD balances are charged $1 for each ACH withdrawal. For withdrawing BTC, customers only pay the BTC network mining fee.

Namebase Pro has the following fee structure.

You can resolve Handshake top-level domains using Handshake-compatible resolvers such as nextdns.io — this is meant to be a quick solution to let people experience Handshake without any of the heavy-lifting.

We will also share instructions on running your own Handshake resolver using the hnsd light client soon.

The long term goal is to get browser buy-in—Brave has already expressed interest in Handshake and will likely be the first browser to adopt Handshake.

Just like with traditional domain names, you can update the DNS settings for your Handshake domain names. The DNS settings cite where a Handshake domain name should go to. Currently, you can set the following record types: A record (IP address), CNAME, TXT, NS, DS, and TLSA. The DNS settings for a specific domain can be accessed in your domain manager.

Domain management screenshot

A Records

A records are the most basic type of DNS record and are used to point domains to IP addresses. An IP address is the machine-readable address that a human-readable domain name maps to. For instance, google.com has an IP address of 172.217.6.78. You can type that IP address directly into the URL bar of your browser and you’ll go to Google’s website.

When you want to associate an IP address with your domain name, you do so by adding an A record (“A” stands for “Address”) to your domain. Using the example above, google.com has an A record with a value of 172.217.6.78.

CNAME

CNAME records are another common type of DNS record and are used to point a domain to another subdomain/domain name.

TXT

TXT records are used to store any text-based information you want associated with your name that can be obtained when necessary. We commonly see TXT records used to verify domain ownership, but you can use them for associating any arbitrary data with your domain.

NS

NS records are used to point your domain to external nameservers that you manage elsewhere. These identify the authoritative servers that serve a domain’s DNS records. Most nameservers will come in sets of two or four and look something like “ns1.nameserver.com” and “ns2.nameserver.com.” Please note that using external nameservers is potentially riskier since it is off-chain.

DS

DS records are used with DNSSEC to commit to a child zone’s zone signing keys.

TLSA

TLSA records are used with DANE to commit to the keys a domain uses for TLS.

We'll let you know via email if others are bidding on the same name as you, as well as when the auction is finished (hopefully you won!) See the "Auction process" section below for more details on how the auction works.

You can place a bid for any available top-level domain directly on Namebase! We take care of all the complicated details of interacting with the blockchain, so you can focus on getting your favorite names.

Namebase automatically creates a custodial wallet for you when you sign up. You can use your Namebase wallet to register Handshake names, and buy and sell HNS.

You can buy HNS directly through Namebase’s exchange (coming soon). You can trade USD, BTC, ETH, and more in exchange for HNS. If you’re a developer, you can also sign up for Handshake's airdrop for a chance to receive 2500+ HNS.

The Auction Process

A Vickrey auction is a type of sealed-bid auction. Bidders submit their bids without knowing the bid of the other people in the auction. The highest bidder wins but the price paid is the second-highest bid. For example, if you bid 10 HNS for crypto/ and someone else bids 5 HNS, you’d win the auction and only pay 5 HNS for crypto/. This means that you don’t spend more HNS than you need to when you win an auction.

Your lockup = your bid + blind (optional)—basically your funds are locked up so you can’t spend what you lock up until after the auction ends. This is to prevent people from bidding more than they can spend and to prevent people from bidding on more names than they’re willing to actually purchase.

It's important to note that the blind is optional, which means that the bid amount can be anywhere from 0 to the actual lockup amount. It's not necessarily the same as the lockup amount because if that was the case then everyone would know everyone else’s bids and it wouldn’t be a blind auction anymore.

Importantly, the amount you actually bid can’t be updated after you submit it. So the bid you first place is the maximum you’ll pay if you win the auction, though in practice you’ll pay less than your bid because it's a second price Vickrey auction (you pay the second highest bid price).

If you lose, your funds are returned in full (minus the Handshake Mining Fee). If you win, congrats! You're now one of the first owners of decentralized top-level domains on the internet. Companies regularly pay more than $200k to register top-level domains with the ICANN, so it's pretty cool that you own your own top-level domain. You can now point your top-level domain to a personal webpage, set up subdomains for your top-level domain (coming soon), or sell your top-level domain to someone else for a profit (coming soon)!

Namebase will email you when top-level domains you watch are released for bidding. This is useful because names are released over the course of the year, so if you find a name you want to bid on you can watch it through Namebase instead of setting a reminder manually to check back in later.

Handshake names are released sequentially each week according to their hash for one year after launch.

You can place a bid with Handshake coins (HNS) anytime after a top-level domain is released.

Bids can take on any value (even zero!) and you can optionally add a blind to your bid to hide the true value of your bid from others.

Your bid + blind is called your lockup, which is what the other bidders (and the rest of the network) sees. Your HNS lockup will be nontransferable for the duration of the auction, but the blind will be returned to you regardless of whether or not you win the auction.

After the first bid, bidding is open to everyone for 5 days.

Everyone will have 10 days to reveal their bid price — Namebase does this automatically for you so if you’re a Namebase user you won’t need to worry about this step :)

The winning bid is chosen after the 10 day reveal period and the winner pays the second highest bid amount while the other bidders get their coins back.

It's important to note. The winner’s payment is burned by the network, so the winner doesn’t pay bids to anyone per se.

The winner gets to use their Handshake top-level domain however they wish (Namebase helps you manage its settings without being a programmer) and the rest of the bidders can continue trying their luck on other top-level domains!