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Why Libya can't shut down bit.ly

By David Goldman, staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Libya intermittently shut off some Internet access to its citizens over the weekend, leading some to believe that link-shortening sites like bit.ly, which uses the Libyan ".ly" suffix, would be affected.

Link shortening services became popular in the past couple years as Twitter users needed a way to shorten long URLs so tweets with links could fit into 140 characters. Bit.ly is the largest such site, but many other link-shortening sites use the .ly suffix.

Despite having a Libyan top-level domain name and two so-called "root servers" located in the African nation, bit.ly and other link shortening sites were unaffected by the outage.

For those not fluent in geek, the "top-level domain" (TLD) name is the ".ly" portion of the site's address. In addition to the ones we're used to like .com, .org and .edu, top-level domains are also divided up by country codes, and .ly is the one assigned to Libya.

On its website, New York-based bit.ly said it picked the name not because of any ties with Libya, but "because it's short and it is evocative of small bits, loosely coupled." In other words, it simply liked how the site's name sounded.

The root servers connect a user to the server that the website is hosted on. But those servers don't always physically exist in the countries their TLDs are assigned to. Sites with the .ly TLD have five root servers, but only two are based in Libya: The other two are located in Oregon, and one is in the Netherlands.

For a site like bit.ly with a .ly TLD, all five of the root servers would need to go down at the same time for access to the site to be restricted. It's nerdy, but integral to understanding why bit.ly kept chugging along when the Libyan government killed the Internet.

Even if all five of the root servers were somehow taken offline, users could still access the site through the alternative j.mp or bitly.com, a bit.ly spokesman said. Every bit.ly short URL also exists as a separate bitly.com page. Since the company's .com and .mp sites use alternate TLDs, they would be unaffected by the fact that .ly sites were down.

The company said it paid $75 in March 2007 to an online registrar to purchase the domain from Libya Telecom and Technology, which serves as the registrar or the .ly domain. Other than that, the company has not done any business in Libya.

Meanwhile, Internet service in Libya appears to be restored, at least for the time being. Egypt also temporarily shut down its Internet service in January in an attempt to keep protesters from communicating to one another on social networks. To top of page

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