Everything You Need To Know About ENS Domains

Everything You Need To Know About ENS Domains

Blockchain NFTs
by Julian Lopez-Acosta
The proliferation of ENS domains could help bridge the gap between web2 and web3.
NFTs are often correlated with JPEGs—just take a look at the top collections on OpenSea, and you'll understand why. However, most often forget that the controversial technology has other use-cases besides the matter—Ethereum Name Service (ENS) domains being one of them.
Man exchanging ETH for ENS domain

They’ve been on a tear lately, reaching numbers like 270,000 ENS domains registered in a single month. It seems like ongoing support from the crypto community could solidify the naming system’s position in the market. It’s only a matter of time before we see if this is true.

But before we dive into prospects for the naming service, let’s take a step back and fully grasp what ENS domains are all about.

What are ENS domains?

Man confused, ENS domains coming out of smartphone screen

ENS domains are the web3 equivalent of DNS domains

With the rise of web2, DNS was a piece of the puzzle necessary for mass adoption. Instead of typing out lengthy IP addresses into a browser, users of the web could enter a human-readable name, without a hassle, followed by a suffix like .com or .net, to surf the Internet.

DNS domains simplified the user experience, cracking open a wealth of information for the Netizens and the world abroad. Tech fanatics and forward-thinkers weren’t the only ones in the know anymore—virtually anyone could access web pages without learning the ins and outs of IP addresses.

The Ethereum Name Services fulfills the same concept but with web3 materials like crypto addresses (ETH, BNB, etc.), content hashes, and metadata in lieu of IP addresses. And all those are linked to the registered ENS domain, which in the case of web3, is an NFT.

ENS domain registration webpage

Users can mint or purchase an ENS domain from the ENS domains app or a secondary market like OpenSea. If you’re an owner of an ENS domain, you have complete control over the smart contracts associated with the NFT. And these smart contracts are what form the architecture of an ENS domain.

But the question is: how does the architecture work?

How does ENS work?

The system is constructed of a series of smart contracts that safely store and continuously work a database of ENS domains. The smart contracts backing the lookup system are two-fold: The ENS registry and resolvers.

ENS Registry book with connected ENS domains

The ENS registry is the core smart contract that maintains all the records of registered domains on the Ethereum blockchain. You can think of it as a Yellow Pages book, though it’s constantly adding pages to the back of the book as more and more entities register ENS domains.

The growing registry is subdivided into three parts:

  • The owner of the domain (user address or a smart contract, comparable to an IP address in web2)
  • The resolver of the domain (a link to the smart contract that translates the ENS domain into an Ethereum address)
  • The time-to-live for all records under the domain (the expiry date of a registered domain)

The resolver is the contract responsible for translating the registered ENS domain into an Ethereum address. It essentially points the user to the content under a domain, and it’s what turns a human-readable name into a machine-readable format.

Ok cool. We understand the components of an ENS domain, but how does it flow?

Let’s say John sends money to Alicia through MetaMask, and he inputs Alicia’s ENS domain “alicia.eth.” into the address bar.

This is how the ENS process would work:

  1. John sends ETH to alicia.eth
  2. alicia.eth is queried into the ENS registry
  3. ENS registry tells the alicia.eth ENS domain which resolver is associated to it
  4. The associated resolver returns the address (an 0x… Ethereum address) associated to the ENS domain

Not too tricky to digest, right? It’s almost the exact same as web2’s DNS, except it uses smart contracts instead of a centralized database.

Why are ENS domains a key player in the crypto market?

As I previously mentioned, ENS domains are necessary for introducing newcomers into the crypto ecosystem.

Angry man on the left, with an Ethereum address beside. Happy man on the right, with an ENS domain beside.

If we’re being honest, crypto isn’t user-friendly. Sometimes I’ll hear myself talk about crypto to friends and family, and the looks of sheer confusion I get are not uncommon or sparse. Unfortunately, it’s a factor of a new and unregulated industry, especially one looking to disrupt the trust-based systems we rely on for our everyday transactions.

When you’re balls deep in crypto, you’ll most likely own quite a couple of different addresses on various blockchains. You’re also bound to have web3 wallets, a Ledger or Trezor, and maybe a desktop wallet for the fun of it.

It can get confusing knowing which address belongs to which wallet, especially when all addresses are a randomly-generated sequence of numbers and letters.

ENS domains simplify the process. You can purchase an ENS domain for each address, or better yet, register a single ENS domain (for example, julian.eth), then further add subdomains for each address into your primary domain. (ledger.julian.eth, metamask.julian.eth). Ease of use is vital to retain and attract crypto users.

Another positive of ENS domains: web hosting is decentralized and truly community-owned. 

learningcryptos.com pointing towards a server, learningcryptos.eth pointing towards a blockchain

If you’ve ever purchased a DNS domain, you know you’ll have to go through domain registrars and web hosting providers like GoDaddy, Bluehost, and HostGator. These companies form the backbone of web2, and if they didn’t keep a registry of domain names on their servers, we wouldn’t have access to the domains we use for everyday browsing.

Since everything is kept on smart contracts with ENS domains, it’s essentially stored on the Ethereum blockchain. Therefore, the community handles both domain ownership and resolving, and there’s absolutely no need for a third party to maintain and control the data related to ENS domains.

So, all in all, ENS domains are censorship-resistant, decentralized, immutable, and most importantly, user-owned. I hope you can tell where I’m getting at with this.

ENS domains are the epitome of a streamlined user experience in crypto, thus forming a much-needed relationship with the web3 ethos. 

Think of it like this: if your 50-year-old mother cannot send BTC for the life of her because of the industry’s complexities, we’ll never reach a point where crypto becomes mainstream. If we’re aiming for a fairer and brighter future, where no single entity owns all of our data, we need to ease the jargon and technicalities associated with crypto.

And guess what? It all starts and ends with ENS domains.