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The GNU Name System (GNS)

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The GNU Name System (GNS) is a decentralized database that enables users to securely resolve names to values. Names can be used to identify other users (for example, in social networking), or network services (for example, VPN services running at a peer in GNUnet, or purely IP-based services on the Internet). Users interact with GNS by typing in a hostname that ends in ".gnu" or ".zkey".

Videos giving an overview of most of the GNS and the motivations behind it is available here and here. The remainder of this chapter targets developers that are familiar with high level concepts of GNS as presented in these talks.

GNS-aware applications should use the GNS resolver to obtain the respective records that are stored under that name in GNS. Each record consists of a type, value, expiration time and flags.

The type specifies the format of the value. Types below 65536 correspond to DNS record types, larger values are used for GNS-specific records. Applications can define new GNS record types by reserving a number and implementing a plugin (which mostly needs to convert the binary value representation to a human-readable text format and vice-versa). The expiration time specifies how long the record is to be valid. The GNS API ensures that applications are only given non-expired values. The flags are typically irrelevant for applications, as GNS uses them internally to control visibility and validity of records.

Records are stored along with a signature. The signature is generated using the private key of the authoritative zone. This allows any GNS resolver to verify the correctness of a name-value mapping.

Internally, GNS uses the NAMECACHE to cache information obtained from other users, the NAMESTORE to store information specific to the local users, and the DHT to exchange data between users. A plugin API is used to enable applications to define new GNS record types.