• Cryptoasset Report
  • November 21, 2018

Handshake is a peer-to-peer root web Domain Name System extension that is working towards maximizing the DNS’ censorship resistance.


In the existing web architecture, the Domain Name System (DNS) is a registrar that converts machine-readable IP addresses into human-readable URL strings. The existing DNS is overseen by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) and a group of 13 authorities who manage the root name servers, which store a record of authoritative name servers for all top-level domains. This comparatively centralized architecture creates points of attack for hackers, such as the domain name hack of Etherdelta, and institutional censorship, such as the shutdown of social media in Turkey following civil unrest. Further, user information can be subpoenaed from the domain registrar’s records. Handshake is a distributed extension of this architecture, which underpins the internet’s infrastructure. Handshake does not seek to replace the DNS protocol, but to manage the root zone file and root servers as a public commons in the interest of greater security and censorship resistance. The root zone file is ~2mb, and is published by root servers as a public definition of all root names in the DNS. Instead of being managed by a small consortia, the Handshake DNS manages root names through a native, Proof of Work blockchain.

Protocol Details

The Handshake project is broadly similar to the early Namecoin project, and uses the alternative Bitcoin implementation Bcoin as a blockchain architecture. Each full node on the Handshake blockchain functions as a root server and serves the root zone file. In addition to managing the root zone file, Handshake also offers a Vickrey auction system for transacting in domain names (ie, smithandcrown.com). Users can submit bids for each available name, released in increments over the first year of Handshake’s existence. These bids are paid in the native HNS token, and tokens from the winning bid are burned and removed from circulation. Each name is considered valid for a period of one year and can be renewed by paying a network fee to the Handshake miners. Users may also transfer names peer-to-peer. The top 100,000 domains by traffic volume, according to Alexa, will be reserved for existing trademark holders— this approach is in response to Namecoin’s adoption difficulties among web incumbents, according to the Handshake core team. Broadly, this auction system aims to replace centralized registrars such as GoDaddy. The Namebase project offers a GUI for participating in Handshake’s TLD auctions. The Handshake mainnet launched in February 2020, despite originally planning to debut in Q4 2018.

Asset Details

Founder Joseph Poon, the author of the original Lightning Network whitepaper, notes that distribution mechanics and adoption incentives, rather than the core technology, are Handshake’s core innovations. A large group of individuals and VCs sponsor Handshake’s development, with $10.2 million contributed by investors such as 16z Crypto, Kenetic, Polychain, and Eric Meltzer, who received 7.5% of the HNS token supply. In the interest of spurring adoption among the broader FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) community, this $10.2 million will be donated to recipients such as the Mozilla Foundation, Wikipedia, and the Tor Project. Further, Handshake will also award 70% of the token supply to the FOSS community; individual contributors can receive up to 7500 HNS tokens in the Q3 2018 distribution period. Thus, the HNS distribution is essentially a token faucet to core entities in the current internet infrastructure.