N2T.net (Name-to-Thing) is a "resolver," a kind of web server that stores little content itself and usually forwards incoming requests to other servers. Similar to URL shorteners like bit.ly, N2T serves content indirectly.
The main use of N2T is "persistent identifiers." An archive or publisher who gives out content links (URLs) starting with n2t.net doesn't need to worry about their breaking. That's because even though content eventually moves to different servers, links starting with n2t.net are stable and still work when forwarding rules at N2T are updated. While all persistent identifier services work similarly (ARK, DOI, Handle, PURL, URN), N2T.net is unusually open and flexible in extending services to all identifier types rather than excluding all but just one type.
Unlike URL shorteners, N2T can store more than one "target" (forwarding link) for an identifier, as well as any kind or amount of metadata (descriptive information). When forwarding doesn't work for some reason, such as temporary outage or insufficient permission at the target server, N2T can nonetheless return persistent information about the identified object.
- N2T supports "suffix passthrough", which drastically reduces the number of individual identifiers that providers need to maintain.
- It supports "inflections" and "content negotiation", which allow you to request descriptive information for identifiers that have it.
- N2T.net is unusual among resolvers because it is not a silo that works with only one kind of identifier. It stores individual identifiers of any kind, including both ARKs and DOIs, and provides equal services to all kinds, regardless of origin.
- As a result N2T easily supports feature combinations that some have found startling, such as ARK-style inflections for DOIs, and ARKs that return DataCite DOI metadata via content negotiation.
- N2T.net is also a "meta-resolver". In collaboration with identifiers.org, it recognizes over 600 well-known identifier types and knows where their respective servers are. Failing to find forwarding information for a specific individual identifier, it uses the identifier's type to look for an overall target rule.
The primary audience for N2T services is the global community of people engaged in research, academic, and cultural heritage endeavors. Together with our primary partners, EZID and Internet Archive, we work with national, university, and public libraries, academic and society publishers, natural history and art museums, as well as companies and funders that support education and research. N2T identifiers are used for everything from citing scholarly works to referencing tissue samples. They link to cutting edge scientific datasets, historic botanists, evolving semantic web term definitions, and living people.
N2T is maintained at the California Digital Library (CDL) within the University of California (UC) Office of the President. CDL supports electronic library services for ten UC campuses and affiliated law schools, medical centers, and national laboratories, as well as hundreds of museums, herbaria, botanical gardens, etc.
Recognizing the important global role that the resolver plays, in 2018 CDL and DuraSpace launched an initiative, called ARKs in the Open, to establish broad and sustainable community ownership of N2T's technological, administrative, and policy infrastructure.