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Names to Things

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About N2T.net

N2T.net (Name-to-Thing) is a "resolver," a kind of server that specializes in indirection by forwarding most incoming requests to other servers. Rather than serving content directly (this page is an exception), resolvers are good at redirecting requests to content servers, similar to URL shorteners like bit.ly.

Origins of N2T

N2T's name was inspired by a set of URN mapping operations, N2R (Name to Resource), N2L (Name to URL), and N2C (Name to URC) envisioned in 1997 (RFC 2168). The name is relatively unique and easy to search for. N2T is also fairly opaque, which helps URLs based at n2t.net to age and travel well; brand- and language-neutrality are thought to shield URLs from political, legal, and usability pressures that can threaten adoption or continued commitment. The name is also short, which saves time and space during transcription and citation.

N2T's technical infrastructure arose out of a demand for a global ARK (Archival Resource Key) resolver. All a basic resolver needs is software to look up a given incoming string in a table and to issue a "server redirect", as found in every web server since 1992. One approach, taken by the Handle and DOI systems, is to create a "silo" that only works for one type of identifier. Since making lookups fail except for certain parts of the alphabet would be artificial, exclusionary, and extra work, the ARK resolver took a different approach following basic principles of openness and generality. The result was N2T, a scheme-agnostic resolver that currently works for over 900 types of identifier, including ARKs, DOIs, Handles, PURLs, URNs, ORCIDs, ISSNs, etc.

The main use of N2T is for "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 remain stable and still work provided 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 including services to all identifier types.

Features Unique to the N2T Resolver

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 also supports CORS (Cross-Origin Resource Sharing) to securely enable JavaScript access to public content with identifiers based at N2T.

  • Suffix passthrough. N2T supports "suffix passthrough", which drastically reduces the number of individual identifiers that providers need to maintain.
  • Inflections. It supports "inflections" and "content negotiation", which allow you to request descriptive information for identifiers that have it.
  • Identifier-scheme-agnostic. 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.
  • Cross-scheme features. As a result N2T easily supports feature combinations that some have found surprising, such as ARK-style inflections for DOIs and ARKs that return DataCite DOI metadata via content negotiation.
  • Resolver and meta-resolver. Unusually, N2T.net is a "meta-resolver" that also stores about 50 million identifiers. As a meta-resolver, it recognizes over 900 well-known identifier types, including all those known to identifiers.org, and knows where their respective servers are. Failing to find forwarding information for an identifier it stores, it uses the identifier's type to look for an overall target rule.
  • Prefix extension. N2T supports a "prefix extension" feature that permits developers to extend a scheme or an ARK NAAN (both of which "prefix" an identifier) with -dev in order to forward to an alternate destination. For example, if the NAAN 12345 forwards to domain a.b.org, then ark:/12345-dev/678 forwards to a-dev.b.org/678. It works similarly for schemes, for example, if scheme xyzzy forwards to a.b.org/$id, then xyzzy-dev:foo forwards to a-dev.b.org/foo. Just for NAANs, the -dev part can actually be a hyphen (-) followed by any string that works in a hostname.


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.

Organizational Backing

N2T is maintained at the California Digital Library (CDL) within the University of California (UC) Office of the President (UCOP). 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.

N2T runs in the AWS (Amazon Web Services) cloud. Security and privacy rests on CDL and UCOP privacy safeguards, patching policies, access restrictions, and firewall controls, layered over the foundational physical, network, and procedural security maintained in AWS datacenters based in the United States of America.

Recognizing the important global role that the resolver plays, in 2018 CDL and DuraSpace (now LYRASIS) launched an initiative, called ARKs in the Open, to establish broad and sustainable community ownership of N2T's technological, administrative, and policy infrastructure. With support from 31 organizations on 4 continents, the initiative has three active working groups.

Maintenance Window

The N2T service may occasionally be suspended or interrupted for up to one hour during the routine maintenance window. If maintenance is scheduled, it takes place on Sundays beginning at 08:00 in California, UTC-08:00 (standard time), UTC-07:00 (daylight savings).