N2T.net (Name-to-Thing) is a "resolver," a kind of server that specializes in indirection. Resolvers serve content indirectly by forwarding most incoming requests to other servers rather than serving content directly (this page being an exception). Resolvers are good at redirecting requests to content servers, similar to URL shorteners like bit.ly and t.co.
Origins of N2T
The name "n2t" was chosen for several reasons. First, it is unique enough to be easy to search for. Second, "n2t" is fairly opaque, which helps URLs based at n2t.net to age and travel well; brand- and language-neutrality help shield URLs from future embarrassment and retirement due to long term evolving political, legal, and usability pressures. The name is also short, which saves time and space – both in storage and "visual real estate" – across often-repeated acts of transcription and citation. Finally, N2T's name was patterned after a set of IETF (the premier Internet standards body) mapping operations for the URN (Uniform Resource Name) dating from 1997 (RFC 2168): N2R (Name to Resource), N2L (Name to URL), and N2C (Name to URC, 'C' = Characteristics/Citation).
N2T's technical infrastructure arose from demand for a global ARK (Archival Resource Key) resolver. All that 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 forcing lookups to fail except for certain parts of the alphabet is artificial, exclusionary, and requires extra code, the ARK resolver design instead followed 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 when content eventually moves to different servers. Provided forwarding rules at N2T are updated, links starting with n2t.net remain stable. (All persistent identifier systems rely on this same basic principle.)
Features Unique to the N2T Resolver
- 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 find 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, living people, and many other things.
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.
The N2T service may occasionally be suspended or interrupted for up to one hour during the routine maintenance window. If maintenance is to take place, it happens on Sundays beginning at 08:00 in California, UTC-08:00 (standard time), UTC-07:00 (daylight savings).