An internationalized domain name (IDN) is an Internet domain name that contains at least one label that is displayed in software applications, in whole or in part, in a language-specific script or alphabet, such as Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, Tamil, Hebrew or the Latin alphabet-based characters with diacritics or ligatures, such as French. These writing systems are encoded by computers in multi-byte Unicode. Internationalized domain names are stored in the Domain Name System as ASCII strings using Punycode transcription.
The Domain Name System, which performs a lookup service to translate user-friendly names into network addresses for locating Internet resources, is restricted in practice to the use of ASCII characters, a practical limitation that initially set the standard for acceptable domain names. The internationalization of domain names is a technical solution to translate names written in language-native scripts into an ASCII text representation that is compatible with the Domain Name System. Internationalized domain names can only be used with applications that are specifically designed for such use; they require no changes in the infrastructure of the Internet.
Although the Domain Name System supports non-ASCII characters, applications such as e-mail and web browsers restrict the characters which can be used as domain names for purposes such as a hostname. Strictly speaking it is the network protocols these applications use that have restrictions on the characters which can be used in domain names, not the applications that have these limitations or the DNS itself. To retain backwards compatibility with the installed base the IETF IDNA Working Group decided that internationalized domain names should be converted to a suitable ASCII-based form that could be handled by web browsers and other user applications. IDNA specifies how this conversion between names written in non-ASCII characters and their ASCII-based representation is performed.