Institute for Advanced Professional Studies

The Internet in 1990: Domain Registration, E-mail and Networks

This 1990 snapshot of the Internet contrasts sharply with today's version: Its worldwide accessibility, high-speed connections and millions of .com web sites.

In October 1990, there were only 1151 .com domains, and no World Wide Web. The Internet was used primarily to support the exchange of plain text (unformatted) e-mail, participation in newsgroups and transfer of binary files.

Domain Registration and Fees:
  • In 1990, domain name registration was free. Domain name registration fees were first charged in 1995: A two-year registration cost $100.
  • It was rare for a company to register more than one domain name. Cybersquatting was virtually nonexistent: Domain names corresponded to company names, rarely registered for trademark protection.
  • Domain name registration was close to a manual process with new and revised information sent solely via e-mail.
  •, the first (oldest) domain in the .com gTLD, was registered on March 15, 1985. It took until November 30, 1987 for the 100th .com domain to be registered.
  • Commercial use of the Internet was first permitted in 1988: Most of the domains on the October 1990 list were registered after 1988.
  • Some of the largest industrial companies and financial institutions did not have any sub domains (,,,,, etc.)
  • Sub domains, if any, were created for subsidiaries and major facilities in other states ( and and foreign countries ( Rarely were sub domains created for product lines or functions such as support.
  • WHOIS requests were entered on a command line. Registration information was not private and wild-card searches were permitted. There were few, if any, restrictions on WHOIS use.
E-mail in 1990:
  • SPAM was not a significant problem (recipients were often outraged and sent complaints to each originator).
  • It was hard to find anyone using antivirus products longer than two years.
  • It was not uncommon for "vacation" programs (auto responders) to send replies with personal telephone numbers and detailed itineraries.
  • By today's standards, maximum allowable message size was very small.
  • If you needed the e-mail address of a company's employee, you could get it by writing to the company's webmaster.
Networking Speed and Protocols:
  • Today's collection of interconnected computer networks was first named "Internet" in 1990.
  • Many small to medium sized companies relied on a single 14.4 kb/s (or slower) modem to send and receive all of their Internet communication (incoming and outgoing e-mail messages, file transfers, etc).
  • Bandwidth was both limited and expensive.
  • Internet nodes, typically large UNIX servers, were continuously connected and communicated with TCP/IP.
  • These large servers also provided Internet connectivity to the many low-traffic servers that used "uucp" (Unix to Unix Copy Protocol) with temporary connections on dial-up lines. While the Internet used DNS and packet switching technology, UUCP network routing relied on a database of prearranged paths to each "sitename" (the UUCP equivalent of a domain name). Examples include:
    •     uunet!hsi!yale!harvard!spdcc!iaps!%s
    •     uunet!autodesk!pixar!%s
    •     uunet!oresoft!m2xenix!eaglet!reed!%s
    •     uunet!microsoft!sybase!%s
  • The database of UUCP paths was maintained by the UUCP Mapping Project, staffed by a dedicated group of volunteers. Updates with new or revised paths for the map of UUCP sitenames and paths were sent in e-mail messages.
  • A November 1991 file, copied from an MIT server, contains a partial UUCP "map" of Eastern Massachusetts domains. It includes details for each domain's server, connection type, polling frequency, helpful comments, and examples of the information shared freely within the Internet community.
  • Corporate networks used proprietary protocols such as DECnet.

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