From the Spring 2008 issue of The News Media & The Law, page 33.
How your browser finds a Web site like wikileaks.org:
1. Your browser sends a request to look up the IP address (the true location of a machine, like 220.127.116.11) of wikileaks.org to your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
2. The request is passed off to a separate machine called a Domain Name Service (DNS) “name server,” run by your ISP.
3. The server then sends the request to a machine called a “root name server.” This server doesn’t know what wikileaks.org is, but it points your server to yet another name server, which keeps track of all domains ending in .org.
4. Your server then sends the request to that new machine. Again, that machine doesn’t know the IP address for wikileaks.org, but it knows which name server does,
and points you there.
5. Your name server then sends the request to the new machine. That machine will probably be the “authoritative” name server for the wikileaks.org site and will return the IP address (although instead it could point to yet another machine, and this step would then be repeated). This server is usually run by a domain name registrar like Network Solutions or godaddy.com.
6. Your ISP’s machine is given the IP address of wikileaks.org.
7. That IP address is returned to your machine, which can now send and receive information directly with the Web site.
How a court blocks the connection:
In those cases where a court wanted a Web site to remove content, the order would usually be directed to the owner of the site, or possibly the Web Service Provider of the Web site. The order would thus block access to the site by changing the site’s server.
The Wikileaks case was unusual in that the plaintiffs and the court brought in the DNS provider and ordered that the wikileaks.org IP address be taken out of the server, so that the final authoritative lookup (step 5) would return no useful information, and your browser simply could not figure out the address of the Web server. A court order could also be directed at owners of other name servers (4) in the process.