What Is a Regional Internet Registry? A Comprehensive Guide to RIR

5 min read
29 September 2021
Edvinas Račkauskas

Learn more about the five Regional Internet Registries, their purpose and connection to the end-users of the Internet.

internet network of RIRs

The Regional Internet Registry, or RIR, is a nonprofit organization that manages internet number resources within a geographical region. Five RIRs operate in five regions across the globe in total, including AFRINIC, APNIC, ARIN, LACNIC and RIPE NCC.

The resources that each RIR holds are allocated by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA). However, autonomous system numbers (ASNs) and the IPv4 and IPv6 address spaces are distributed by RIRs. That means that internet service providers (ISP) and end-users get their resources directly from Regional Internet Registries.

The Number Resource Organization (NRO) coordinates between all five RIRs with a mission to protect the unallocated address space. It also builds the policies pertaining to the distribution of internet number resources. Needless to say, many cogs run in the process of allocating ASNs and IPs.

Continue reading to learn more about what Regional Internet Registry is, how internet number resources are split and allocated, and how end-users benefit from the work of RIRs.

RIR Members

RIR members include ISPs, governments, educational institutions, organizations, and end-users. Each individual RIR has different membership policies, but, in the end, they all serve anyone who needs internet resources. 

Regional Internet Registries oversee the allocation of Internet number resources in five different regions, including the following:

  • AFRINICAfrican Network Information Center in Mauritius manages the IP address space in the African continent
  • APNICAsia-Pacific Network Information Center in Australia oversees the allocation of internet resources in East, South and Southeast Asia as well as Oceania
  • ARINAmerican Registry for Internet Numbers in the US is responsible for Antarctica, Canada, parts of the Caribbean and the United States
  • LACNICLatin America and Caribbean Network Information Center in Uruguay oversees the IP address space in the Caribbean, Mexico and South America
  • RIPE NCCRéseaux IP Européens Network Coordination Center in the Netherlands coordinates the allocation of IP addresses and ASNs in Europe, Russia, West and Central Asia
Logos of 5 regional internet registries, including arin, apnic, afrinic, lacnic and ripe.
Regional Internet Registries

History of the five Regional Internet Registries

The internet cannot exist without IP addresses. Every device connected to the internet needs a unique IP address. This allows to identify and find the device on the network. Needless to say, in the early days of the internet, fewer devices existed. Today, smart devices crowd our homes and travel with us in our pockets. 

IPv4 emerged back in 1982. It was the first version of the Internet Protocol that the public used. Unsurprisingly, the architects of the internet did not predict how it would evolve just within the past two decades. Unfortunately, IPv4 exhaustion quickly became a global problem.

IPv6 emerged as the replacement for IPv4 back in 1995. However, IPv4 continues to be the standard Internet Protocol today. The problem is that there is a set number of unique IPv4 addresses. 4,294,967,296 internet addresses to be exact.

With the shortage of IPs comes the issue of allocating them efficiently. 

IANA is one of the oldest organizations in the world of the internet, established back in the late 1970s, when the global IP registry was a mere list of IP address ranges. Quickly, the need for a more structured resource management system emerged. In 1992, the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) defined the concept of an RIR with the Guidelines for Management of IP Address Space.

RIPE NCC joined the RIR system first in 1992. APNIC (1993), ARIN (1997), LACNIC (2002), and AFRINIC (2004) followed suit. While they operate independently, the NRO helps coordinate RIRs to ensure that the management of resources is based on effective policies and procedures.

The timeline showing when each RIR was established.
The timeline of when RIRs were established

RIRs and NRO

The Number Resource Organization is a nonprofit organization that emerged in 2003. The so-called founding RIRs signed the NRO Memorandum of Understanding, an agreement identifying NRO as the coordinating body for all matters relating to the interests of RIRs. 

NRO has pledged to coordinate the internet number registry system. It also maintains the current policy development process and supports all five RIRs’ activities in their joint projects.

In August 2020, NRO signed an addendum to the original memorandum. Additional information indicates that NRO pledges to maintain the registry system’s uniqueness. It also pledges to operate in a more transparent way to ensure the consistency and effectiveness of the system.

While NRO does not allocate the resources, it is instrumental in ensuring productive collaboration within the RIR system. NRO works with resource certification, produces RIR statistics reports, and acts as the coordinator in the global policies structure.

Are Regional Internet Registries really needed?

The role of RIRs is of global importance because the number of IPv4 addresses isn’t endless. This calls for careful and logical allocation of resources. 

According to the Policy For Allocation of IPv4 Blocks to Regional Internet Registries, IANA allocates one /8 address block to every new RIR for 18 months. IANA allocates additional address space if an RIR has less than 50% of available space in the /8 block and if the space cannot satisfy the demand for the following nine months.

This is how the allocation of the IPv4 address space looks today.

Undeniably, the resources are precious because they are scarce. Therefore, RIRs have the enormous responsibility of assigning these limited IPs and ASNs to LIRs (Local Internet Registries), who then assign them to the end-users.

Tree structure presenting the assignment of internet resources.
The assignment of internet resources

What is the role of Regional Internet Registries?

Regional Internet Registries ensure that IP addresses and AS numbers are allocated and distributed within regions impartially. RIRs have membership guidelines, which guarantee that trusted members have access to the resources. However, in theory, they serve anyone in need of IP addresses within that region. 

RIRs are also responsible for ensuring that every IP address or ASN is assigned to one party to ensure the full functionality of the resources. Without the work of RIRs and their strict policies, the distribution of these resources could be extremely chaotic. 

Furthermore, since every RIR operates in a different geographical region, IP addresses and ASNs are distributed evenly across the world, ensuring the functionality of the global network. This prevents one region from hogging all of the resources and leaving other regions trapped.

Ultimately, RIRs take on the role of assigning and distributing IP addresses fairly and safely, and they also represent their regional members.

RIRs and end-users

The end-user is someone who uses IP resources in their network. They don’t provide internet addresses or ASNs, and they are in no way responsible for the distribution of the resources. 

IANA doesn’t allot resources to ISPs or end-user organizations directly. There are exceptions (e.g., multicast addresses), but, in general, RIRs distribute IPs and ASNs to internet service providers and end-users. Ultimately, end-users are dependent on RIRs. 

RIRs allocate resources to Local Internet Registries, who then assign them to their customers. An internet service provider is the most common LIR. There are also organizations that provide managed LIR services, which enables customers to manage and monetize IP resources without acquiring an LIR membership.

All in all, the allocation of limited internet resources is a complicated process. The success of this process relies on strict policies, complex membership guidelines, and collaboration from all involved organizations. From IANA to RIR, from RIR to LIR, and from LIR to end-user, everyone must follow rules to establish a functional internet.

About the author

Edvinas Račkauskas

Business Analyst

Edvinas is a Business Analyst at IPXO. Besides providing his insights into the IPv4 market, Edvinas specializes in internet governance, specifically Regional Internet Registries’ policies and regulations. During his free time, Edvinas enjoys exploring new places and travelling to exotic lands.
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