New Eras of Internet Governance: ENS DAO inherits the ENS Root Key


On November 11th, 2023, the Meta-Governance Working Group proposed the transfer of control over the ENS root key to the ENS DAO. This proposal marks a significant milestone in the development of the ENS DAO, which is designed to govern matters related to the ENS Protocol.

This initiative aligns with Ethereum’s core values, particularly the ‘Philosophy of Subtraction’. This philosophy underscores the importance of preventing control by any single entity and of redistributing both opportunities and responsibilities among the protocol’s users.

In this article, I will elucidate the powers that the ENS DAO will inherit and explain why a distributed decision-making process is key to managing these powers responsibly. Additionally, I will provide a high-level overview of the ENS root key, review how previous administrative changes were handled, and explore their potential management within the DAO’s governance framework.

Why is Decentralization Important? (Rationale)

Decentralization promotes pluralism and diversity in decision-making, leading to stronger, more resilient ecosystems. It facilitates open-source innovation and governance, like the model used by the ENS DAO, which is based on the principles of credible neutrality.

This approach limits the potential for capture by any single agency, echoing the adage, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” For ENS to remain competitive, it is crucial to adhere to these principles. Facilitating the swift development of new technologies is equally important.

Currently, the management of ENS’s root key is ipso facto centralized, potentially hindering innovation. In fact, DNS TLD owners, such as those of .art or .box, must undergo a permission-based process, requesting multisig owners to facilitate the administrative change for gaining control of their ENS Node.

By placing the root key under the DAO’s control, decision-making can be streamlined through executable votes, thus expediting innovation cycles. In this scenario, DNS TLD owners simply enter the governance environment, aided by the Working Group Stewards, to submit a proposal. This allows for feedback from the Stewards and the wider community, leading to a refined proposal that, upon gaining sufficient momentum and a minimum sponsorship of $100k ENS, can proceed to an executable vote.

What Powers and Responsibilities Will the ENS DAO Inherit?

Under the current regime, the powers and responsibilities of managing the ENS root key are outlined as follows:

  • Modify the ENS Registry: Primarily responsible for adding new Top-Level Domains (TLDs) to the ENS registry, based on community consensus and the keyholder’s judgment.

  • Emergency Response: Act to limit or reverse damage in emergencies, such as critical vulnerabilities in root registrars or the ENS registry itself.

  • Uphold Precepts Found in the ENS DAO Constitution: Commit to managing the new powers and funds in line with the Constitution, ensuring transparent governance and decision-making.

  • Enable/Disable Controllers: Manage controllers for the .eth registrar, affecting registration and renewal policies for .eth names.

  • Update Pricing: Modify the pricing for .eth names as necessary.

However, the current root key holders have locked control over the .eth registrar contract, meaning that the ownership of .eth domains cannot be altered. To provide a clearer understanding of the powers the DAO will inherit, let’s refer to Alex Van de Sande’s diagram:

Credit: Alex Van de Sande
Credit: Alex Van de Sande

The heart of the ENS Protocol is the ENS Registry, a contract that stores ownership information for all nodes and subnodes. The root key can perform the following Call Functions on the ENS Registry:

  • lock(): Locks a domain to prevent changes.

  • setController(): Assigns a new controller to a domain.

  • setResolver(): Sets the resolver for a domain.

  • setSubnodeOwner(): Assigns ownership of a subnode.

  • transferOwnership(): Transfers the ownership of a domain.

The proposed changes would shift control of key functions within ENS from the current key holders at multisig.ens.eth to the ENS DAO at wallet.ensdao.eth. Decisions would now flow through the governance environment. This transfer of authority would encompass various responsibilities, including setting up controllers, resolvers, and subnode owners, transferring ownership, and introducing new top-level domains (TLDs) to the registry. Additionally, the DAO would manage existing TLDs, update contracts for reverse resolution, adjust oracle pricing, and assign subnode ownership.

Furthermore, the DAO’s wallet typically includes security measures like transaction timelocks, providing a 48-hour delay as indicated in the diagram. This delay adds an extra layer of security by allowing for community scrutiny and response to proposed changes before their implementation.

What Does Decentralized Governance of the Root Key Look Like?

The ENS DAO has matured to the point where it has demonstrated that it can capably and responsibly manage several aspects of the protocol in adherence to its constitution. Any administrative change to the root key would most likely follow the established governance mechanisms. I will outline the governance flow below:

  1. Commencement: Discussions begin within the Governance Forum, where free agents work to collectively identify needs and propose solutions. Meetings are held weekly, where matters relating to the DAO and its ongoing initiatives are freely deliberated.

  2. Oversight: Working Group stewards are elected to carry out the DAO’s mandate. In this specific case, the administration of the root key would fall under the jurisdiction of the Meta-Governance Working Group.

  3. Consensus: Weekly meetings serve as forums where stewards address needs and solutions brought forth by the community. In the case of the root key, anyone who attends these meetings may raise a priority. They can openly discuss the matter and draft a preliminary proposal known as a ‘temp-check’.

  4. Executable Proposal: This preliminary proposal, such as the administration of the root key, is discussed and refined, evolving into a formal proposal. This proposal is then introduced into the DAO’s decision-making environment, where it is open to discussion for further refinement and addressing concerns. The refined proposal is put to an on-chain vote for transparency and security.

  5. Ratification: Delegates vote using their $ENS tokens. Their voting power is determined by the number of tokens they hold. If the proposal gains enough support and passes, it is ratified. This means the proposal is accepted, and its suggested changes are implemented, altering the status quo, like changes in the administration of the root key.

Hypothetically Assigning Ownership of a Subnode

Suppose that a hypothetical DNS TLD owner, .punk, wanted control over their ENS Node. Previously, .punk would labor to find the contact information of the root key holders, likely discovering it on the ENS Domains website. Unfamiliar with how multisignature wallets work, they might be surprised to learn that they need permission from at least four of the seven keyholders to enact a change. Although this process seems straightforward, it’s complicated by the fact that many keyholders are likely preoccupied with their own work priorities. This could discourage .punk, leading them to seek services from another decentralized name registrar.

Now let’s consider the alternative scenario, where the administrative powers rest within the DAO. .punk may learn about ENS DAO online or at an event and realize that they have agency to enact change. They might reach out to one of the Working Group stewards, have a conversation about their idea, and the steward would likely provide feedback and guidance on how the governance process works and outline a strategy for them (at their discretion, of course). .punk would then be introduced to the community at large during the Working Group meeting, where they would have a chance to pitch their idea and receive feedback.

If they garner support, the stewards will likely sponsor their proposal and submit it for an executable vote. It’s important to remember that executable proposals are essentially a series of arbitrary smart contract calls executed through a governance contract via timelock. In this case, the technical implementation involves interacting with the ENS registry to link the .punk DNS TLD to a corresponding ENS record. This may include using specific ENS functions like setSubnodeOwner() to assign ownership of the new node. The technical implementation will detail the need to invoke the setSubnodeOwner() function to establish a new ENS node for the .punk DNS TLD. This function will be used to transfer ownership of the new .punk node within the ENS registry to the designated entity.


In conclusion, EP 4.10 proposes transferring the ENS root key from centralized keyholders to the decentralized ENS DAO, representing a paradigm shift in the governance of the ENS Protocol. This move embodies the essence of Ethereum’s ‘Philosophy of Subtraction’ by decentralizing power to prevent single-entity control and encouraging community participation in decision-making processes

While the ENS DAO manages the root key, processes for implementing changes such as the addition of new Top-Level Domains or emergency responses becomes increasingly more streamlined and democratic. The shift from a permission-based model to a governance framework where proposals are discussed, refined, and voted on by the community ensures that decisions reflect the collective will and foster innovation.

The hypothetical scenario involving a DNS TLD owner, such as .punk, illustrates the practical implications of this transition. Under the DAO’s governance, entities seeking to manage their ENS nodes will find a more accessible and participatory process, guided by the community and stewards of the Working Groups. The technical processes involved, such as executing the setSubnodeOwner() function, become part of a transparent, bottom-up procedure.

This transition is not just about technical control but signifies a broader move towards a decentralized, community-governed future. It showcases a model where power and responsibility are distributed among the protocol’s users, fostering an environment of trust, transparency, and innovation. The ENS DAO’s approach to managing the root key could serve as a blueprint for other decentralized protocols, heralding a new era of internet governance where users are at the heart of decision-making.

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