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WHOIS Domain Name Search

What is WHOIS? WHOIS allows people to perform domain searches for site information. By doing a WHOIS domain name search you can find out public information on the site. This article explains WHOIS searches and compares public vs. private domain registration.

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For various reasons, people like to know who is behind some Web sites. In order to get this information, someone needs to use some sort of a directory. Just as you might want to use a reverse telephone directory to find whose name is attached to a certain phone number, you can use WHOIS (who is) to look up which Web site is registered to what person or organization. This might help you get an idea of the purpose of the Web site, and who is involved in its creation.

What is WHOIS?

WHOIS is actually a protocol. It is what is known as a query/response protocol, basically allowing you to put in information, and WHOIS retrieves it and displays what is attached to it. It is used to look up information in databases to figure out who is the domain registrant of certain online addresses.

At first, WHOIS was used mainly by system administrators. These administrators needed access to contact information for Web addresses so that they could call people if something went wrong. However, like all things, WHOIS has evolved uses far beyond their original intention. Here are some of the ways that WHOIS is used:

  • Figuring out the domain registration status of a Web site. This is used for people who want to know when a domain name expires so that they can possible buy it at that time.
  • Offer contact information for certified Internet incident response teams. This helps enhance the stability of the Internet.
  • Helps in the event of trademark inquiries and to stop infringement of intellectual property rights.
  • Used to help law enforcement officials track down those engages in breaches of law, as well as abuses. (Useful in child pornography cases, for example.)
  • Assist businesses as they work to combat fraud.
  • Helps Internet users and the customers of businesses run “background checks” on Web sites they are concerned about. Helps online users know who is behind the Web site, and get an idea of the goals of the site.

Of course, WHOIS can be used for other purposes as well. Since it contains contact information, spammers can use WHOIS to get email addresses. Data miners use WHOIS information as well, and it can also make you known to hackers.

Public vs. private domain registration

When you register a domain name, your registrar must submit your information to WHOIS. The Internet Corporation of Names and Numbers (ICANN) requires it. It is necessary that ICANN knows who is attached to what Web site so that it can ensure the stability of the worldwide Internet, and so that it is possible to coordinate unique domain names across the world. In order to register a site, you much go through an accredit ICANN registrar who will submit your information to be retrieved in a WHOIS database.

If you just register your domain name, your WHOIS information is publicly available. Anyone can search it. However, if you are concerned about privacy, and worried that your information will be made public, you can instead pay a fee to get a private domain registration. You information is still available to ICANN officials upon request, but when someone else tries to look up your contact information through WHOIS, another organization is listed. For example, instead of having your name and address pop up, your domain registrants contact information will be listed.

A private domain registration usually costs money. Just as you have to pay a monthly fee in order to make sure that your telephone number remains unlisted, you have to pay a regular fee to ensure that your WHOIS information is not generally available to the public. This can be useful if you are concerned about spammers and hackers finding you and clogging up your business operations with less than benign efforts.

In the end WHOIS is a useful part of keeping the Internet global and running fairly smoothly. ICANN is investigating the uses that WHOIS is being put to right now, and trying to decide if restrictions to the databases need to be made. In the end, though, if you are concerned about a public listing, you can pay a fee (which is usually not terribly big) to keep your WHOIS information safe from prying eyes.

Related Article: ICANN and Domain Registrars >>

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