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Though it may look like an acronym – it’s not. It’s instead pronounced as the two words, “who is”, with the letters representing nothing but the question itself.
Each and every year, millions of individuals, businesses, and organizations register domains to establish an online webspace. Each one of these entities must register their domains with a certain amount of identifying information.
WHOIS is in fact, both a question and an answer. It’s asked by individuals who seek to learn who presently owns any given domain, and is answered through an internet protocol used to extract and display the information of the registrant associated with the domain . If you’ve ever found yourself wondering who is the owner of a domain, the WHOIS domain database offers exactly that information.
The WHOIS service is not, however, operated and maintained by any single, centralized entity. It’s a compulsory service offered and maintained by all domain registrars independently. It offers basic information about the identity of the registrant of all domains & webspaces. Information supplied by a WHOIS report includes the following information of the registrant of the domain name of interest: owner’s name, contact information, address, associated company, email, domain registration date, domain expiration date, nameservers associated with the domain, etc.
To guide you with a visual example, here is the WHOIS report for Google.com, as provided by WHOIS.com:
Yes, even Google themselves must maintain valid, and up-to-date information for their domains, accessible to, and by anyone interested.
The governing body of all matters concerning internet and domain registrations, ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) mandates that all registrants must maintain valid, and up-to-date information of all registered domains, in order to prevent fraud and identity theft. Thus, you can be confident that the information provided by a WHOIS report is legitimate, and current.
All domain registrars allow the WHOIS information to be updated at the owner’s request. Information updates are typically processed within 24 hours.
Failing to keep the associated domain info up-to-date has dire consequences enforceable by the domain registrar. Penalties include suspension, or even cancellation of domain ownership.
You may find yourself in the following situation: you’ve performed a WHOIS search, and all of the information is hidden. Why?
Some domain registrars offer a service of “WHOIS protection”. Essentially, registrants are able to pay a small annual fee to the registrar (though some registrars include the service at no additional premium) to have their information hidden from a WHOIS lookup. They’re able to do this by replacing the registrant’s information with their own data, effectively obfuscating the owner’s identity. This offers a level of anonymity online to those who have no interest in being identified, or associated with their domain(s). In fact, this domain (https://www.assetreturns.com) makes use of WHOIS protection. To use this domain as an example, you’ll see that much of the domain info is hidden, and is instead replaced by that of NameSilo (the domain registrar).
Some registrants will associate a unique email address (e.g. ww87eryw8fvg@Registrar.com) with the domain, which privately redirects any incoming email to the owner’s account. This allows you to email the owner directly, without them having to share their private email address.
WHOIS has a rich history in connection with the internet, tracing its roots to 1982. At the time, the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) conceived of a database for providing a directory service for ARPANET users (an early, rudimentary service which later grew to become the internet as we know it today).
Alongside the expansion of the internet and its users, WHOIS transformed through the years to provide contact information for all parties associated with the ever-changing and ever-growing internet.
ICANN is perpetually in the process of making amendments, adaptations, and improvements to the WHOIS services, with numerous policies presently under consideration.
WHOIS is a powerful service that allows you to (potentially) extract valuable information about the registrant of any domain on the internet. While every domain is required to provide WHOIS information, registrants have the option to obfuscate their domain info through WHOIS protection services.
A number of online services exist to provide you with the WHOIS domain info for any domain of your choosing. ICANN provides one such service directly, and it can be found at: https://whois.icann.org/en.