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Whois is a TCP-based query/response protocol which is widely used for querying a database in order to determine the owner of a domain name, an IP address, or an autonomous system number on the Internet.[1]


Whois (pronounced as the phrase Who is) represents a protocol that is mainly used to used to find details and information about domain names, networks and hosts. The Whois records contain data referring to various organizations and contacts related to the domain names. The Whois protocols operate by means of a server where anyone is allowed to connect and create a query; the Whois server will then respond to this query and end the connection.[2]

Whois History

During the foundational period of the Internet the only organization that was responsible for the administration of domain name registrations was DARPA. As the Internet grew in the 1980s, the Whois system appeared with the purpose of administering and looking-up domain names, registrants and other resources related to domain name registration. Still, at that time there was only the one organization registering domains, so the system acted as a centralized query-based server. Over time the number of gTLDs significantly increased, which led to complex networks of registrars and related associations; in response the Whois servers became stronger and less permissive.[3]

How to maintain both a privacy secure and safe Whois system, and an accurate database for contacts for any domain registrant, has been one of the most intractable issues at ICANN. Whois is one of 4 issues areas that is subject to Independent Review under ICANN's Affirmation of Commitments with the U.S. Government.[4] At ICANN 45 in Toronto, the fist opening ceremony address by new ICANN CEO, Fadi Chehadé, he memorably said that the Whois problem should not have been drawn out for 12 years and should not be a difficult problem to solve.[5][6]

In late 2012, a senior executive at ICANN was brought in to focus exclusively on Whois.[4]

Whois Purpose

The Internet has become an essential key for commerce activities and a wide source of information for worldwide users; and the Whois represents a database where essential contact information is found and updated.[7] Apart from finding information about the domain name or executing the queries created on the server, the Whois also:

  • Ensures support for security and stability over the Internet
  • Determines a domain name's registration status
  • Ensures restrictive use of information communication technology
  • Enforces laws at national and international level under the guidance of authorities during investigations
  • Protects intellectual property and trademarks
  • Ensures the right support for organizations in combat against fraud while complying with relevant laws

Whois and ICANN

ICANN's requirements for registered domain names state that the extent of registration data collected in the moment of domain name registration can be accessed. That is, ICANN requires accredited registrars to collect and provide free public access, such as a Whois service, to information regarding the registered domain name and its nameservers and registrar, the date the domain was created and when its registration expires, and the contact information for the registered name holder, the technical contact, and the administrative contact.[8]

Whois Protocol

The origin of Whois Protocol is in the ARPANET NICNAME protocol, which was developed based on NAME/FINGER Protocol (discussed in RFC742 from 1977). In 1982, in RFC812, the NICNAME/WHOIS protocol was presented for the first time by Ken Harrenstien and Vic White from SRI International - Network Information Center. While Whois was first used on the Network Control Program, its main use was eventually determined by the standardization of TCP/IP across the ARPNET and Internet.

Whois Replacements/Alternatives

Due to shortcomings of the protocol, various proposals exist to augment or replace it. Examples are Internet Registry Information Service (IRIS) as well as the newer proposed IETF working group called WHOIS-based Extensible Internet Registration Data Service (WEIRDS) intended to develop a REST-based protocol.

Thick Whois

A Thick Whois Server stores complete and accurate information from all registrars regarding registered domain names and their registrants. This information is available to the registry operator and it can facilitate bulk transfers of all domain names to another registrar in the event of a registrar failure. Thick Whois also enables faster queries.[9]

In November 2011, ICANN Staff issued a Preliminary Issue Report on 'Thick' Whois to determine if the GNSO Council needs to conduct a Policy Development Process (PDP) regarding the Whois requirements made of existing gTLDs.[10] The ICANN community was divided on the issue. In a statement, Verisign said that it will "neither advocate for nor against the initiation of a PDP." The company also argued that its Whois model for .com, .net, .name and .jobs is effective but if the internet community and its customers believed that thick Whois is a better, it will respect and implement the policy. The Intellectual Property Constituency supports Whois implementation. The constituency believed that it will help prevent abuses on intellectual property rights and consumer fraud. [11] On the other hand, Wendy Seltzer of the Non-Commercial Users Constituency (NCUC) expressed her concern on the impact of further Whois expansion on privacy rights. She pointed out that, "Moving all data to the registry could facilitate invasion of privacy and decrease the jurisdictional control registrants have through their choice of registrar."[12]

In February 2012, the GNSO Council postponed its decision to determine if it is necessary for Verisign to implement the thick Whois database on .com and all the other gTLDs under its management. The Policy Development Process regarding the issue was also delayed due to the request of the NCUC. All registry operators except Verisign were required to implement Thick Whois.[13] In August, 2012, the GNSO Council, along with two other ICANN constituencies sent a letter to ICANN chastising it for its decision to not require Verisign to implement Thick Whois for the .com TLD.[14]


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