What is the WHOIS database? Why should it matter to you?
In this article, 📚 I’ll answer these questions and show you how to use the WHOIS database.
What is the WHOIS database?
With over 1.12 billion websites today, there must be a repository to store all these domain names . That’s where the WHOIS database comes in.
The WHOIS database, also known as WHOIS information or WHOIS details, is a comprehensive registry of domain names. It keeps all domain details, including their associated IP addresses and relevant contact information of the registrants.
Whenever someone registers a domain, the domain registrar collects various data. The data includes the registrant’s name, organization, email address, mailing address, phone number, and registration and expiration dates. WHOIS stores all this information in its database.
Next, let’s look at the origins of the WHOIS database, shall we?
A brief history of the WHOIS database
WHOIS database traces its roots back to 1982 when the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) released a code for a registry service for its users. Originally, the database only kept the contact information of ARPANET users.
It was a simple protocol that allowed users to query a centralized database for registration information.
As the internet grew, it demanded that things open up. That’s what happened in the 1990s. WHOIS moved from a closed to an open network. Instead of serving only ARPANET users, WHOIS started serving individual users, businesses, domain name registrants, law enforcement agents, and more. In 2001, The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) institutionalized WHOIS across registrars.
The anatomy of a WHOIS Lookup result
So, what do you see when you do a WHOIS lookup?
The specific details obtained from a WHOIS database server varies. However, all data falls into five categories: domain information, registrar contact, registrant details, administrative contact, and technical contact details.
Let’s look at each category.
- WHOIS server and registrar details
- Domain information
- Registrant contact details
- Administrative contact details
- Technical contact details
1. WHOIS server and registrar details 🔎💻️
When you do a WHOIS lookup, you will first see the name servers and registrar. Name servers tell you where the domain’s DNS records are kept. The domain registrar is the company that manages the registration process for the domain.
You get the registrar’s contact email and phone number.
2. Domain information 💡⚙️
Next, you will see the domain information entry.
Here’s how it looks in a WHOIS lookup result:
It’s packed with lots of data, such as the domain’s creation and expiration date, name servers, and the status of the said domain. Here’s an overview of the info you will find in this section:
- Registration Date: The date when the domain was registered.
- Expiry Date: The date when the domain registration will expire.
- Name servers: The name servers currently used by the domain.
- Registration ID: The domain’s unique identity assigned by the registrar.
- Domain Status: The current status of the domain, such as active, inactive, or pending deletion.
The domain status informs you of whether or not there is a restriction on the domain so that it can be transferred from one registrar to another. Domain status also tells you if the domain is clean and isn’t involved in any illegal activities to warrant sanctions from ICANN.
If performing a WHOIS lookup for an IP address, you may get information about the IP range, network provider, and sometimes the geographical location.
3. Registrant contact details 🧑💻
One more piece of information you get is the registrant’s contact details.
The domain registrant is the person or organization that registered the domain. You get many of the registrant’s contact details, including:
- Postal code
4. Administrative contact details ⚙️👨💻
Next up is the administrative contact info. The domain administrator is the person or organization responsible for managing administrative aspects of the domain. They can interact with the registrar to answer domain registration questions.
The details of this entry are similar to the registrant’s information above.
5. Technical contact details
Fifth, you can access the technical contact info.
The technical contact is the person or organization responsible for managing the domain’s technical aspects, such as DNS settings. Registrars send renewal and administrative notices to the technical contact.
4 Reasons why the WHOIS database matters
So far, we’ve answered “what is the WHOIS database?”, covered its origins, and explained the different aspects of a WHOIS lookup result. A related question is: what is the WHOIS database used for?
The WHOIS database is used for four key reasons:
1. Accountability ⌛
The WHOIS database is crucial in establishing accountability within the domain name system.
Access to registrant information allows individuals, organizations, and regulatory bodies to identify and contact domain owners.
This transparency means that as a domain’s legal owner, you can be held accountable for your domain’s online activities. People can report your domain for abusive, malicious, or illegal behavior and take legal action against you if necessary. So it would be best if you stayed on the right side of ICANN regulations. The accountability provided by the WHOIS database helps maintain a safer and more responsible internet environment for everyone.
2. Cybersecurity 🔒
The WHOIS database is an essential resource for cybersecurity professionals and organizations.
It assists in investigating and mitigating cyber threats by providing valuable information about domain ownership and registration details. Cybersecurity experts can analyze WHOIS records to identify potential malicious actors, track the history of domain registrations, and uncover patterns or trends that may indicate fraudulent activities.
This domain information helps in the early detection of cyber threats, enabling proactive measures to protect systems, networks, and users from potential harm.
3. Law enforcement ⚖️
Law enforcement agencies rely on the WHOIS database to enforce regulations and investigate illegal activities conducted using certain domain names.
The WHOIS information allows authorities to identify and locate domain owners in copyright infringement cases, trademark disputes, fraud, or other illegal activities. This information is crucial for initiating legal proceedings, serving legal notices, and taking appropriate action against offenders.
Most registrars are bound by law to cooperate with law enforcement agencies during investigations. They will share your data with law enforcement agencies if they are compelled to do so by legal order.
4. Intellectual Property Protection 🛡️
Another key role of the WHOIS database is safeguarding your intellectual property rights.
It allows trademark holders and copyright owners to identify potential infringements and protect their intellectual property online. By accessing the WHOIS records, trademark holders can identify domains containing their trademarks or domains engaging in counterfeit activities. This information enables them to take appropriate legal actions to enforce their rights and protect their brand reputation.
The WHOIS database is a valuable resource for intellectual property protection, allowing trademark holders to monitor and address potential infringements promptly.
How to do a WHOIS Lookup
What is the WHOIS database when considering a WHOIS lookup? Let’s briefly look into how to do a WHOIS lookup.
Doing a WHOIS lookup is straightforward. Hop over to the ICANN website. Pop the domain name you want to check and hit Lookup.
The system will spit out the domain’s info in seconds.
That’s it. 🤩
Another way of conducting a WHOIS look is using third-party tools like Domain Tools, Who.is, Domain IQ, and more. Also, most domain registrars have a WHOIS lookup service.
The process is similar to the one I described above for the ICANN lookup.
WHOIS database limitations
The amount of detail available in a WHOIS lookup depends on the domain registry and privacy settings chosen by the registrant. Some individuals or organizations opt for privacy protection services offered by domain registrars. The service allows them to mask certain personal details.
When a person uses proxy (privacy) registration services for their domain, you will see a message similar to the one below when you run a WHOIS lookup:
There’s no registrant’s name, email address, mailing address, phone number, or any other details normally associated with the registrant.
All you get from this entry is the registrar ‘s name and a telephone number to contact for more info. The contact number belongs to the domain protection service organization. You can’t always hide your domain details behind proxy services. That’s because registrars are legally obliged to release private information when needed.
Besides, some laws demand that you make all your information publicly available if you are using certain domain extensions. You can’t privatize it. Since March 2005, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) declared that all owners of .us domains must publicize their information.
Wrapping up our overview of the WHOIS database
So, in short, what is the WHOIS database exactly?
It’s a virtual storehouse of domain names and the registration information associated with them.
It’s important to note that although we might ask the question “what is the WHOIS database?”, in reality, WHOIS isn’t a single database. Instead, it’s a coordinated network of domain registrars and registrar organizations who share information about their registrants. Gone are the days of relying on one database to determine who owns a domain.
But one thing remains constant.
WHOIS continues to safeguard the internet and ensure domain owners are held accountable. ☔
Now that you understand the answer to “what is the WHOIS database?”, you should check out our roundup of the the best domain registrars for a list of companies that take WHOIS privacy seriously.