Initially, only one organization, DARPA, was responsible for handling the registration of domains. In the 1980s, WHOIS was standardized to look up domains and the information necessary for domain registration. There was a single centralized system for WHOIS queries. Because of that, it became effortless to look up such information. WHOIS, therefore, is a query and response protocol that queries databases which are responsible for the storage of assignees of IP addresses, domain names, and other internet resources, and registered users.

What Software Does It Use?

The original WHOIS applications were command line interface tools for Unix and similar operating systems. The command line clients pass a phrase directly through the server. The client-server and software is distributed in form of binary distributions and open-source software.

Shortcomings of WHOIS

Databases have the contact information of all the owners of registered domains including their names, email address, phone number, and address. That means that anyone who performs a search can have access to the information. As a result, it is possible for identity thieves and direct marketers to steal personal information. Spammers can also harvest plain-text email addresses from the servers. A significant shortcoming of WHOIS is the lack of complete access to data. Only a few parties can access the complete databases. The designers of WHOIS did not create it for an international audience. The server is unable to determine text encoding in effect for the query of the database content. It, therefore, compromises on the usability of WHOIS, especially outside the United States.

WHOIS Policy

WHOIS has always raised privacy concerns that can also be related to anonymity and free speech. However, it has proved to be a handy tool especially when there is a need for law enforcement officers to track down domain names and their owners. WHOIS has made it possible to get the contact information of some criminals easily. That is one of the reasons that WHOIS records need to be verified. There have been policy issues concerning WHOIS I the United States. The Federal Trade Commission, for example, made a testimony claiming that incorrect WHOIS records make it difficult for them to conduct investigations. The Fraudulent Online Identity Sanctions Act states that it is illegal to provide false contact information on purpose by making, renewing or maintaining the registration of a domain name that has connections with a violation. While this does not directly mention WHOIS, it makes it a crime to submit false WHOIS data with the intent of avoiding prosecution. Congress hearings were done in 2001, 2002, and 2006, to discuss the importance of WHOIS.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and WHOIS

In 2013, the Expert Working Group (EWG) of ICANN made suggestions to scrape WHOIS and replace it with an alternative system that only offers personal information under permissible circumstances. The new system, they suggested, should not be able to reveal information to internet users when it is not necessary. The purposes that would make it okay to publicize information include; domain name research, the sale or purchase of domain names, in case of legal action, when there was a need to mitigate abuse, and during regulatory enforcement. Later in the year, the Expert Working Group gathered input from the public and added it on the initial report. They issued a final report In 2014, but it was not very different from the original one.


The referral WHOIS is just a continuation of the original version. Network Solutions first specialized it in 1994. Referral WHOIs is more scalable and hierarchical, so it gives the system a tree-like structure. Queries get transmitted to servers based on their hierarchical labels. It is more organized than the original WHOIS. It is possible to connect to any referral WHOIS server and request for a look-up. You will automatically get a notification of where to find the right server. RWHOIS is technically more functional than WHOIS, but most people have not adopted it yet. The referral features are different and services are mainly communicated through the Transmission Control Protocol.