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WHOIS isn't an acronym, though it may look like one. In fact, it is the system that asks the question, who is responsible for a domain name or an IP address?

What is WHOIS?

Every year, millions of individuals, businesses, organizations and governments register domain names. Each one must provide identifying and contact information which may include: name, address, email, phone number, and administrative and technical contacts. This information is often referred to as "WHOIS data." But the WHOIS service is not a single, centrally-operated database. Instead, the data is managed by independent entities known as "registrars" and "registries." Any entity that wants to become a registrar must earn ICANN accreditation. Similarly, registries are under contract with ICANN to operate a generic top level domain, such as .COM, .ORG, or one of the new gTLDs such as .STORAGE and .LINK.

Based on existing consensus policies and contracts, ICANN is committed to implementing measures to maintain timely, unrestricted and public access to accurate and complete WHOIS information, subject to applicable laws. To do that, registrars and registries provide public access to data on registered domain names. Anyone can use the WHOIS protocol to search their databases and identify the domain name registrant.

In 2016, new ICANN Bylaws replaced the WHOIS obligations originally established by the expired Affirmation of Commitments. These Bylaws require periodic reviews to assess the effectiveness of the current gTLD Registration Directory Service (RDS, formerly known as WHOIS) and whether its implementation meets the legitimate needs of law enforcement, promoting consumer trust and safeguarding registrant data. In addition, those Bylaws require ICANN organization to use commercially reasonable efforts to enforce its policies relating to RDS, while exploring structural changes to improve accuracy and access to generic top-level domain registration data, as well as considering safeguards for protecting such data.

Domain Name Registrant Benefits and Responsibilities

Domain name registrants play a key role in ensuring the accuracy of WHOIS. As a domain name registrant, you are required to provide accurate WHOIS contact data, and maintain its accuracy throughout the term of your registration period.

When you register a domain name, you must give your registrar accurate and reliable contact details, and correct and update them promptly if there are any changes during the term of the registration period. This obligation is part of your registration agreement with the registrar.

If you give wrong information on purpose, or don't update your information promptly if there is a change, your domain name registration may be suspended or even cancelled. This could also happen if you don't respond to inquiries by your registrar if they contact you about the accuracy of your contact information.

On an annual basis, your registrar is required to send you an annual reminder of your obligation to maintain the accuracy of your WHOIS contact data. Please review the information provided by your registrar in this reminder carefully and make any necessary corrections. If you find that your WHOIS information is inaccurate, please refer to: About Correcting my WHOIS Data.

Depending on the version of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement your registrar has contracted with ICANN organization, there are different rights, benefits or responsibilities that apply to you. For the version of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement applicable your registrar refer to:

History of WHOIS

WHOIS traces its roots to 1982, when the Internet Engineering Task Force published a protocol for a directory service for ARPANET users. Initially, the directory simply listed the contact information that was requested of anyone transmitting data across the ARPANET. As the Internet grew, WHOIS began to serve the needs of different stakeholders such as domain name registrants, law enforcement agents, intellectual property and trademark owners, businesses and individual users. But the protocol remained fundamentally based on those original IETF standards. This is the WHOIS protocol that ICANN inherited when it was established in 1998.

Learn more about the History of WHOIS.

What's on the Horizon?

It's very likely that WHOIS will change dramatically in the future.

The process of re-inventing WHOIS began in November 2012, when the ICANN Board approved a two-pronged strategy to embrace the Recommendations made by the first WHOIS Review Team (WHOIS RT) to improve the manner in which the WHOIS system at that time was being overseen by ICANN, and, at the same time, to redefine the purpose and scope of Registration Directory Services, in an attempt to envision a next-generation replacement system better suited for the needs of tomorrow's Internet.

Learn more about What's on the Horizon to update and possibly replace the WHOIS system.

About this Site

This site is part of a series of WHOIS improvements inspired by the recommendations of the first WHOIS Review Team. Learn more About This Site and how it contributes to efforts to improve WHOIS.

Last Updated: July 2017