You are here
Question / Answers
WHOIS has been the subject of intense policy development interest for many years. The original use of WHOIS data and the WHOIS query protocol and web services created to deliver public access to that data was largely technical.
Over time, WHOIS data has been increasingly used for other constructive and beneficial purposes; for example, WHOIS data is sometimes used to track down and identify registrants who may be posting illegal content or engaging in phishing scams. However, some WHOIS data uses that have emerged are viewed as potentially negative; for example, WHOIS data has been harvested and used to send unwanted spam and fraudulent email solicitations.
Unrestricted online access to domain name registrant contact information has caused concern among privacy advocates and some individual registrants. Concerns have also been raised that WHOIS requirements in the Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA) and in registry agreements may conflict with privacy laws in various countries that protect personal information from being revealed publicly. As time passed, concerns have grown about WHOIS data accuracy and usability, as well as WHOIS ability to meet new technical requirements such as support for internationalized domain names.
ICANN’s Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) works to address these and other gTLD WHOIS data and access issues by recommending changes to related policies.
For example, the GNSO often engages in activities to evaluate and document the importance of WHOIS to stakeholders. In 2006, a GNSO task force re-examined the purpose of WHOIS, detailing intended and actual uses of registrant contact information. Based on that work, ICANN approved recommendations to improve WHOIS usage notification and consent. At the same time, the RAA (the agreement ICANN has with its accredited registrars) was amended to require registrars to restrict bulk access to WHOIS data for marketing.
The GNSO also takes steps to make recommendations to improve WHOIS accuracy. For example, a GNSO policy recommendation was adopted by the ICANN Board to require registrars to provide each registrant at least annually with an opportunity to review and correct their domain name’s WHOIS data, accompanied by a reminder that false data can be grounds for registration cancellation. In addition, registrants that submit false data or fail to respond to registrar inquiries were given a grace period during which the domain name is temporarily held by the registrar until the registrant provides updated WHOIS data. Contractual compliance efforts to improve WHOIS data accuracy and accessibility are also underway, based in part on the findings of ICANN-sponsored studies which measured WHOIS data inaccuracies and trends.
ICANN continues to work to address concerns regarding potential conflicts between privacy laws or regulations and provisions of ICANN contracts relating to the collection, display and distribution of personal data via the gTLD WHOIS service. For example, ICANN adopted a procedure which details how it will respond to any situation where a registrar/registry can demonstrate that it is legally prevented by privacy laws or regulations from complying with the aforementioned contract requirements.
Recognizing concerns that the current WHOIS service might decrease in reliability and usefulness over time, the GNSO compiled a comprehensive set of technical requirements for WHOIS intended to address both known deficiencies in the current service and possible enhancements that may be needed to support various on-going policy initiatives. This inventory does not suggest policies or operational rules, but instead provides technical guidance to standards bodies and other organizations such as ARIN that are currently working on possible WHOIS successor protocols and services. ICANN recently adopted a new 2013 RAA that included many amendments to deal with WHOIS data, including validation and verification of certain WHOIS elements, service level agreements for WHOIS availability, circumstances requiring registration cancellation for false WHOIS data, and a verification process registrars might be required to undertake after receiving report of false WHOIS data. In addition, an Interim Specification was adopted defining policies for Privacy and Proxy services offered by Registrars and their affiliates – services currently used by some domain name registrants to avoid publishing their own contact information and/or identity in WHOIS data.
At the request of the GNSO Council, ICANN has initiated a series of WHOIS studies. These studies resulted from lengthy policy debate about recommending certain improvements to WHOIS. The GNSO Council recommended that ICANN initiate a series of fact-based studies of WHOIS to provide a foundation for further policy-making. For the latest developments on these WHOIS Studies, please see http://gnso.icann.org/en/group-activities/other/whois/studies.
WHOIS studies now underway were selected by the Council as topical areas that would benefit the most from thorough data gathering and analysis prior to further policy development. Currently-approved WHOIS studies include:
WHOIS Misuse: This study examines the extent to which public WHOIS data is misused to address harmful communications such a phishing or identity theft.
WHOIS Registrant Identification: This study uses WHOIS data and content associated with domain names to classify entities that register gTLD domain names, including natural persons, legal persons, and Privacy and Proxy service providers.
WHOIS Privacy and Proxy Services Abuse: This study examines the extent to which gTLD domain names used to conduct alleged illegal or harmful Internet activities are registered via Privacy or Proxy services to obscure the perpetrator's identity.
WHOIS Privacy and Proxy Relay and Reveal: A survey is underway to assess the feasibility of conducting an in-depth study into communication Relay and identity Reveal requests sent for gTLD domain names registered using Proxy and Privacy services.
It is hoped that results from these WHOIS studies will provide current, factual data to inform future community discussions regarding WHOIS policy.
The WHOIS Data Reminder Policy or WDRP is a consensus policy adopted by ICANN, which requires domain name registrants to review the contact information associated with their domain names and make corrections when necessary. As a part of this, domain name registrars are required to formally remind their customers once a year to review and update their contact information. See here for detailed information about the adoption of the WDRP.
The purpose of the WDRP notice is to remind domain name registrants of their obligation to update contact information on file for their domain names. Although you should always be wary of phishing messages and other fraudulent emails, a legitimate WDRP notice email serves an important purpose. For suggestions to avoid phishing scams, visit OnGuardOnline.gov.
ICANN oversees the domain name system, but it does not send out WDRP notices. WDRP notices are sent by domain name registrars or resellers in order to comply with an ICANN policy. Although some registrars or resellers might send out messages from an "icann@" email account, these messages do not come from ICANN. ICANN requires domain name registrars to send WDRP notices to registrants in order to ensure that WHOIS records are maintained accurately.
Your registrar maintains a public database of contact information for all of the domain names it maintains. This database is known as a WHOIS database, and it is available to be searched by members of the public in order to allow rapid resolution of technical problems and to permit enforcement of consumer protection, trademark, and other laws. Your domain name registration agreement with your registrar requires that you keep this information accurate and current.
When sending WDRP notices, registrars are required to remind their customers that the provision of false WHOIS information can be grounds for cancellation of a domain name registration. If your information is correct, your domain name will not be cancelled and you do not need to take any action.
Registrars are required to send annual WDRP notices to all registrants of gTLD domain names (such as .COM, .ORG, .INFO, etc.). If you received one of these notices, it does not mean that someone complained about your site or your domain name. Although your registrar might contact you if it receives a complaint about your domain name, this would not be in the form of a WDRP notice.
Because ICANN does not maintain WHOIS data, you will need to contact your registrar or reseller to update your contact information. If you lost your password or user name, only your registrar or reseller will be able to assist you.
The person or organization listed as the registrant of the domain name can make changes to the WHOIS data, including changes to the administrative contact. Contact your registrar or reseller to make the necessary changes.
To locate your registrar, visit Internic's WHOIS to perform a WHOIS lookup for your domain name. The results of the lookup will display the name and web address of your registrar. If you registered your domain name through a reseller and do not know how to contact the reseller, the registrar for your name should be able to help you.
There are several reasons why you might not recognize the name of your registrar. If you registered your domain name through a reseller instead of directly with the registrar, the reseller's name might not appear on the WHOIS record. You should contact the company or person used to register your domain name to see if your registrar is correct. It is also possible that your registrar's name may have changed since you registered the domain name. You should contact your registrar or ICANN (email@example.com) to determine if there has been a name change. If you believe your domain name was transferred to another registrar without your permission, you should contact your original registrar or reseller for assistance. If you continue to have questions about the transfer of your domain name, please visit ICANN's About Domain Name Transfer to a Different Registrar page for further assistance.
No. ICANN does not maintain WHOIS records. We will gladly help you locate your registrar, but we cannot change your WHOIS information.
To locate your registrar, visit http://www.internic.net/whois.html to perform a WHOIS lookup on your domain name. The results of the lookup will display the name and web address of your registrar. If you registered your domain name through a reseller and do not know how to contact the reseller, the registrar for your name should be able to help you.
You should contact your registrar or the sender of the email message for more information.
WHOIS data refers to the information that registrants provide and registrars make publicly available through the WHOIS service. This information includes the following data elements to be available in response to a query: Name, names of the primary nameserver and secondary nameserver(s) for the registered name; the identity of registrar, the original creation and expiration dates of the registration; the name and postal address of the registered name holder, the name, postal address, e-mail address, voice telephone number and (where available) fax number of the technical and administrative contacts for the registered name.
The WHOIS service includes WHOIS clients, WHOIS servers, WHOIS data stores, and WHOIS data (domain name registration records). The WHOIS service is not a single centrally-managed data store. Rather, registration data is held in disparate locations and administered by multiple parties that conform to ICANN's standards and conventions for WHOIS service when applicable. For example, Registrars store and provide free, publicly available WHOIS data for the gtld registrations they sponsor that is accessed through a Port 43 service and a web-based service. Registries also provide WHOIS data for registrations in their gTLDs through a Port 43 service and a web-based service. In addition third parties may offer aggregated WHOIS services, sometimes for a fee, that may provide additional functionality and value added services.
When people refer to WHOIS, they may mean several different things. Some mean the WHOIS protocol that specifies the network exchange between a WHOIS client and server, whereas others refer to a perceived or conceptual WHOIS database that registries or registrars support, or to the WHOIS data that registrants provide and ICANN accredited registrars are obliged to make public according to the terms of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA).
WHOIS allows you to look up the name and contact information of whoever operates any website's generic domain name. As part of the registration process, you must provide your registrar with accurate and reliable contact details and promptly correct and update these details as necessary. The willful provision of inaccurate or unreliable information, or a willful failure to update information provided to a registrar, can be the basis for cancelling your registration and the loss of any right to use the domain name. The registrar that you select will ask you to provide contact and technical information, some of which is required by ICANN. The registrar will keep records of the contact information and submit certain technical and contact information to the entity, known as the registry, which maintains the central directory for that TLD. Each top-level domain has only one authoritative registry, which provides other computers on the Internet with the information necessary to send you email or to find your website. The Public Interest Registry, for example, operates the .ORG registry. As part of the registration process, you will be required to enter into a contract with the registrar that you or the reseller has selected. That contract sets forth the terms under which your registration is accepted and will be maintained. Once you have successfully completed the registration process, you become the registrant of your new domain name.
Registries satisfy their WHOIS obligations using different delivery services depending upon their contract terms. The two common models are often characterized as “thin” and “thick” WHOIS registries. A thin registry only includes technical data sufficient to identify the sponsoring registrar, status of the registration, and creation and expiration dates for each registration in its WHOIS data store. .COM and .NET are examples of thin registries. Thick registries maintain the registrant’s contact information and designated administrative and technical contact information, in addition to the sponsoring registrar and registration status information supplied by a thin registry. .INFO and .BIZ are examples of thick registries.
Currently, IDN guidelines are sufficient for recording and displaying domain names; however, no standards or conventions currently exist that would make WHOIS service more accessible to users whose local languages cannot be represented in USASCII7.
Given growing concerns about identity theft and other criminal activity, many people are concerned about making their personal data publicly available on the Internet. One option for registrants is to use a valid postal and email address from their business or place of employment. Another is to use privacy protection or proxy services, sometimes for an additional fee. Some registrars make these services available through a third-party proxy service that allows you to provide the required contact information to your registrar, and the proxy service becomes the registrant of record. Usually the proxy service can disclose personal data to respond to requests from law enforcement or conflicts related to infringements on legal rights of others or when presented with evidence of actionable harm.
Another option is to register through an intermediary, such as an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or webhosting company, which then becomes the registrant of record.
WHOIS is available to serve the needs of different stakeholders such as registrants, law enforcement agents, intellectual property and trademark owners, businesses and individual users. In addition to accessing domain information related to generic domain names, a similar service (also referred to as WHOIS) is used to access other resources such as autonomous system (AS) numbers, IP addresses, and domain name contact data for country code domain names (ccTLDs).
WHOIS is indispensable to the smooth operation of the DNS and is used for many legitimate purposes, including:
- To determine whether or not a given domain is available.
- To contact network administrators for resolution of technical matters related to networks associated with a domain name (e.g., DNS or routing matter, origin and path analysis of DoS and other network-based attacks).
- To diagnose registration difficulties. WHOIS queries provide information that is often useful in resolving a registration ownership issue, such as the creation and expiration dates and the identity of the registrar.
- To contact web administrators for resolution of technical matters associated with a domain name.
- To obtain the real world identity, business location and contact information of an online merchant or business, or generally, any organization that has an online presence.
- To associate a company, organization, or individual with a domain name, and to identify the party that is operating a web or other publicly accessible service using a domain name, for commercial or other purposes.
- To contact a domain name registrant for the purpose of discussing and negotiating a secondary market transaction related to a registered domain name.
- To notify a domain name registrant of the registrant's obligation to maintain accurate registration information.
- To contact a domain name registrant on matters related to the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights.
- To establish or look into an identity in cyberspace, and as part of an incident response following an Internet or computer attack. (Security professionals and law enforcement agents use WHOIS to identify points of contact for a domain name.)
- To gather investigative leads (i.e., to identify parties from whom additional information might be obtained). Law enforcement agents use WHOIS to find email addresses and attempt to identify the location of an alleged perpetrator of a crime involving fraud.
- To investigate spam, law enforcement agents look to the WHOIS database to collect information on the website advertised in the spam.
The WHOIS Policy Review Team was set up to meet requirements of the Affirmation of Commitments (AOC) that ICANN enforce its existing policy relating to WHOIS. The policy requires ICANN to organize a review of WHOIS policy and its implementation to assess the extent to which WHOIS policy is effective and its implementation meets the legitimate needs of law enforcement and promotes consumer trust. The first WHOIS Review Team concluded its work in 2012, and its recommendations influenced the ICANN Board's resolution in November 2012, to initiate a series of reforms related to WHOIS.
The Policy Review Team was set up to meet requirements of the AOC that ICANN enforce its existing policy relating to WHOIS. The policy requires ICANN to organize a review of WHOIS policy and its implementation to assess the extent to which WHOIS policy is effective and its implementation meets the legitimate needs of law enforcement and promotes consumer trust.
ICANN's WHOIS policy has been updated from time to time through contract changes and policy development activities that originate through a bottom-up, transparent process involving all necessary constituencies and stakeholders in the Internet Community.
ICANN policy begins its development in the applicable Supporting Organizations and Advisory Committees, such as the GNSO for changes affecting generic domain names . The recognition that a policy is needed may arise from anywhere in the Internet community, the international ICANN Supporting Organizations and Committees (such as the Regional Internet Registries (through the ASO), the GNSO, the ALAC or the GAC), or the Country Code Managers (ccTLDs). ICANN is in the midst of evolving the WHOIS policy for generic domain names in response to the recommendations made by the WHOIS Policy Review Team formed under the Affirmation of Commitments. These future improvements include initiating a series of GNSO policy development processes (PDP) to evaluate the policy implications of privacy and proxy services, issues related to the translation or transliteration of WHOIS data, and whether to require all registries to offer "thick" or full WHOIS contact data. In addition, the ICANN Board has convened a group of experts(EWG) to evaluate whether WHOIS should be replaced by an entirely new model of registration data directory services. The EWG work, once it concludes, is expected to be evaluated through a separate GNSO policy development process.
To update your own WHOIS information, please refer to your Registrar's website to learn of the options available, or contact them directly through email or telephone.
If you're not sure which Registrar you used:
- Conduct a WHOIS lookup on your domain
- The registrar's name will be included in the results
- Refer to the ICANN-accredited Registrar list to find contact information
ICANN does not require registries or registrants to break laws in order to address conflicts between the collection of WHOIS data by a registry or registrar and sovereign privacy laws and regulations. Registries or registrars that can demonstrate national laws prohibiting the collection or publication of personal data can seek a waiver from this requirement.