WHOIS is a protocol that lets you look up the details about a domain name. It literally means “who is” the domain’s owner? It’s not well-known to most internet users but it has been around since 1988.
This protocol can be useful when you’re looking for information about a domain but it’s also important to understand it if you’re registering a domain yourself. Let’s dig into the question “What is WHOIS?”
Every computer connected to the internet gets assigned a unique IP (Internet Protocol) address. This includes the servers that host every website. But there is no way you would ever be able to find or remember these IP addresses.
Domain names are the “human-friendly” way of finding websites. When you type a domain name into the address bar of your web browser, your internet provider looks up that domain name to find the IP address it’s associated with.
When you register a domain name, you need to provide your contact information. The domain registrar stores this information and anyone can look it up using the WHOIS protocol.
There are several ways to look up WHOIS information for a domain name. If you’re using a Mac or a Unix-based system like Linux, you can run a command from the terminal:
This command will return the registration (WHOIS) information for the domain domain.com. This information will include the name and contact information for the domain owner, the name and contact information of the domain registrar, the dates of registration and last update, and the date it expires.
If you use Windows, the WHOIS command isn’t built into the system. Microsoft offers a free download that adds the whois command line to the Windows command line shell.
If you’re not that comfortable with using the command line, there are also quite a few online WHOIS tools such as ICANN’s WHOIS lookup.
As you can imagine, having this WHOIS information available is a bit of a double-edged sword. It can help if you’re trying to find the owner of a domain but it can also be a bit of a privacy risk if you register a domain yourself.
When the internet was created, there were only a handful of servers connected to it. Information about the domains and their owners were freely available to anyone who wanted it and nobody minded because it was such a small community.
As the internet became public and started to grow, the need to hide the registration details became obvious. Not every domain owner wants their personal or business information published for anyone to see.
Register.ie offers WHOIS privacy on every domain registered through us to solve this problem. This service works by using anonymous information in the domain’s WHOIS record so your personal or business information stays hidden. The email address shown in the WHOIS record will forward anything sent to it to your actual email address but nobody can see what it is.
This is important because one of the rules set out by ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is that the WHOIS information on every domain provides a way to contact that domain owner. If you use fake information in this record and ICANN ever identifies it as such, you’re at risk of losing control of your domain.
When you want to register a new domain, you can search for a name you’re interested in on the domain registrar’s website. For example, at Register.ie, you can search for your domain at the top of the main page.
This search will only tell you if the domain is available or not, however, not who owns it if it’s already taken. Using a WHOIS lookup, you’ll be able to get that information, assuming the owner isn’t using WHOIS privacy.
This information can be useful in a number of ways. If the domain isn’t active, you might be able to reach out to the owner and see if they have any interest in selling it to you. Or if it is being used, you could reach out to them to see if they would be interested in working together in some form or another.
WHOIS information can also be useful for doing market and competitive research. You can review the WHOIS data on your competitors’ websites to find all kinds of details such as several domains owned by the same company or surprising connections between different websites.
Many country-specific domain extensions have requirements that have to be met before you can register a domain. One of the most common is that you have to live or do business within the country that “owns” the extension.
Ireland’s .ie extension, for example, requires that you’re either located within the 32 counties of Ireland or you must be able to demonstrate a substantial connection with Ireland. This could in the form of invoices showing you do business with Ireland, brochures showing an intention to do business with Ireland, or a signed letter from someone like a banker or lawyer who can confirm you do business within the country.
You can see the full details of these requirements in our .ie Registration Guide.
This is useful to know when you’re reviewing the WHOIS information for a .ie domain. In most cases, the domain owner will clearly be located in Ireland but there can be cases where that isn’t the case. Once again, seeing a .ie domain owner from another part of the world may provide some useful data on your competition or potential partners.
Hopefully, this has given you a clearer idea of exactly what is WHOIS. The bottom line is that it’s part of the foundation of the internet. The information stored in every domain’s WHOIS record provides accountability and identification for the owner of that domain.
Knowing that information is out there and how to protect your privacy is important, especially if you are registering a domain for the first time. Once something gets posted on the internet, there will always be a record of it somewhere so take steps to keep anything you don’t want shared private from the start.
Register.ie can help with that. All our domains include WHOIS privacy so whether you’re registering a new .com domain, a .ie domain, or any of the other extensions we offer, your privacy will be protected. Get in touch with us today to find out how we can help.