Quick info on WhoIs and Domain Names


WHOIS is a TCP-based query/response protocol which is widely used for querying a database in order to determine the owner of a domain name, an IP address, or an autonomous system number on the Internet. WHOIS lookups were traditionally made using a command line interface, but a number of simplified web-based tools now exist for looking up domain ownership details from different databases. Web-based WHOIS clients still rely on the WHOIS protocol to connect to a WHOIS server and do lookups, and command-line WHOIS clients are still quite widely used by system administrators.

The WHOIS system originated as a method that system administrators could use to look up information to contact other IP address or domain name administrators (almost like a "white pages"). The use of the data that is returned from query responses has evolved from those origins into a variety of uses, both altruistic (such as a Certificate Authority validating the registration for ecommerce https) and nefarious (such as bulk unsolicited email campaigns).

WHOIS has a sister protocol standard called RWhois.

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Overview on Domains

The most common types of domain names are hostnames that provide more memorable names to stand in for numeric IP addresses. They allow for any service to move to a different location in the topology of the Internet (or an intranet), which would then have a different IP address.

By allowing the use of unique alphabetical addresses instead of numeric ones, domain names allow Internet users to more easily find and communicate with web sites and other server-based services. The flexibility of the domain name system allows multiple IP addresses to be assigned to a single domain name, or multiple domain names to be assigned to a single IP address. This means that one server may have multiple roles (such as hosting multiple independent Web sites), or that one role can be spread among many servers. One IP address can also be assigned to several servers, as used in anycast and hijacked IP space.

Hostnames are restricted to the ASCII letters "a" through "z" (case-insensitive), the digits "0" through "9", and the hyphen, with some other restrictions. Registrars restrict the domains to valid hostnames, since, otherwise, they would be useless. The Internationalized domain name (IDN) system has been developed to bypass the restrictions on character allowances in hostnames, making it easier for users of non-English alphabets to use the Internet. The underscore character is frequently used to ensure that a domain name is not recognized as a hostname, for example with the use of SRV records, although some older systems, such as NetBIOS did allow it. Due to confusion and other reasons, domain names with underscores in them are sometimes used where hostnames are required.


The following example illustrates the difference between a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) and a domain name:

URL: http://www.example.net/index.html
Domain name: www.example.net
Registered domain name: example.net

As a general rule, the IP address and the server name are interchangeable. For most Internet services, the server will not have any way to know which was used. However, the explosion of interest in the Web means that there are far more Web sites than servers. To accommodate this, the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) specifies that the client tells the server which name is being used. This way, one server with one IP address can provide different sites for different domain names. This feature goes under the name virtual hosting and is commonly used by Web hosts.

For example, as referenced in RFC 2606 (Reserved Top Level DNS Names), the server at IP address handles all of the following sites:


When a request is made, the data corresponding to the hostname requested is served to the user.

Unconventional domain names

Due to the rarity of one-word dot-com domain names, many unconventional domain names, domain hacks, have been gaining popularity. They make use of the top-level domain as an integral part of the Web site's title. Two popular domain hack Web sites are del.icio.us and blo.gs, which spell out "delicious" and "blogs", respectively.

Unconventional domain names are also used to create unconventional email addresses. Non-working examples that spell 'James' are j@m.es and j@mes.com, which use the domain names m.es (of Spain's .es) and mes.com, respectively.

Commercial resale of domain names

The most expensive Internet domain name to date, according to Guinness World Records, is business.com which was resold in 1999 for $7.5 million, but this was $7.5 million in stock options, not in cash. The stock was later redeemed for $2 million, "So it was $2 million.". There are disputes about the high values of domain names claimed and the actual cash prices of many sales such Business.com. Another high-priced domain name, sex.com, was stolen from its rightful owner by means of a forged transfer instruction via fax. During the height of the dot-com era, the domain was earning millions of dollars per month in advertising revenue from the large influx of visitors that arrived daily. The sex.com sale may have never been final as the domain is still with the previous owner. Also, that sale was not just a domain but an income stream, a web site, a domain name with customers and advertisers, etc. Two long-running U.S. lawsuits resulted, one against the thief and one against the domain registrar VeriSign. In one of the cases, Kremen v. Network Solutions, the court found in favor of the plaintiff, leading to an unprecedented ruling that classified domain names as property, granting them the same legal protections. In 1999, Microsoft traded the name Bob.com with internet entrepreneur Bob Kerstein for the name Windows2000.com which was the name of their new operating system.

One of the reasons for the value of domain names is that even without advertising or marketing, they attract clients seeking services and products who simply type in the generic name. Furthermore, generic domain names such as movies.com or Books.com are extremely easy for potential customers to remember, increasing the probability that they become repeat customers or regular clients.

According to Guinness World Records and MSNBC, the most expensive domain name sales on record as of 2004 were: Business.com for $7.5 million in December 1999, AsSeenOnTv.com for $5.1 million in January 2000, Altavista.com for $3.3 million in August 1998, Wine.com for $2.9 million in September 1999, CreditCards.com for $2.75 million in July 2004, and Autos.com for $2.2 million in December 1999.

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