The main WHOIS database is run at the Network Information Center (NIC). The `whois' command will let you search a database of every registered domain (e.g. `mit.edu') and of registered users. It's primarily used by system postmasters or listowners to find the Points of Contact for a site, to let them know of a problem or contact them for one reason or another. You can also find out their postal address. For example: invisible.xbm invisible.xbm
% whois mit.edu Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) MIT.EDU 22.214.171.124 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT-DOM) MIT.EDU
Note that there are two entries for `mit.edu'; we'll go for the second.
% whois mit-dom Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT-DOM) =>Mailing address Cambridge, MA 02139 Domain Name: MIT.EDU =>Domain name Administrative Contact, Technical Contact, Zone Contact: Schiller, Jeffrey I. (JIS) JIS@MIT.EDU (617) 253-8400 Record last updated on 22-Jun-88. =>Last change made to the record Domain servers in listed order: =>Systems that can tell you the Internet addresses for a site STRAWB.MIT.EDU 126.96.36.199 W20NS.MIT.EDU 188.8.131.52 BITSY.MIT.EDU 184.108.40.206 LITHIUM.LCS.MIT.EDU 220.127.116.11 To see this host record with registered users, repeat the command with a star ('*') before the name; or, use '%' to show JUST the registered users.
Much better! Now this information (sought, possibly, by a system administrator) can be used to find out how to notify MIT of a security issue or problem with connectivity.
Queries can be made for individuals as well; the following would yield an entry for the author:
% whois brendan Kehoe, Brendan (BK59) firstname.lastname@example.org Widener University Department of Computer Science Kirkbride 219 P.O. Box 83 Widener University Chester, PA 19013 (215)/499-4011 Record last updated on 02-May-91.
Included is the author's name, his handle (a unique sequence of letters and numbers), information on how to contact him, and the last time the record was modified in any way.
Anyone can register with the whois database. People who are
administrative or technical contacts for domains are registered
automatically when their domain applications are processed. For
normal users, one must simply fill out a form from the NIC. FTP to
Also, many educational sites run WHOIS servers of their own, to offer information about people who may be currently on the staff or attending the institution. To specify a WHOIS server, many implementations include some sort of option or qualifier--in VMS under MultiNet, it's `/HOST', in Unix `-h'. To receive information about using the Stanford server, one might use the command
whois -h stanford.edu help
A large list of systems offering WHOIS services is being maintained by
Matt Power of MIT (
The systems available include, but are certainly not limited to,
Syracuse University (
"Fingers were made before forks." Jonathan Swift, Polite Conversation
Copyright © 1998, Software Engineering Laboratory
National Technical University of Athens