Lesson 5.4: Using WHOIS

Access Lesson 5.4 slides here


Just as you can get information about a site by looking through pages on the site itself, sometimes you need to find out information about the site as a whole. There are many techniques for doing this, but one to know about is called "WHOIS."

WHOIS is a large database of information about websites. It's held by the people who run the networks, and it allows you to get information about websites. Many providers give access to the information in WHOIS. Search for [whois] and choose whichever one you like—the amount of information may vary, so it makes sense to check out a few and pick one.

Figure: Results for the query [whois].


Enter the domain name into the WHOIS search box—it’s usually right at the top of a provider’s landing page. When you do a search for a company like, say, Zagat.com, you'll discover lots of relevant information.

Figure: Registration information for Zagat.com

shows Google.com is the Registrant owner.

Here for example, in this listing, you can see who actually is running the domain name server for it. In this example, you can see that Google.com is running the Zagat.com website--it tells you something about who owns Zagat.com. You can often figure out who the site administrator is,  what their contact information is, find other associated or affiliated sites that are also run by that same provider. After that, you can follow up with a search like [zagat google] to learn more about the relationship.

Figure: A search result for [zagat google] announces that Google acquired Zagat.

Thus you can use a free tool as a way of digging more deeply into the background of a site. This is really useful when you're trying to get into more sophisticated searches where it is important for to you to understand who is owned by whom, and who is doing what kind of work for what purpose.

Another way is to search with the company name and the term [contact]. So, [zagat.com contact], which can give you information on whether or not an entity is a business, where it's located, how to get in touch with it.

Figure: Search results for the query [zagat.com contact].

There are a ton of tools out there. WHOIS is one. Using regular Google search and using operators and filters like the site restriction operator are others. Another tool is to shape your query by including additional terms such as contact, information, or other words you can imagine seeing on a page for a site that would allow you to find information about that site.

Finally, do not forget to look at review sites, which will often comment on service providers and businesses that run markets or sales of some kind. There will often be reviews in accumulator sites, and they are easy to find using search terms like review.

 Try working on the next activity using one of the free WhoIs tools on the web.

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