The Internet is an amazing place where we can expand our knowledge – or – just look pictures of animals with funny captions, but have you ever wondered to yourself who owns that domain, who took the time to build that amazing website, see if a business is legit or maybe you just want to learn a new nerdy skill?
A domain name can be registered by anyone so long as its available and not registered to anyone else, and can be bought at anytime through hundreds, thousands or maybe millions of companies known as domain registrars. The job of a domain registrar is to take money and convert it into domain registrations as they are essentially the middle men between the domain registries (the top dogs of the domain world, the owners of the bit after the dot) and ourselves.
When a domain is registered, regardless of the registrar used, contact details will always need to be provided. These details form what’s known as the legal registrant and can be either a company or an individual who will legally own the name for however long it has been registered for.
That’s great but what next? Well here comes the juicy bit! All that information is kept in a global database known as the WHOIS database (pronounced “who is”) which is free to browse and will give an insight into any domain registration.
The following guide will show you step by step how to query the WHOIS database for free with no special software required. To keep things simple I will be using a website that I created which has a built in WHOIS tool.
- First things first we need to head to the WHOIS tool, click onto the following link or type it into your address bar directly: http://www.nerdtools.co.uk/whois/
- Once the website loads you’ll see a box where it asks you to enter a domain name, enter the domain which you would like to query and press Enter or the “Let’s do this! >” button
- After a few seconds you’ll be redirected to a new page that shows the domain details in a similar format to one shown below:
- As you can see from the screenshot above a lot of information is returned, so much that it doesn’t all fit on screen without scrolling but once you read through you will easily see who owns the domain, when it was registered, when it expires and other useful information
- In the example above you can see no “Registrant’s address” is returned, this is because its a .UK domain and Nominet (the registry behind all .UK domains) allow the address to be hidden for any non-trading individuals, but with domains such as .COM, .NET, .ORG the information will always be available
- Depending on the domain name things may look a little different to the one in the example
- Any changes to a domains details can take up to 24 hours to show so things may not always be accurate
- There are strict terms that need to be followed when it comes to using the information returned from a lookup and these can be found usually be found at the bottom – It’s not shown in the screenshot as it was so big, to see them click here and scroll down
- Sometimes registrars offer a privacy package that will hide the registrants contact information and replace it with the registrars instead, if you see a domain like this that’s trading as a business stay well away as it could be up to no good!