There’s a lot of information stored on the domain level that is (without purchasing domain privacy protection) accessible to the public at large. And the service for looking up such information is generally called “whois” or “who is”. You can basically type in any iteration of that and a “whois” service usually comes up at that domain. My favorite is WhoIs.SC.
Who’s on First? So what…
Okay, you may be wondering why this weeks helpful article is about looking up details on domains and IPs. There are a bunch actually.
1) There are a number of clients and customers who I have come in contact with over the years that simply CANNOT remember ‘where’ their domain lives and what company they paid to lease it from. (Godaddy, Network Solutions, your brother’s uncle’s neighbor’s son’s college roommate?) One way to find out is to simply use a WHOIS service. Punch in the domain (www.whois.sc) and push enter. Viola. It will tell you the name of the registrant, when the domain was registered, when it expires, and best of all the physical address and the contact information for the registrant including email and phone number. Wow! In this first scenario, for those absentminded clients, they can use this service to backtrack where their domain ‘is’, so they can “gain access”. That’s usually why the conversation even starts. You have to be able to gain access to the account of your domain to point the name servers (among other things).
IF in this scenario, the WHOIS records are saying “privacy protected”, you can still at least contact that registrant through the protection service (even if its you). This will help you prove ownership at least. But for the love of God, dear readers, please remember where your domain “lives”. That’s like losing the key (no pink slip!) to your business.
2) Other reasons for looking up domain information is research. Take that any way you want. This research will tell you who owns what, what company owns what, and how to get up with those owners. Usually those business who don’t want to be found purchase domain privacy protection…but you’d be surprised how many don’t. And as stated above, you can still contact the owner/registrant of the domain through the protection service. Say if you want to buy the domain, or pitch a strategic partnership.
I guess I should state here that many WHOIS services have a PAID version, which lets you pull back the veil further and get even more information on the history of a domain or IP.
3) Speaking of IPs, a WHOIS service can help you do research on those as well. IP stands for Internet Protocol and is the numeric (machine) address of your website (or server, or data backbone, or switch, whatever. These articles are for starters, not the NSA.) So, an IP is an address (thus IP address). Domains are matched to a given IP (via the name server mentioned above) so when you punch in the domain you get the website served up. Now IPs are NOT permanent by default. They rove. Most users have a roving unique IP that lasts as long as their “call” across the Internet. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.
The only reason I bring up the distinction between a domain address and an IP address is on the level of the information you get from doing a WHOIS search of an IP. Since an IP is not STATIC or permanent like a domain, it can’t reveal user information like a domain address WHOIS search can. What an IP search can tell you is LOCATION (country, state, city/town) and whether or not that IP has been up to no good (blacklisted for example for sending out millions of tons of SPAM).
There were many occasions (from a advertising tracking standpoint) where I had to keep a close eye on activity stamped back to certain IPs. IP activity can be attributed to both humans and bots for example.
The Follow Through…
Here are some things I would recommend for fun, for research, and for working knowledge. First, go to www.whois.sc and do domain searches for all your company domains. Find out if you are the registrant, make sure the information is current, make not of the public or private nature of your information, and also make note of when your domains expire. You don’t want to lose them to a backorder do you?
Next, if you are NOT the company/owner that is the registrant of YOUR domain, chances are your web design, web development, or marketing company that you hired to build your website in the first place registered your domain in their own company account. Now, I’m not casting dispersions on any other contractor or company, but the bottom line is that you as the owner of your company should be the only one that has registered ownership of your domains. Period. Politely ask them to move it into your own account.
You may discover that this “domain ownership” was as stipulation of the fine print in your website contract, and that in fact you DON”T own your domain, but THEY do. That’s called domain hijacking. The right lawyer can get you out of that. But considering the fact that domain registration is under $20 a year and the standard lawyer is upwards of $200 an hour…well you do the math.
Also, to find out what your general IP is (at work…if you don’t have a Static or Dedicated IP which some companies have because of SSL and other security reasons) you can simply Google “What’s my IP?” (or just click on that helpful link). Google spits out your numeric IP right at the top of the organic search results for that search.