The internet is an enormously complex series of names, connections, and data transfers. Trillions of pieces of information are transferred between users around the world and even a delay of a few seconds could lead to massive problems. It is remarkable that the system works as well as it does on a second-by-second basis. Along with all of the users that help keep the system running, there are also several organizations that play an outsized role in keeping the internet together. The WHOIS database and the organization that runs it, ICANN, play a small but important role in the system that many internet users never notice.
What is the WHOIS database?
WHOIS is a database that helps with the registering of domain names and the use of domains. Domain names are the ways in which brands connect with individuals and the gateway that those individuals have onto the internet. They are a complex group of identifiers that also have to be logged and maintained for any reasonable transactions to occur. Many companies are only known by the public by their domain names and have staked their entire reputations on securing those names.
WHOIS is the official database where all of these domain names and signatures are registered. This database consists of every domain name in use on the World Wide Web. The database also contains and regulates the endings of web page names such as .com, .net, and .edu. In its earliest days, ICANN was the only organization that had any access to changing WHOIS. But in the 21st century in most instances, domain names are registered and transacted by a constellation of hosts.
When an individual wants to buy a domain name from a company like Godaddy, they check a WHOIS database download to see if that domain name is already being owned by another party. If it is, the company facilitates contact between the owner and the individual wanting to purchase that domain name. If the domain name is not already owned, an individual can purchase it and allow the intermediary company to register their ownership of the name in a WHOIS database download. Companies make money off of the fees they charge to maintain those domain names.
Who maintains this database?
WHOIS is maintained by ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigning Names and Numbers). This organization is a nonprofit that manages all of the domains in use around the world. It has a team of programmers and data professionals who help to ensure smooth domain name transactions and the privacy of individuals. A project this considerable could only be undertaken by a nonprofit as dedicated and determined as ICANN.
Whois Database and the Modern Economy
WHOIS is an entity at the heart of the internet. It is responsible for the brand maintenance and monetization possibilities that have made so much of the modern economy possible. While individual internet companies certainly come and go, there is a good chance that WHOIS and ICANN will be in existence as long as the internet remains a vital part of our lives.