Access to Internet domain databases to be simplified

Experts have recommended that access to the Internet's Whois service that allows users to look up ownership information on Internet domain names in the .com, org and .net TLDs (top-level domains) be made simpler.

Since Network Solutions Inc. lost its monopoly on registrations in these three TLDs two years ago, obtaining information about ownership of domain names has become more complicated. With the creation of multiple domain registrars to compete with Network Solutions, contact data on domain-name holders was broken up into separate databases maintained by each registrar.

Search functionality suffered; for example a search for all entries that reference a particular person is no longer possible, according to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which supervises the registries. Additionally the scattering of data added a step into the process of finding domain information. A user first has to find out via which registrar the domain was registered and then go to that company's Whois service to find technical and contact details for the domain.

To link up these disparate databases, ICANN's .com/.net/.org Whois Committee on Tuesday advised ICANN's staff to push domain registrars to provide replies to Whois queries in one standard format.

Although registrars are bound by the Registrar Accreditation Agreement to offer full Whois services, ICANN has found that implementing the provisions in the agreement "has presented significant problems." Most registrars only offer domain-name-lookup, instead of full Whois features.

Currently registrars use a wide variety of formats for Whois responses, according to ICANN. Although a standard format would not satisfy the "long-delayed goal of restoring full TLD (Top Level Domain) wide Whois service," it would make it easy for registrars to provide TLD-wide lookup capability.

ICANN's .com/.net/.org Whois Committee recommends "phasing in as expeditiously as possible a standard Whois format that does not rely on TCP port 43 (a way of connecting to servers to request information), such as XML (eXtensible Markup Language)."

Dropping TCP port 43 and moving to a standard XML format is great, said Dutch Web developer and frequent Whois user Wiebe Weikamp. "Now I have to program parsers to incorporate data from various Whois servers into Web sites. With one uniform format that will no longer be necessary," said Weikamp.

ICANN is still waiting for advice on other points from the .com/.net/.org Whois Committee.

This week the organization accredited 18 additional registrars for the .com, .net and .org domains, bringing the total to 179.

ICANN, in Marina del Rey, California, can be reached at +1-310-823-9358, or http://www.icann.org.

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