ICANN working group seeks to kill WHOIS

An ICANN working group is seeking input on a replacement for the current WHOIS system for retrieving details of domain name registrations

An Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) working group is seeking public input on a successor to the current WHOIS system used to retrieve domain name information.

The Expert Working Group on gTLD Directory Services (EWG) has issued a report (PDF) that recommends a radical change from WHOIS. The working group, which had a clean-slate approach to a new domain name information, was formed "to help resolve the nearly decade-long deadlock within the ICANN community on how to replace the current WHOIS system, which is widely regarded as 'broken.'"

With the current system, client software can retrieve database records from a WHOIS server run by a registrar or registry that typically list details such as administrative and technical contact details for the owner of a domain name, name servers and details of the registration and expiry dates of a domain.

The EWG is proposing a shift to an "aggregated RDS [registration data service] (ARDS) model", whereby most access to domain name registration details would be provided from a central repository. This would mean that operators of WHOIS services would no longer have to provide port 43 access to the public (port 43 is generally used for WHOIS queries).

The copy of data associated with domain names housed in the ARDS would be non-authoritative: Authoritative data would be remain with global top-level domain registries, which would provide "frequent periodic updates" to the ARDS.

Access to the 'live' domain records maintained by gTLD registries would also be possible via the ARDS "upon request and subject to controls to deter overuse or abuse of this option".

"Requestors" – people who want to query the data maintained by ARDS – would have to apply for the right to access domain information.

The EWG's report said that the dramatic centralisation of access to domain information would offer advantages in terms of cutting down abuse, compliance with privacy regulations, and ability for the system to scale.

An ARDS would also offer better handling of more complex searches, make it easier to manage reports of inaccuracies in domain registration and "enable accreditation of requestors qualifying for special purposes (i.e., law enforcement)".

The ARDS would be run by a third-party provider contracted by ICANN.

The EWG also highlighted possible pitfalls of the ARDS approach including possible latency and the security issues posed by having a centralised store of domain data (including increased risk "of insider abuse and external attack").

The working group is currently seeking input on the proposed system.

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