Zen and the Art of the Internet

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Wide Area Information Servers (WAIS)
The WHOIS Database
The main WHOIS database is run at the Network Information Center
(NIC). The whois command will let you search a database of every
registered domain (e.g. mit.edu) and of registered users. It's
primarily used by system postmasters or listowners to find the Points
of Contact for a site, to let them know of a problem or contact them
for one reason or another.  You can also find out their postal
address. For example:
% whois mit.edu
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) MIT.EDU   
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT-DOM)                   MIT.EDU
Note that there are two entries for mit.edu; we'll go for the
% whois mit-dom
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT-DOM)
Cambridge, MA 02139
Domain Name: MIT.EDU
Administrative Contact, Technical Contact, Zone Contact:
Schiller, Jeffrey I.  (JIS)  JIS@MIT.EDU
(617) 253-8400
Record last updated on 22-Jun-88.
Domain servers in listed order:
To see this host record with registered users, repeat the command with
a star ('*') before the name; or, use '%' to show JUST the registered users.
Much better!  Now this information (sought, possibly, by a system
administrator) can be used to find out how to notify MIT of a security
issue or problem with connectivity.
Queries can be made for individuals as well; the following would yield
an entry for the author:
% whois brendan
Kehoe, Brendan (BK59)         brendan@cs.widener.edu
Widener University
Department of Computer Science
Kirkbride 219
P.O. Box 83 Widener University
Chester, PA 19013
Record last updated on 02-May-91.
Included is the author's name, his handle (a unique sequence of letters
and numbers), information on how to contact him, and the last time the record
was modified in any way.
Anyone can register with the whois database.  People who are
administrative or technical contacts for domains are registered
automatically when their domain applications are processed.  For
normal users, one must simply fill out a form from the NIC.  FTP to
nic.ddn.mil and get the file netinfo/user-template.txt. The completed
form should be mailed to registrar@nic.ddn.mil.
 Other Uses of WHOIS
Also, many educational sites run WHOIS servers of their own, to offer
information about people who may be currently on the staff or
attending the institution.  To specify a WHOIS server, many
implementations include some sort of option or qualifier---in VMS
under MultiNet, it's /HOST, in Unix -h.  To receive
information about using the Stanford server, one might use the command
whois -h stanford.edu help
A large list of systems offering WHOIS services is being maintained by
Matt Power of MIT (mhpower@stan.mit.edu).  It is available via
anonymous FTP from sipb.mit.edu, in the directory
pub/whois.  The file is named whois-servers.list.
The systems available include, but are certainly not limited to,
Syracuse University (syr.edu), New York University
(acfcluster.nyu.edu), the University of California at San Diego
(ucsd.edu), and Stanford University (stanford.edu).
``Fingers were made before forks.''
Jonathan Swift, Polite Conversation