If you’re poking around on someone’s website and you’re curious as to who may own the site or domain, but it’s impossible to tell – perhaps due to a sparse or even a non-existent “about” page – then WHOIS will help you get more information. Think of it as a directory inquiries service for the internet, allowing you to find out the details behind some of the biggest sites on the web. Some people block their information, but usually you can find out quite a bit, a great tool if you’re a company looking to advertise on a site but find yourselves unable to locate any contact details for the site’s owners or staff.
If you’re looking at a privately-owned domain, the details tend to include the name, physical address, phone number and email address of the registered owner. There are extra fields where the webmaster can provide additional information about the owner or the site – the details of the site administrator, for example – but this is completely optional and up to them, as the people behind the site, rather than you, the person seeking their personal information.
However, do bear in mind that if you’ve gone to the length of using a WHOIS query, the owner may not always want to hear from you, having just given their details as a general measure. It’s easier just to confirm information rather than to use it for professional purposes, although if the query is really very urgent and their site holds no details then you’re simply being resourceful, and they should normally understand.
It’s also a great way to negotiate for your ideal domain! If you’re after a certain domain name only to find out it’s been taken but not used, then WHOIS could help put you in contact with the owner and allow you to begin negotiations. Some people do use WHOIS blockers that prevent you from getting in touch with them via the contact details on the WHOIS query, but this is simply standard procedure for veteran webmasters who like keeping their contact details private.
The internet contains a huge digital phone-book, and WHOIS is just the nearest equivalent to ringing your operator, so it’s a great tool for tracking people down, helping law enforcement, curious would-be owners of a registered domain, improving online communication in general and helping conduct trademark clearances and fight against intellectual property infringement, the misuse or theft of content, and generally helping people know who’s behind any one particular site. An invaluable tool for the web-savvy.