Update: This article explaining how to use whois search to was written in 2006 and has been updated with a photo illustration because it is one of the most popular articles on the site and continues to attract visitors 11 years after publication.
It wasn’t until my third client had called asking how to regain control of her domain name that I realized that it was a common problem for small business webmasters to forget where they had registered their domains. WHOIS my registrar? Why didn’t I get an email about renewal? Why did my site stop working today?
People rarely realize how important it is to keep their domain registrar notified of changes to their email address and and other contact information. The registrar will send renewal notifications to the email address last on file. For most domain owners, the only time they think about contacting a registrar is the day they reserve their domain name. If they move to a new city and get a new internet service provider, it doesn’t occur to them that the old email address will change and that meeans that the registrar can no longer contact them through the previous address, or phone or fax as each of them change and we rarely notify the controller of our domain of those changes.
Sometimes the first indication a business owner will have that there is a problem is the day their web site stops working. If they failed to notify their domain registrar of changed email address, they may never have received their domain renewal notice. Since many registrars honor a 30 day “redemption period” allowing expired domains to be redeemed, it may be possible to save the registration within 30 days following expiration by contacting registrars during 30 day domain redemption periods.
The following URL leads to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (AKA ICANN) discussing the grace period and redemption period rules it enforces.
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So how does a domain owner find out who their registrar is if they’ve forgotten? Simple WHOIS inquiries will tell you everything the registrar knows about your domain. Public WHOIS records show the owner’s contact email, street address, phone and fax numbers. But that’s not all, it also shows the current registrar, DNS servers, the creation and expiration dates of the domain name. Here is how to check your WHOIS data. Type the following into your browser address bar:
Replace google.com with your domain name and click go. If you just cut and paste as is, you’ll see the following information (Click to open the “Detailed WHOIS Response):
Domain Name: google.com
Registry Domain ID: 2138514_DOMAIN_COM-VRSN
Registrar WHOIS Server: whois.markmonitor.com
Registrar URL: https://www.markmonitor.com
Updated Date: 2018-02-21T10:45:07-0800
Creation Date: 1997-09-15T00:00:00-0700
Registrar Registration Expiration Date: 2020-09-13T21:00:00-0700
Registrar: MarkMonitor, Inc.
Registrar IANA ID: 292
Registrar Abuse Contact Email: email@example.com
Registrar Abuse Contact Phone: +1.2083895740
You’ll also see the domain servers, which usually includes the host name like so:
Domain servers in listed order:
This normally shows only two servers (Google is bigger than you.)
So now that you are armed with WHOIS data, you can see:
- Who the registrar is. (Hence WHOIS)
- Who the Domain Administrative, technical contacts are.
- Owner names, addresses, emails, phone and fax numbers.
- Domain creation, expiration and “last updated” dates.
- Domain servers and backup servers.
What do you do if your domain name shows expired and it has stopped working? Do that WHOIS search and contact the listed registrar at their customer support number. They’ll ask you to prove who you are by verifying some registration details. If you can’t remember access passwords to log in to domain management consoles, they’ll often accept faxed copies of your photo ID or a some standard identification proof and reset your username and password to give you access again.
Forgetting to notify your registrar is not the only way to lose control of
your domain. There are hundreds of stories of unethical hosting
companies, webmasters and even spouses (since divorced) holding
domain names in the name of a small business because the domain
owner was not web savvy and didn’t understand how important that
domain name signup day was. Keep your registrar name, your log in
username, password and domain management URL permanently recorded
somewhere with your most important business papers. Don’t allow
anyone to register your domain name for you if they don’t put YOUR
name, email address and phone numbers in “Administrative Contact”
position during registration.
Search the WHOIS database to see who your Registrar is on your business domain! Transfer your domain name to take advantage of our lower prices.
Some business owners confuse their web host with their internet service provider and further confuse both with the domain registrar. Since many ISP’s offer web space, or hosting, and also provide domain registration through their initial signup package, it’s not easy to separate the three distinctly different entities. You needn’t host with your internet service provider and they’re (almost) never your domain registrar. Keep them separate and completely apart in your mind.
- Internet service provider. (AT&T, Verizon, SBC Global.)
- Web hosting provider. (Pair Networks, Verio web hosts.)
- Domain Registrar. (GoDaddy, Register.com Yahoo Domains.)
When a client recently moved her hosting, she asked me how to make that happen
and had no idea how important the details were. We first established
a new hosting account, then determined new domain name servers, uploaded
her web files. we made sure that account was live with the new web
host, then contacted the domain REGISTRAR to change to the new domain
servers in a domain management console.
This same client had nearly told her old web host to close her account before we found out that the registrar had her old, previous email address as “Administrative contact” email for her domain name. It took two days to straighten that out and make corrections. Her site would have been down for two days if she had shut down her old hosting account as she had planned before speaking with me. She had a new hosting account set up, but failed to realize the importance of the registrar change to DNS server records in the moving scenario.
We then notified the previous host of the change, only AFTER the domain was resolving to the new host so that when the site was turned off at the old host, it was already working at the new host.
Don’t be caught by surprise! You can protect your domain name by registering it for the maximum time of ten years and extend it every year to that final, tenth year, rather than waiting for it to near expiration. This will prevent you losing control of the name, but shouldn’t mean you can forget your registrar login details or renewal date. How likely is it that you will move, or at least change internet service providers within that ten years? Be sure to keep your registrar apprised of new email, street address, phone numbers at all times! Especially that all important Administrative contact email. “WHOIS” your domain registrar? Do you have domain name management console login details? Have you extended your registration to ten years? Your business is worth careful domain name management.
Copyright August 31, 2006
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