Internet and Copyright - DNS and Whois (session 2)

Our apologies for turning techie so soon, but in order for you to learn how to use some of our tools and techniques to track people on the Internet, you're going to have to become familiar with a few basic concepts.

Think of the Internet as the digital equivalent of a nation of roads, highways, streets, sidewalks and buildings. One of the obvious questions is: Where am I?

In order to answer a question like that, you need to have some sort of addressing scheme. It could be formal, like 123 Main Street, or it could be informal, like the third house from the corner on the left, just past the playground.

The Internet uses an addressing scheme that has two basic parts: a name and a number.

Domain name

Domain names are at the heart of the modern Internet. is a domain name. is a domain name. is a domain name.

The letters after the period in a domain name are known as the TLD's - top level domains. Like .com, .ca, .info, .de (Germany), .hk (Hong Kong), etc.

So the domain may give you a clue about the source of a copyright problem. (People in .no - Norway - can sign up for a free email address at .in - India - so it's hardly infallible. But it is a piece of the puzzle.)

Domain Name Registrar

The US Commerce Department is, at this point, ultimately responsible for the organizational structure of the Internet which is performs through an agency called Internic which, in turn, farms out the day-to-day operations to an organization called ICANN - The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (see the names and numbers connection again?)

ICANN sets the rules for the domain name registrars - these are the companies around the world that sell domain names to individuals, companies and in too many cases, anybody with a credit card, owned or stolen.

DNS (Dynamic Name Server)

This is a fancy name for a huge two column table and what computers do with it. In one column, the words (that's human territory) and in the other column, numbers. (That's the column that computers and network devices use.) These numbers are organized in what are called dotted quads: a series of four sets of digits separated by periods. From a computer's point of view, an address looks like this:

(That's actually a nerd joke. Nerds know that address as 'home'. So if you see a nerd wearing a t-shirt that says:

There's no place like

You may not find it funny, but at least you'll get it.)

So why a big table with names and numbers?

Here's an entry in the table for the Smartypants domain name:

Now which one do you think you're more likely to remember?

But a computer needs the numerical address (it's called an IP address - short for Internet Protocol) to find that 'location' on the Internet.

So a Dynamic Name Server is basically a gigantic Internet directory that knows that is at and that is half a world away at


That's pretty much what it sounds like. If you want to look up an IP address or a domain name (there are other uses - but we won't go into them here - this is just a note to keep the proofreading geeks off my case) - then use whois.

Unfortunately, there isn't just one - there are many of them. And their results are varied.

It helps to think of this as a pyramid - with ICANN near the very top of the food chain and the registrars and associated registrars in ever smaller slices towards the bottom.

For a .ca (Canada) domain, the best place to go is CIRA - the Canadian Internet Registration Authority It's essentially the national equivalent to ICANN. It approves registrars that can sell the .ca domain name.

Choose your language. When the next page loads in your browser, you'll see a box near the upper right-hand corner with a headline above it: Whois

Use this only for .ca addresses (,, and so on are fine...they're all part of the .ca family)

For the more common .com, .net, and .org, use Internic's whois:

You can search for the domain name information, the registrar information, or the nameserver information.

How it all works together First, let's recap the basics we've covered so far:

* Humans use names (like and computers use numbers (like * We need something like a phone book that matches up names and numbers * Whois lets us search through the table of names and numbers to find the right location of a web site, blog, online forum, etc. * There's a global registry of all this stuff

It's also built like an onion, and you often have to peel away one layer at a time to get to the source.

To create a presence on the Internet, you first need a domain name. You get that from a registrar - either directly or through a sales affiliate - and then you find a physical place to host your presence (mail server, web server). The nameservers will keep track of your name and, as they say, your number. The registrars are required to keep accurate contact information about their customers for the whois database. So you should, in theory, be able to search and find accurate contact information. Since the rules require it. But they're easily and often broken.

Next session - A sample whois trace

Cheers, George

Copyright 2006 Inc. - All Rights Reserved


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