Letter from Louis Touton to the Committee Requesting Advice on Implementation
(1 December 2000)

To the .com/.net/.org Whois committee:

First, let me thank each of you for agreeing to help on reviewing the various issues concerning implementation of the Whois requirements embodied in the current agreements with registrars for the .com, .net, and .org TLDs. 

I understand that in some respects your discussions of the current Whois service requirements have led the committee to conclude that some new approaches to providing Whois services (and some new policies) should be considered.  For example, I understand that you have been discussing some changes to the terms for access to Whois data that are embodied in the current agreements.  To the extent that the committee, or any other group of stakeholders, feels that some policy additions/changes should be considered, it is of course appropriate and helpful to the consensus-based process to make those views, and any supporting analysis, available to the Internet community.  I encourage the committee (or any of you individually) to prepare a detailed report on any policy extensions you feel are appropriate.  As stated at the committee's inception, the ICANN staff intends to refer any such report to the DNSO (and, if protocol matters are involved, the PSO) for consideration of whether policy changes or additions should be recommended.

The primary purpose of this committee, however, is to generate some advice on specific issues that have arisen in the implementation of existing Whois provision for registrars in the .com, .net, and .org TLDs.  To assist the committee in giving focused feedback on the staff's implementation of the existing agreements, I have prepared the following list of specific questions.  It would be very helpful to me if the committee would give its feedback to these questions in a separate document from any report you might prepare on policy additions/changes that should be considered.  This will make it easier to determine which portions of the committee's feedback are intended for use by the ICANN staff and which portions are appropriately referred to a supporting organization.

Background on Whois Provisions of Current Agreements

The principal agreement concerning Whois service in the .com, .net, and .org TLDs is the Registrar Accreditation Agreement. (The ICANN-NSI Registry Agreement covers registry-level Whois, but implementation of that has been more straightforward.) The portions of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement that pertain to Whois are:

Subsection II.F.1 - This subsection contains the basic requirement that registrars provide Whois service and lists the data elements that must be provided in response to queries.

Subsection II.F.2 - This subsection requires registrars to update their Whois databases promptly.

Subsection II.F.3 - This subsection covers subcontracting of Whois services.

Subsection II.F.4 - This subsection is concerned with registrars' obligations to provide Whois search functionality across all registrars within .com/.net/.org.

Subsection II.F.5 - This subsection governs the restrictions that registrars may place on use of Whois data.

Subsections II.F.6 and 7 - These subsections concern bulk access to registrant data, a non-Whois issue.

Subsection II.F.8 - This subsection concerns future, amended Whois policies.

Section II.H - In this section, registrars license Whois providers to distribute their data.

Subsection II.J.7(a), first paragraph - This paragraph provides that domain-name holders will provide accurate contact information and promptly update that information.

Subsection II.J.7(a), second paragraph - This paragraph states that domain-name holders will be responsive to Registrar efforts to correct contact data.

Subsection II.J.7(a), third paragraph - This paragraph provides for a form of anonymous registration.

Subsection II.J.8 - This subsection sets forth requirements for registrar efforts to keep Whois data accurate and up to date.

An overall goal of the Whois provisions of the Registrar Accreditation Agreements was to help restore the InterNIC Whois service that existed in .com, .net, and .org prior to the introduction of multiple registrars.  This service is described in Section 6.4 of RFC 1580 (FYI 0023).

With the advent of multiple, competitive registrars in .com, .net, and .org, contact data on domain-name holders was broken up into separate databases maintained by each sponsoring registrar.  As a result, searches that were previously possible (e.g., a search for all .com/.net/.org entries that reference a particular person) were no longer possible on a TLD-wide basis.  The approach of the agreements was to require, as an immediate measure, the provision of Whois service from each registrar's database (subsection II.F.1), and to provide a pathway toward restoration of a TLD-wide Whois capability.

Implementation Issues

Implementing this approach has presented significant problems.  With a few exceptions, most registrars have simply implemented a domain-name-lookup capability, rather than the full features of Whois described in RFC 1580.  These deficiencies have been aggravated by the differences in the format and other details implemented by registrars; these differences have made it difficult for registrars to provide even a consistent TLD-wide domain-name-lookup service.

To move toward achieving the goals of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement (or, as some would put it, fixing the now-broken Whois), it appears that efforts should be made to remedy these problems.  This effort, of course, should be done in a manner that minimizes the burdens on registrars, which are (quite properly) occupied with competing to meet the many facets of registration-market demand.

ICANN staff could benefit from the committee's views on the following implementation issues:

1.  Should registrars provide Whois replies in a standard format?  Currently, registrars use a wide variety of formats for Whois responses.  If a standard format were employed, it would simplify the efforts of registrars to provide a seamless, TLD-wide, domain-name-lookup capability.  While this would not satisfy the long-delayed goal of restoring full TLD-wide Whois service, it would at least ameliorate the delay in achieving that goal.

2.  If a standard format is to be encouraged, what should it be?

3.  If registrars provide supplementary data in response to Whois queries, how should it appear in the overall format?  (Some registrars, for example, provide an indication that the domain name is subject to a UDRP proceeding.)

4.  Should registrars be permitted to limit the number of queries from a particular site?  If so, what limit should apply? Subsection II.F.1 of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement appears to require free public access to port 43 Whois service "concerning all active SLD registrations," indicating that limitations on the number of queries are not contemplated.  The use of governors, however, can prevent inappropriate heavy loading of a registrar's Whois systems.  The ICANN staff would benefit from guidance as to the extent to which it should, as a matter of enforcement choice, permit use of governors.

5.  Are there some particular sources from which registrars should not be permitted to limit the number of queries?  Permitting registrars ungoverned access to each other's Whois services facilitates registrars in implementing TLD-wide domain-name-lookup service.  Should limitations on this access be permitted, even if governors are tolerated for other users?  Are there other sources of queries for which governors should not be permitted?

6.  Should .com/.net/.org registrars be permitted to limit the number of responses returned to a single query?  If so, what limit should apply?  Again, subsection II.F.1 of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement appears to require free public access to port 43 Whois service "concerning all active SLD registrations," indicating that limiting the number of responses was not envisioned.  Use of some limits, however, can prevent abusive use or overly burdensome use of the Whois service.

ICANN staff would benefit from guidance as to the extent to which it should, as a matter of enforcement of the .com/.net/.org agreements, require registrars to return all responses that satisfy a given query.

7.  Should the requirement for full (RFC 1580) Whois service, rather than merely domain-name-lookup service, be vigorously enforced?  Most registrars appear not to be in compliance with the requirement for true "Whois" service.  However, prior to implementation of the TLD-wide Whois service contemplated by subsection II.F.4, registrar-by-registrar Whois service appears to be of limited value.  Would it be better to avoid burdening registrars with a requirement for single-registrar Whois service, so that they can devote their energies toward implementaiton of a TLD-wide Whois service?

8.  The design of the SRS makes registrar records of host(nameserver) IP addresses authoritative only when the registrar is sponsoring the domain name containing the host.  In view of this, should registrars be required to provide nameserver IP addresses in response to Whois inquiries?  If so, what measures should registrars take to ensure data consistency?

9.  Should there be a standard definition of the role of technical and administrative contacts, as those terms are used in subsections II.F.1(h) and (i)?

10.  Should efforts be made to encourage better dissemination of information about the anonymous registration mechanism of subsection II.J.7(a), third paragraph?

11.  In view of the long delay in implementation of TLD-wide Whois capability, are there any steps that should be take to encourage registrars to begin testing possible technologies to meet this requirement?

The above questions may suggest to the committee other guidance that it might give on implementation of the Whois requirements; the ICANN staff would particularly welcome any additional guidance of this nature.

Best regards,

Louis Touton

(1 December 2000)

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