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Evolution of WHOIS Services to Provide Better Experience

15 December 2022

Access to generic top-level domain (gTLD) registration information is about to change for the better. New developments will assist Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)-accredited registrars and gTLD registries ("contracted parties") in fulfilling their ongoing obligations to provide access to nonpublic gTLD registration data, while improving the experience for contracted parties, data requestors, and other WHOIS users.

The ICANN community recognized the limitations of the WHOIS protocol and requested that the ICANN board direct ICANN organization (org) to develop and transition to a next-generation protocol for registration data more than 10 years ago. Registration Data Directory Services (RDDS), commonly known as "WHOIS Services," will continue to be provided by the contracted parties in accordance with ICANN consensus policies. The following three initiatives have reached major milestones recently and together form the basis of an improved WHOIS experience:

  1. The Public Comment on the proposed amendments to the base gTLD Registry Agreement (RA) and 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA), which specify operational requirements for providing RDDS via the Registration Data Access Protocol (RDAP), closed last month. The amendments were the culmination of a long standing commitment to the Internet community to improve the WHOIS system by replacing the WHOIS protocols with a better underlying technology, RDAP. This was based, in part, on advice from the Security and Stability Advisory Committee in SAC051. Bottom line: users will still have access to domain name registration data through the WHOIS system, but moving forward, it will be provided by the RDAP protocol, making it more secure and enabling additional functionality.
  2. ICANN's new Registration Data Policy is also another step closer to implementation as the Public Comment period for the draft policy came to a close on 5 December. The new Registration Data Consensus Policy was developed by the ICANN community to enable the contracted parties to comply with the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation and other applicable data protection laws, and to bring clarity to how each registration data element is handled. The new policy implements 34 policy recommendations from three ICANN board resolutions and revisions to 20 impacted policies and procedures, including an updated RDAP Profile.
  3. ICANN org is starting preparatory work in light of the board's anticipated January 2023 vote to move forward in implementing the new system to streamline the intake and routing of requests for access to nonpublic gTLD registration data. This follows a recommendation from the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) Council that ICANN org's implementation of this system would assist the ICANN board in its dialogue with the GNSO Council on the outstanding policy recommendations related to a System for Standardized Access/Disclosure. The system is based on the design presented in the WHOIS Disclosure System design paper, which was produced at the request of a GNSO Small Team advising the GNSO Council. The new system is a test case for usage; participation is voluntary for ICANN-accredited registrars. Internet users and registrars can expect a more streamlined and easier process for requesting and granting access to nonpublic data. ICANN org's implementation of this system will not supplant or undermine the bottom-up, consensus-based multistakeholder policy development process. ICANN org will closely work with the GNSO Small Team and the community, if implementation work begins.

Taken together, these developments should prepare the ICANN community for the evolution of accessing public gTLD registration data, as well as requesting access to nonpublic gTLD registration data held by registrars.


Theresa Swinehart

Theresa Swinehart

SVP, Global Domains & Strategy