For the last few years registries of both names and numbers have been rolling out new technologies. One of the areas that was long due an upgrade was the protocol for displaying registration data. For the past 30 or so years both names and numbers have used “whois” to tell you who a domain or IP address was linked to. Sure, it “worked”, but it was far from ideal. Every registry could choose how they wanted to display their data and all most of them were really doing was dumping out a bit of plain text onto a screen. Put another way, programmatically it was a mess.
Enter RDAP (Registration Data Access Protocol). An IETF standard, RDAP put some manners on the data so it could finally be somewhat consistent across registries and thus more useful when accessed or manipulated by software.
But for a multitude of historic reasons in the ICANN world both registries and registrars were still being obliged to run whois servers as well as RDAP ones, even though RDAP has been mandatory for the last couple of years. (This entire thing has taken more than a decade to implement – the ICANN Board accepted the concept back in 2011!)
Fixing this situation required a vote of all ICANN accredited registrars and registries, which concluded earlier this year. The vote result was in favour of sunsetting whois, as well as finally killing off fax numbers in registration data.
ICANN’s Board of Directors voted on the change earlier this week and now it’s just a matter of time before registries and registrars around the world will be able to finally shut down their whois servers.
This won’t happen overnight, but you can expect to see them going dark over the next 12 months or so once the official timeline is published.
Theoretically a registrar (or registry) could continue to operate a whois server in parallel to RDAP, but if they do so then it’ll be subject to the same service level requirements as their mandatory RDAP server. Essentially that means that most registrars and registries won’t take on that burden.
You can read the entire motion that the ICANN Board voted on alongside the detailed rationale and history of the process here if you’re really bored.
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