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Last updated Oct 17, 2003.
Whois is what it sounds like: It's a program that tells you who is behind the site. Whois provides the name of the owner and contact of any registered domain name. It can also be used to find out the availability of a domain name. Even if you try to enter a domain name to see if it exists, a blank page won't necessarily mean it doesn't have an owner. Whois can confirm for sure whether or not someone owns it.
In the past, Whois was the best way to find out whether or not a domain name had been taken and who paid for it. Back then, Network Solutions (now a VeriSign company) was the only registrar. However, since ICANN opened domain registration to other companies, more domain name registrars have hit the scene and Whois has had trouble providing complete results because of its inability to keep up with them.
BetterWhoIs is one of many whois resources for finding and contacting Web sites and seeing what names have been taken and for how long. If you own several domain names, check your Web sites' information to verify when the registrations expire to avoid a cybersquatter from purchasing it and selling it for top dollar.
If you can't find out who's behind a site, it may be because the owner purchased a privacy option from the registrar to prevent his or her name and contact information from being shared with resources like Whois. When site owners pay for this type of privacy, instead of seeing the site owner's name and contact info, you'll get contact information for the registrar. Although this offers privacy to site owners, which is especially useful for those running large organizations and publishing personal Web sites, it also makes it difficult for users to determine if the Web site in question is legit.