RFC 1914

Network Working Group                                       P. Faltstrom
Request for Comments: 1914              Bunyip Information Systems, Inc.
Category: Standards Track                                    R. Schoultz
                                                               C. Weider
                                        Bunyip Information Systems, Inc.
                                                           February 1996

                  How to Interact with a Whois++ Mesh

Status of this Memo

   This document specifies an Internet standards track protocol for the
   Internet community, and requests discussion and suggestions for
   improvements.  Please refer to the current edition of the "Internet
   Official Protocol Standards" (STD 1) for the standardization state
   and status of this protocol.  Distribution of this memo is unlimited.

1. Overview

   In the Whois++ architecture [Deutsch94],[Weider94], mesh traversal is
   done by the client, since each server 'refers' the client to the next
   appropriate server(s). The protocol is simple. The client opens a
   connection to a  server, sends a query, receives a reply, closes the
   connection, and after parsing the  response the client decides which
   server to contact next, if necessary.

   So, the client needs to have an algorithm to follow when it interacts
   with the Whois++ mesh so that referral loops can be detected, cost is
   minimised, and appropriate servers are rapidly and effectively

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RFC 1914          How to Interact with a Whois++ Mesh      February 1996

2. Basic functionality

   Each Whois++ client should be configured to automatically send
   queries to a specific Whois++ server. The deault Whois++ server can
   vary depending on which template is desired, and the location of the
   client with respect to the WHOIS++ index mesh,  but as a rule the
   server should be as local as possible.

                       / \
                      B   C
                     / \   \
           Z -----> D   E   F
                   / \
                  G   H

       Fig 1: The client Z is configured to first query server D

   After getting responses from a server, the client can act in several
   ways. If the number of hits is greater than zero, the response is
   just presented to the user. If the client gets one or many servers-
   to-ask answers, the client should be able to automatically resolve
   these pointers, i.e. query these servers in turn.

                       / \
                      B   C
                     / \   \
           Z <----- D   E   F
             \     / \
              --> G   H

   Fig 2: The client Z gets a "servers-to-ask G" response from D and
             therefore may automatically queries server G.

3. How to navigate in the mesh

   A client can use several different strategies when traversing or
   navigating around in the mesh. The automatic way of doing this is to
   just "expand the search" (described in 3.1) and a second method is to
   use the "Directory of Servers" (described in 3.2).

3.1. Expansion of searches

   If the number of hits is zero, or if the user in some way wants to
   expand the search, it is recommended for the client to issue a
   'polled-by' and 'polled-for' query to the server. The client can then
   repeat the original query to the new servers indicated.

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RFC 1914          How to Interact with a Whois++ Mesh      February 1996

                       / \
              /-----> B   C
             /       / \   \
           Z <----- D   E   F
                   / \
                  G   H

 Fig 3: The client Z gets a "polled-by B" response from D and therefore
                           queries server B.

   The client must always keep track of which servers it has queried
   because it must itself detect loops in the mesh by not querying the
   same server more than once.

                       / \
                   /- B   C
                  /  / \   \
           Z <---/  D   E   F
                   / \
                  G   H

  Fig 4: The client Z gets a "servers-to-ask D" response from B but Z
    does not query D because the server D has already been queried.

   So, the default expansion of a query by a client causes increasingly
   more comprenhensive index servers to be queried; the forward
   knowledge contained in the index server mesh allows rapid pruning of
   these larger trees.

   All loop detection and elimination is done in the client, rather than
   in the server mesh. This decision was made because loop detection and
   elimination are quite difficult to build into the mesh if we are to
   continue to allow each server to participate in multiple hierarchies
   within the mesh.

3.1.1. Optimising the mesh

   If organization A tends to use organization B's WHOIS++ server
   frequently, for example if A is cooperating in a project with B, A
   may wish to make B's server locally available by creating a local
   index server which retrieves the centroid for both organizations.
   When A's client then expands a query which is looking for someone at
   B, the client can much more rapidly resolve the query, as it does not
   have to find the top level servers for the tree to which A and B both

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RFC 1914          How to Interact with a Whois++ Mesh      February 1996

                       / \
                      B   C
                     / \   \
           Z        D   --> F
                   / \
                  G   H

           Fig 5: The server B gets a centroid from server F

                       / \
                      B   C
                     / \   \
           Z <----> D   --- F
                   / \
                  G   H

  Fig 6: The client queries server D, gets zero hits back, expands the
             search and gets a "polled-by B" response back.

                       / \
                 /--> B   C
                /    / \   \
           Z <-/    D   --- F
                   / \
                  G   H

    Fig 7: The client Z queries server B and gets "servers-to-ask F"
                             response back.

                       / \
                      B   C
                     / \   \
                    D   --- F <-----> Z
                   / \
                  G   H

       Fig 8: The client Z queries server F and gets the answer.

   The example given in Fig 5-8 shows that the algorithm works even
   though the Whois++ mesh is not a tree. There are many reasons why a
   given index server mesh might be 'short-circuited'. For example, in
   the case of a multinational company, the Swedish branch of Acme Inc.,
   is polled both by the national server in Sweden and the headquarters
   server in the USA. By querying the Swedish server, one finds all

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RFC 1914          How to Interact with a Whois++ Mesh      February 1996

   persons working at the Swedish branch of Acme Inc., but by querying
   the Acme Inc.  server in the USA, you will find all employees in the
   company, including those in Sweden.

   Note that the location of a server does not implicitly narrow the
   search, i.e. you have to specify all information when sending a query
   to a server. In the example above, one can see that by just querying
   a server for companies in the USA, you will not implicitly only get
   hits from records in the states, because the Acme Inc. server in the
   states has polled a server in Sweden. So, in this case you have to
   explicitly include "country=USA" in the query if you are only
   interested in those records.

   Although the WHOIS++ index service has been designed to make searches
   at any location in the index mesh quite effective and efficient,
   blindly expanding the query can incur an exponentially growing cost
   in resources, and, as charging for responses is implemented in parts
   of the WHOIS++ index service mesh, growing cost, automatic expansion
   is not recommended. More sophisticated clients  should also be
   configurable to "cut off" some servers from a search, i.e. a
   blacklist of servers. This might be needed when searching for records
   and one server might have a very high cost (in dollars) so one might
   want to explicitly forbid the client to send queries to that server.

3.1.2. The algorithm used by the client

   By following this algorithm a client finds all records in a mesh
   which the first Whois++ server queried belongs to.

   The algorithm for the client follows:

      Query := data to search for;
      QueriedServers := {};
      AnswerList := {};
      OriginalServers := { known servers to this client };
      while OriginalServers is not empty do:
            ServerList = OriginalServers;
            while ServerList is not empty do:
                  Server := ServerList[1];
                  if Server is not in QueriedServers then do:
                        send Query to Server;
                        Answer := answer from Server;
                        append ServersToAsk to ServerList;
                        remove Server from ServerList;
                        append Answers to AnswerList;
            if query should be expanded then do:

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RFC 1914          How to Interact with a Whois++ Mesh      February 1996

                  ServerList := OriginalServers;
                  OriginalServers := {};
                  while ServerList is not empty do:
                        Server := ServerList[1];
                        send Polled-For-Query to Server;
                        Answer := answer from Server;
                        append Answer to OriginalServers;
                        remove Server from ServerList;
      display AnswerList to user;

3.2. The Directory of Servers

   A second way of finding the correct server to query is to use a
   separate service we call the Directory of Servers. The Directory of
   Servers is a special Whois++ server which polls every Whois++ server
   for information about common information among the records on that
   perticular server.

3.2.1. How should a client use the Directory of Servers?

   A client that want to very quickly find what servers serves USER
   templates in Sweden, should do it this way:

   1) The hostname and portnumber of the directory of Servers have
      to be preconfigured in the current version of the protocol.

   2) Query the Directory of Servers for serverhandle records for
      country sweden. This gives information of all these servers.
      By presenting this information to the user the user should be
      able to start the search at some closer server.

   Note that we at this moment doesn't think this should be an autmatic
   process in the client. The Directory of Servers should be used for
   giving the user information about what Whois++ servers that exists.

   In the future a technique might have developed that makes it possible
   for a client to do this selection automatically depending on the
   query the user issues.

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RFC 1914          How to Interact with a Whois++ Mesh      February 1996

3.2.2. What does the serverhandle record look like?

   The attributes that must be in all serverhandle records are:

   Server-Handle: The handle for this server.
   Host-Name:     The (current) hostname of this server.
   Host-Port:     The (current) portnumber for this server.

   Part from that information, the record can include other attributes

   Admin-Name:        Patrik Faltstrom
   Admin-Email:       paf@bunyip.com
   Admin-Phone:       +1-514-875-8611
   Organization-Name: Bunyip Information Systems Inc.
   Description:       USER information
   Menu-Item:         World (Bunyip Information Systems inc)
   City:              Montreal
   State:             Quebec
   Country:           Canada
   (Other attributes that can identify all records on this server, for
   example domainname)

   The information in the Navigation record is intended to be presented
   to a user.

3.2.3. Example

   An example of how an interaction with the Directory of Servers is
   done follows. The characters '<' and '>' displays if it is the client
   ('<') or responding server ('>') which is responsible for the output:

> % 220-This is services.bunyip.com running Bunyip-Whois++: DIGGER 1.0.5
> % 220 Ready to go!
< template=serverhandle and bunyip
> % 200 Search is executing
>  HOST-NAME: services.bunyip.com
>  HOST-PORT: 63
>  ADMIN-NAME: Patrik Faltstrom
>  ADMIN-EMAIL: paf@bunyip.com
>  ORGANIZATION-NAME: Bunyip Information Systems Inc.
>  DESCRIPTION: USER information
>  DESCRIPTION: Directory of Servers
>  DESCRIPTION: Toplevel Index server in the world

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RFC 1914          How to Interact with a Whois++ Mesh      February 1996

>  MENU-ITEM: World (Bunyip Information Systems inc)
>  CITY: Montreal
>  COUNTRY: Canada
> # END
>  HOST-NAME: services.bunyip.com
>  HOST-PORT: 7778
>  ADMIN-NAME: Patrik Faltstrom
>  ADMIN-EMAIL: paf@bunyip.com
>  ORGANIZATION-NAME: Bunyip Information Systems Inc.
>  DESCRIPTION: USER information
>  MENU-ITEM: Bunyip Information Systems
>  CITY: Montreal
>  COUNTRY: Canada
> # END
> % 226 Transaction complete
> % 203 Bye, bye

4. Caching

   A client can cache all information it gets from a server for some
   time.  For example records, IP-addresses of Whois++ servers, the
   Directory of Services server etc.

   A client can itself choose for how long it should cache the

   The IP-address of the Directory of Services server might not change
   for a day or two, and neither might any other information.

4.1. Caching a Whois++ servers hostname

   An example of cached information that might change is the chached
   hostname, IP-address and portnumber which a client gets back in a
   servers-to-ask response. That information is cached in the server
   since the last poll, which might occurred several weeks ago.
   Therefore, when such a connection fails, the client should fall back
   to use the serverhandle insted, which means that it contacts the
   Directory of Services server and queries for a server with that
   serverhandle.  By doing this, the client should always get the last
   known hostname.

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RFC 1914          How to Interact with a Whois++ Mesh      February 1996

   An algorithm for this might be:

  response := servers-to-ask response from server A
  IP-address := find ip-address for response.hostname in DNS
  connect to ip-address at port response.portnumber
  if connection fails {
     connect to Directory of Services server
     query for host with serverhandle response.serverhandle
     response := response from Directory of Services server
     IP-address := find ip-address for response.hostname in DNS
     connect to ip-address at port response.portnumber
     if connection fails {
         exit with error message
   Query this new server

5. Security Considerations

   Security considerations when using the Whois++ protocol is described
   in [Deutsch94].

   A client should be able to have a "blacklist" of servers it should
   not query, because it might happen that fake Whois++ servers is put
   up on the net. When such a fake Whois++ servers is found, a user
   should be able to configure it's client to never query this server.

   Note that a client should be careful when expanding a query by either
   using normal expansion or using the directory of servers. A query
   might take a long time, so a user should be able to quit in the
   middle of such a transaction. This is though more a question of user
   interaction than a plain security issue.

6. References

   [Deutsch94]  Deutsch P., Schoultz R., Faltstrom P., and C. Weider,
                "Architecture of the Whois++ service", RFC 1835,
                August 1995.

   [Weider94]   Weider C., Fullton J., and S. Spero, "Architecture of
                the WHOIS++ Index Service", RFC 1913, February 1996.

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RFC 1914          How to Interact with a Whois++ Mesh      February 1996

7. Authors' Addresses

   Patrik Faltstrom
   310 St Catherine St West, Suite 300
   Montreal, Quebec

   EMail: paf@bunyip.com

   Rickard Schoultz
   KTHNOC, SUNET/NORDUnet/Ebone Operations Centre
   S-100 44  STOCKHOLM

   EMail: schoultz@sunet.se

   Chris Weider
   310 St Catherine St West, Suite 300
   Montreal, Quebec

   EMail: clw@bunyip.com

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