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RWhois is Referral Whois, an application protocol for querying of distributed databases of Internet domain names, address allocations, and other directory information. In this regard it is similar to Whois, however, RWhois extends the concepts of Whois in a scalable, hierarchical fashion, potentially creating a system with a tree-like architecture analogous to that of the Domain Name System. Queries are deterministically routed to servers based on hierarchical labels, referring the client to the primary repository of information.

RWhois should not be confused with the feature of a Whois server to refer responses to another server, although RWhois has the same feature.

In the case of IP allocation queries with RWhois (or Whois), look-ups of IP address space is often limited to the larger CIDR blocks (i.e. /24, /22, /16 and such), because usually only the Regional Internet Registries (RIRs) and Domain Registrars run RWhois (or Whois) servers.

For example, finding out what specific customer of Sprint's owns a particular IP would normally require directly contacting Sprint and requesting the information. But if Sprint ran a RWhois server, a RWhois client could be used to look-up the specific IP and find out exactly which customer has a particular IP address assigned. RWhois is intended to be run by even smaller Local Internet Registries, to provided more granular information about IP address assignment.

RWhois is intended to replace Whois, providing an organized hierarchy of referral services where one could connect to any RWhois server, request a look-up and be automatically re-directed to the correct server(s). However, while the technical functionality is in place, adoption of the RWhois standard has been weak.

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