Determining who the host of a .com or a .net Web site is easily one of the hardest parts of fighting plagiarism. It can require one to wade through a mess of networking tools and was even the subject of a video tutorial in November.
However, an up and coming service, first founded in August of 2007, called Who is Hosting This is looking to change that by making host location as easy as pushing a button and is earning a powerful reputation for effectiveness.
This holds a great deal of promise for non-technical users and the implications for fighting content theft are very large.
But does the service work and can it be relied on for consistent, accurate results? I decided to test and see how it handled a series of domains under my control.
How it Works
The idea behind Who is Hosting This (WIHT) is fairly simple. You take the domain you’re look for information on, punch it into the site and hit “Tell me”. The service, in turn, spits back a human-readable result providing with with the name and URL of the host.
Though the site doesn’t indicate how it determines who the host is, other than to say it uses “several methods” the FAQs seems to indicate that it bases much its determination on the IP address, which is similar to my method described in the video.
The site claims that its results are over 98% accurate and offers a form to report erroneous results.
There is little doubt that this is system is very easy to use. However, if it doesn’t live up to its accuracy standards, it goes from being a time saver to a time waster.
So the question then becomes, how accurate was it?
To test the service, I ran through it a series of about a dozen domains that I know the hosting provider of. Most of these domains were my own, many used as test accounts for experiments, and others were design projects I had been involved with.
The results, over all, were very good. Of the domains I tested, only one produced an obviously incorrect result. In that case the site, which was hosted with Verio, showed up with the results to the right.
The results in that case were especially strange since Domain Tools reported the site as being hosted on NTT, the parent company of Verio. The reason for this particular result is unclear and I have reported it to the site.
Other than that one strange result, the results were dead accurate. Though, as mentioned in the FAQ, the site regularly returned the name of the main host, not the reseller, that is a limitation that virtually any automated host checking system, including Domain Tools, is going to have.
For the most part, I was very impressed with the results.
The problem with WIHT, or any other similar system, is that the process of locating a Web hosts resists automation. Even the system I demonstrated, though seemingly more accurate, is not perfect in and of itself.
The more effort that spammers take to hide their hosting, the less these automated systems will work. Finding the host can be a complicated and difficult process even for the most experienced individuals and creating an automatic system that accurately detects the host 100% of the time is, unfortunately, impossible.
One has to decide if the time saved by using an automated system is worth the relative in accuracy of it. Fortunately, WIHT strikes a good balance for most users.
Though users very familiar with networking and locating the host will still likely prefer Domain Tools or even network-tools.com for their additional information and slightly more accurate results, regular users will certainly benefit from WIHT and the incredible simplicity it provides.
Finding the host of a domain is one part science, one part black magic and one part dumb luck. Though software and programs can make great strides in simplifying this process, without some serious changes to the structure of the Internet, it is unlikely that computers will be able to completely replace human experience.
With any automated system you use, you should do a “sanity check” on your results and make sure that it at least seems probably that the alleged host could be the company you’re looking for. If they can’t be, then do deeper searches or find someone to help you.
Fortunately though, most of the time, this site should return results that are more than accurate for your use. Even in the rare cases where it is not perfect, it will still point you in the right direction.
If you are uncomfortable with or inexperienced with using networking tools, you need to bookmark this site today. Better yet, use their bookmarklet or Firefox search plugin to simplify the process even more. You never know when it might come in handy.