Email FAQ


A question which appears frequently on the USENET is, "I know someone's name, and I think they might have an electronic mail address somewhere. How can I find it?"

There are many different techniques for doing this. Several of them are discussed below. Your best bet is to try the pertinent methods in this posting in the order in which they are listed (well, sort of; at the very least, please try all the pertinent methods which do not involve posting queries to before resorting to that).

I've listed "Direct contact" near the end of this list because, for some reason, people seem to be reluctant to call people on the telephone or write them a paper-mail letter asking what their E-mail address is, as long as there is even a remote chance that it might be found without asking. This attitude is somewhat counterproductive, since in most cases, it is much easier to get someone's E-mail address by asking them than it is by following the other methods outlined below. Furthermore, even if you do manage to find an E-mail address using one of the on-line methods described below, it is not guaranteed that the person at the other end of the line checks that address regularly or even that it is the correct address.

Therefore, if you do have a telephone number that isn't too expensive to call, or if you have a paper-mail address and aren't in too much of a hurry, you can probably save yourself a lot of trouble by skipping all of the on-line methods listed below and going directly to "Direct contact."

Avoid public distribution of individuals' addresses

It is considered rude to widely distribute (e.g., in a Usenet posting) a person's E-mail address without his prior consent, even if the address is publicly available using one of the techniques described below or some other technique.

It might seem that having one's E-mail address listed in a publicly accessible database is equivalent to distributing it, but this is not the case in practice, for three primary reasons:

* Some people may not be aware that their addresses are available for others to locate. For example, the majority of Usenet posters are unaware of the database of Usenet E-mail addresses mentioned below.

* When some effort is required to locate a person's address (e.g., using the techniques described below), only people who have a specific reason to send mail to him will go to the trouble. However, if the address is mentioned in a Usenet posting read by thousands of people, no effort is required to obtain it, and many more people will send him mail. Most people with E-mail addresses are not accustomed to receiving E-mail from strangers or large amounts of E-mail, and they may not be happy if they do.

* As unwanted E-mail becomes more common, people will start to remove their addresses from public databases, which means that it will become more difficult to find people's addresses for legitimate reasons.

In summary, if you want to advertise someone's E-mail address, get his permission before you do it. Besides, if you're going to advertise an address, it's a good idea to make sure it works first, and writing to it for permission is a good way to do that.

A note about the Internet Gopher

Many of the on-line methods for finding addresses documented below are easily accessible, with a consistent user interface, from the Internet Gopher burrow at the University of Minnesota. If you are on the Internet, you may want to try using Gopher to do your searching before going directly to any of the methods described below. Ask someone at your site to find out if Gopher clients are installed there. Or, to find out how to use it and/or install it yourself, see the comp.infosystems.gopher FAQ posting, a pointer to which is located at the end of this message.


College Email Addresses

The postings whose subjects start with "FAQ: College Email Addresses" in the newsgroup describe the account and E-mail address policies for graduate and undergraduate students at many universities and colleges. If you are looking for a university/college student, check those postings for the university or college in question and follow their instructions for finding out more.

If the postings have expired at your site or has not been posted recently, you can get a copy of them using the instructions below (in the "Useful USENET postings" section).

Inter-Network Mail Guide

If you know which network/service your target has an account on (e.g. CompuServe, Fidonet), then the "Inter-Network Mail Guide" posting in comp.mail.misc *may* be able to provide you with some help, although it probably will not be particularly helpful unless you have some sort of address to start with (a small number of networks use full names as addresses, and the posting mentions when this is the case, but it doesn't apply in very many cases).

See the instructions below for getting a copy of this posting if it isn't available in comp.mail.misc at your site.

Usenet-addresses server

If you think that your target may be on the USENET and may have posted a message to the USENET at some point in the past, you might be able to find his/her address in the USENET address database on the machine

To query the database, send an E-mail message to "" with "send usenet-addresses/name" in the body of the message. The "name" should be one or more space-separated words for which you want to search; since the search is fuzzy (i.e., all of the words you specify do not have to match), you should list all of the words you think might appear in the address, including (for example) first and last name, possible username, and possible components of the host name (e.g. "mit" for a person who you think is at MIT). The case and order of the words you list are ignored.

Note that multiple requests can appear (on separate lines) in mail to the mail server, but each request will be answered in a separate message.

In many cases, you will get a list of quite a few matching addresses, and you will have to go through it looking for ones that may be the one you're looking for. However, the mail server will return a maximum of only 40 matches.

Note that the usenet-addresses database is accessible via WAIS (in fact, the script that does mail server searches is actually just a front-end to a WAIS database) on two different hosts: and In both cases, the database is called "usenet-addresses" and is on port 210. Note that the version on rtfm is slightly more up-to-date with respect to the master address list than the version on cedar. If you don't know what WAIS is, then don't worry about this paragraph; if you're curious, see the "comp.infosystems.wais" newsgroup.

For more details about how to use the database, send the command "send usenet-addresses/help".

NIC.DDN.MIL 'whois' database

The "whois" database on NIC.DDN.MIL contains the addresses of many military personnel. It also used to contain the addresses of some administrators of non-military networks and of some "prominent net.personalities," but those have now been moved to the "whois" database on WHOIS.INTERNIC.NET. If your target is active on the Internet, he may be in one of these NICs' databases.

If your system has the "whois" program, you can use that to query a NIC database. If not, but you have Internet access, you can telnet to ( and run the command "whois" once you are logged in (help is available). Alternatively, you can issue a single command to the ( whois server by typing "telnet whois" ("telnet whois") in order to connect to it and then typing the command and hitting return; the "help" command will return several screens full of text, so if you need help, you should use a utility such as "tee" or "script" to capture the help message and save it for future reference. If you do not have Internet access, you can send mail to "" ("") to query the "whois" database; send a message with "help" in the body to find out more information.

Note, furthermore, that some sites run local "whois" databases to provide information about people inside their organizations. The only way to find out if your site runs such a database is to ask someone locally about it (see "Get more help locally" below), and the only way to find out about such databases at other sites (assuming, of course, that those databases are not mentioned in any of the other sources listed in this document) is to contact responsible individuals at those sites and ask (see "Finding a host name and asking someone there for help" below).

Other whois databases.

Quite a few other sites also run "whois" databases that can be connected to over the Internet using the whois protocol (using either the "whois" program or "telnet hostname whois" as described in the previous section). Some of those sites are listed here, and others are listed in a separate list, described in more detail below.

The Ohio State University runs a "whois" database (on the machine "") that has all of the faculty, staff, and students listed. It responds to "whois" queries in the normal fashion, or you can just send mail to and it will try to deliver e-mail if the person has registered an e-mail address. You can also telnet to and look-up a person. If you are unsure of the spelling this is a good way, as it does a soundex type search so exact matches are not necessary. No password is necessary.

RIPE (a cooperative group of several European Internet providers) runs a "whois" database, with RIPE information, on ""; it is a European counterpart to "".

Matt H. Power of MIT has compiled and maintains an extensive list of sites that run "whois" servers. The file can be retrieved via anonymous ftp from /pub/whois/whois-servers.list on [].

In addition to E-mail addresses for individuals, "whois" servers often also contain contact information about domains. For example, asking's server for information about "" would tell you to look up "mit-dom" in order to get information about MIT's domain, and doing that would give you contact information about the people responsible for administrating that domain, including the handles of those individuals, which you can then look up to get still more information about them.

Other directory services

There are several other directory services you may be able to use to search for your target.

Many Bitnet sites have name servers that can be queried in one way or another. To get a list of them with documentation, send a mail message to listserv@bitnic.bitnet (a.k.a with the command "send bitnet servers" in the body of the message.

The IBM Corporate Internet Gateway provides a directory of users (which I believe contains only IBM employees, although I'm not certain) that is available to anyone who can send E-mail to it. If your target works for IBM (or you suspect he/she does), then this might be useful to you.

To use it, send mail to "" with the command "whois lastname, firstname" in the subject or body of the message. If you are unsure of the spelling of the last name, use an asterisk (*) to indicate that the last name should be treated as a prefix, rather than a complete name. The first name is always treated as a prefix. For example, "whois Smith*, R" would return all people with a last name starting with "Smith" and a first name starting with "R", while "whois Smith, R" would return only those people with exactly the last name "Smith" and a first name starting with "R".

Users of the directory are limited to 25 name searches per day. Each name that results is counted as a separate name search. For example, a single "whois Smith, R" that found Rodger Smith, Robert Smith, and Reginald Smith would count as three name searches. Multiple requests may be made in a single note provided that the number of names found does not exceed the daily limit of 25.

Finding a host name and asking someone there for help

If you know the organization, company, or whatever at which your target's account is likely to be located, then you might be able to get your hands on the host name of a machine at that location. Once you've done that, you can usually write to someone responsible for E-mail support at the site and ask for help finding the address you are seeking.

There are three main sources from which you can get host names. The first is the NIC "whois" database, which contains site and organization information as well as information about individuals. For more information about using it, see above. Organization entries in the NIC database will usually list an administrative, technical and/or zone contact person, with his/her address, to whom you can write. You can also write to "postmaster" at almost any Internet host to get in touch with someone responsible for E-mail.

The second is a network directory published by the University of Texas. Although it hasn't been updated in a few years, it still provides a useful list of many site names. It is available for anonymous ftp from several different locations, including / on It is BIG, so you might not have room to store it locally, unless you ask someone in charge to set up some space for it. You should NOT transfer it to /tmp every time you need it, or something like that; that's a horrible waste of network bandwidth. Contact people are usually listed in the site entries in the net directory, but you might want to try "postmaster" first. This directory is superseded by the book "The user's directory of computer networks," whose bibliography information is provided in the "References" section below. Of course, you have to pay for the book, and you can't grep dead trees, but it's probably more up-to-date than the University of Texas directory.

The third is the UUCP maps in the comp.mail.maps newsgroup. See the posting "UUCP map for README" in that directory for more information. You can grep in the news spool or use your news reader's search facilities to search for a particular string (e.g. an organization name) in the comp.mail.maps postings. Each UUCP map entry lists the contact person for the entry. You can also search the UUCP maps by connecting to the "uumap" WAIS database on port 210 of For more information about WAIS, see above.

You can also search UUCP maps using the University of California at Berkeley's Netinfo service (which also supports other services, such as looking up IP addresses for hosts on the Internet). You connect to it at port 117 of, e.g. on some systems, "telnet 117". The "ufind", "ufile", "uhost" and "upath" commands are used to look up information in the UUCP maps. For more information about Netinfo, connect to it and type "?".

Once you've got a host name and the person to contact, you need to figure out how to get the mail there, if it's on a network you don't know how to reach. See the "Inter-Network Mail Guide" posting referenced above if you need help with that.

If you do go this route, make sure you provide as much information as you can about the person whose address you are seeking; remember that the more detailed (and polite!) you are, the more likely it is that the person you are contacting will be able to help you. Remember, too, that the person you are contacting is probably very busy, and responding to requests like yours is probably not one of his/her highest priorities, so be patient.

Using "finger"

If you've found a potential host name for your target using one of the other methods described here, and if you have direct access to the Internet, then you may be able to use the "finger" program/protocol to look up your target at a remote site. Many sites support finger servers that will do first-name, last-name and/or user-name searches through their user space. For example, the machine "" supports a directory of all staff and students at MIT; that directory can be searched using finger by last name or by user name, and other parameters can be used to restrict the search as well.

To finger someone at another site, you generally type "finger name@host". If this doesn't work for you, you should check with someone locally to find more more information about if it's possible to finger from your site, and if so, how to do it.


Netfind is a "white pages" service that allows you to query one service and have it search several other address databases of various sorts for addresses matching your query. It is a program for SunOS workstations and requires your computer to be directly connected to the Internet. The source code is available by anonymous FTP from, in pub/cs/distribs/netfind.

People without a Sun on which to run Netfind on can telnet to any of the following Netfind servers and log in as "netfind" (with no password):
AARNet, Melbourne, Australia
University of Colorado, Boulder
Nat. Council for Techn. & Scien. Research Venezuela
InterNIC Directory and DB Services, S. Plainfield, NJ
Technet Unit, Singapore
McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Catholic University of Chile, Santiago
Imperial College, London, England
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
OpenConnect Systems, Dallas, Texas
Liberec University of Technology, Czech Republic
Korea Network Information Center, Taejon, Korea
Academy of Sciences, Banska Bystrica, Slovakia
University of Alabama at Birmingham

There is a mailing list where new releases of netfind will be announced; you can subscribe by sending mail to

Netfind was developed by Mike Schwartz and Panos Tsirigotis .

Knowbot Information Service

The "Knowbot Information Service" (KIS) is another white pages service.

Two hosts running KIS servers are and Either can be reached on the Internet via telnet at port 185 (e.g. "telnet 185"), or via electronic mail ( or For more information about Knowbot, use the "man" command after connecting via telnet or in the body of your E-mail message. In addition,' KIS server can be reached using the Internet "whois" protocol described above.

Searching LISTSERV mailing lists

Many sites around the network are running the VM/CMS LISTSERV package for managing mailing lists. If you have some reason to believe that a particular user may be a member of a mailing list on a LISTSERV site, you can ask that LISTSERV to send you a membership list and search it for your target.

To do this, send mail to listserv@host (if "host" is a BITNET host, try using listserv@host.bitnet; if that doesn't work, you'll have to ask someone at your site how to send mail tol BITNET hosts). In the body of your message, include the command "review list-name", where "list-name" is the name of the mailing list you wish to search.

If you don't know what LISTSERV is and dont' know of any LISTSERV sites or mailing lists, then this technique probably isn't worth bothering with.

Direct contact

If you have a paper mail address or telephone number for your target, call them or write to them and ask for an E-mail address.

In that case, you might encounter the somewhat common situation where your target knows he has an E-mail address, but he doesn't know what it is. If this happens to you, then give him your E-mail address and ask him to send you mail (and if he can't figure out how, tell him to get someone at his site to help). The odds are that when you get his message, it'll contain a valid return address in it.

Get more help locally

Often, the postmaster at your site (or whomever is responsible at your site for answering mail-related questions) has a large amount of knowledge that will help him to help you find the answer to your question. If you have been unable to find the answer for yourself, check with people locally and see if one of them can help you out.

The last resort --

If all the methods above have failed, you can consider posting a message to asking for help locating your target. Before doing so, however, you should read the "Tips on using" posting in that newsgroup. If it has expired, you can get a copy using the instructions below (note that the name in the instructions below may change when a new version with a new date is posted, so you may need to ask for an index of the archive to find out the name of the most recent version).

Note that this is listed as THE last resort, to be tried even later than using a telephone number or paper mail address. Any posting to the USENET uses the resources of the sites on the USENET and of the networks that carry it; certainly, the total cost of transporting a USENET message is more than the cost of a stamp or a short phone call. Since the benefit gained is to you and not to the USENET as a whole, you should avoid posting if you possibly can.


If you want to learn more about computer networks and how they interact with each other, these books and articles might be interesting and useful to you:

!%@:: A Directory of Electronic Mail Addressing & Networks by Donnalyn Frey and Rick Adams ISBN 1-56592-031-7 (published by O'Reilly, E-mail (current edition published in August 1993; $24.95 cover price)

The Matrix: Computer Networks and Conferencing Systems Worldwide, by John S. Quarterman, Digital Press, Bedford, MA, 1990. $50. Digital order number EY-C176E-DP-SS, Digital Press ISBN 155558-033-5, Prentice-Hall ISBN 0-13-565607-9.

"Strategies for Finding People on Networks,'' by John S. Quarterman, Matrix News, Vol. 1, No. 6, pg. 3, Matrix Information and Directory Services, Austin, Texas, September 1991.

The user's directory of computer networks, ed. Tracy L. LaQuey, Digital Press, Bedford, MA, 1990. Digital order number EY-C200E-DP, ISBN 1-55558-047-5.

Zen and the Art of the Internet: A Beginner's Guide, by Brendan Kehoe, Prentice Hall, July 1992. ISBN 0-13-010778-6. (This is the second edition. The first edition is available for free on-line. Zen and the Art of the Internet: A Beginner's Guide)

Useful USENET Postings

Subject: Gopher (comp.infosystems.gopher) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Newsgroups: comp.infosystems.gopher,news.answers Subject: FAQ: College Email Addresses 1/3 [Monthly posting]
Subject: FAQ: College Email Addresses 2/3 [Monthly posting]
Subject: FAQ: College Email Addresses 3/3 [Monthly posting]

Subject: Updated Inter-Network Mail Guide
Newsgroups: comp.mail.misc,alt.bbs.lists,,comp.misc,comp.answers,alt.answers,news.answers

Subject: Tips on using [l.m. 13/09/92]

[Same as above -- check the archives for a newer version if this one isn't available.]

Available in the indicated USENET newsgroup(s), or via anonymous ftp from ( in the files:

Also available from by sending a mail message containing any or all of:
send usenet/news.answers/gopher-faq
send usenet/news.answers/mail/college-email/part1
send usenet/news.answers/mail/college-email/part2
send usenet/news.answers/mail/college-email/part3
send usenet/news.answers/mail/inter-network-guide
send usenet/[l.m._13_09_92]

Send a message containing "help" to get general information about the mail server.


Comments about, suggestions about or corrections to this posting are welcomed. If you would like to ask me to change this posting in some way, the method I appreciate most is for you to actually make the desired modifications to a copy of this FAQ and email it to me.