Roadmap96: MAP25 - Address Searches and Finger | WebReference

Roadmap96: MAP25 - Address Searches and Finger


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"A man without an address is a vagabond; a man with two addresses is a libertine."
-- George Bernard Shaw

I have *SIX* addresses. What does that make me? (1)

This lesson is going to answer the question, "Can I use the Net to find someone's e-mail address?" The answer is a definite "maybe." Here is what I mean ...

My *main* e-mail address is


I also have my old VM e-mail account address (PCRISPE1@UA1VM.UA.EDU), an "errors-to" account address (CRISPEN@UA1VM.UA.EDU), a UNIX account address (PCRISPE1@UA1IX.UA.EDU), a Pegasus Mail address (PCRISPE1@SSS.CBA.UA.EDU), and I even have an address on America Online (CRISPEN@AOL.COM).

The *only* address that I use regularly, however, is CRISPEN@CAMPUS.MCI.NET

While I was writing the lesson plans for one of our earlier Gopher lessons, I logged on to my UNIX account (PCRISPE1@UA1IX.UA.EDU) just to brush up on some UNIX commands. I had not used my UNIX account in over two years (I personally dislike UNIX, and I try to avoid using it as much as is humanly possible). (2)

Sitting in my UNIX account's mailbox were three letters. Each letter was written by someone who said they found my address using an e-mail address search. One of the letters was SIX MONTHS old.

As you can see from the above story, e-mail address searches may not be 100% accurate. You may get a working e-mail address, but there is no guarantee that the address you get will be on a system the person that you want to talk to still uses.

The moral of my story is this: while it would be great if you could just type a few commands on your screen and get the e-mail address of anyone in the world, the *BEST* way to find someone's e-mail address is to call that person on the telephone and ASK them for it.

However, it would be cruel for me to tell you that it is possible for you to do an e-mail address search (however flawed such a search might be) and then not show you how to do one of these searches. :)

There are several different e-mail address search tools. I am going to show you one of them -- "WHOIS."

The "WHOIS" directory is one of the most popular e-mail search tools. The WHOIS directory provides names, e-mail and postal mail addresses and often phone numbers for people listed in it. To use it, TELNET to

(remember them?) No log-on is needed (you can also use WHOIS through Gopher -- check out the University of Minnesota's Gopher server in the "phone books" menu).

Once you have accessed the TELNET site, the quickest way to conduct a WHOIS address search is to type

     whois <name>

at the prompt, replacing <name> with the last name or organization name that you are looking for. (3)

Let's check-up on the President of the United States! I type

     whois Clinton

and the following appears on my screen:

Whois: whois clinton
Battersby, Clinton (CB882)          617-555-6230
Clinton Cadillac (NET-C106755)  C106755        
Clinton Central School (CCS1-DOM)                              CCS.EDU
%< snip snip snip %<

Bummer ... No "Bill."

However, I did get some neat information. Let's take a closer look at a couple of these entries.

The first entry

Battersby, Clinton (CB882)          617-555-6230

is for a user named "Clinton Battersby." The stuff in the parenthesis (the "CB882") is a special Net code that we can pretty much ignore. After that comes Clinton's e-mail address, followed by his phone number. (By the way, I edited the e-mail address and phone number in this example to protect Mr. Battersby's privacy).

The rest of the entries show the name of an organization or company in the left hand column and that organization's or company's machine address (either in IP or DNS format) in the right hand column. If this confuses you, just take a look at MAP04: E-mail for a longer explanation of IP and DNS addresses. :)

Let's keep looking for the President. I can use an e-mail address as a search keyword, so I type


and the following appears on my screen:

     No match for mailbox "PRESIDENT@WHITEHOUSE.GOV"

Gee ... that's odd. I *know* that "" is the correct e-mail address. What happened?

Well, to add to the problem of "inaccurate" addresses that we discussed a few minutes ago, most e-mail address databases are far from complete. Heck, this "WHOIS" directory does not even have an entry for *ME*!

Again, if you want to find someone's e-mail address, the best way to get it is to ASK that person for their address!!



Our dear friends at the Electronic Frontier Foundation tell us that

Finger is a handy little program which lets you find out more about people on the Net -- and lets you tell others on the Net more about yourself.

Finger uses the same concept as TELNET or FTP, but it works with only one file, called .plan (yes, with a period in front). This is a text file an Internet user creates with a text editor in his home directory. (If your local Internet Service Provider allows it), you can put your phone number in there, tell a little bit about yourself, or write almost anything at all. (3)

If your local Internet Service Provider allows you to use finger -- and a lot don't, for reasons we will soon see -- all you need to do to view someone else's plan is type

          finger <user@address>

replacing <user@address> with the e-mail address of the person that you want to finger. (You may also be able to finger a machine instead of a person by using the "finger <address>" command, but we'll talk about that in a minute.)

Let's try to finger a person. If I type


(my UNIX account address), the following appears on my screen:

     Login name: pcrispe1                In real life: Patrick Crispen
     Directory: /u/as/econ/pcrispe1      Shell: /bin/sh
     Not logged in.
     No Plan.

Boring! Let's try to finger something else that is a little more fun!

As I said earlier, you may be able to finger a machine by using the "finger <address>" command. For example, you might want to finger one of the following machines and see what you get:

     DNS Address                   IP Address
     -------------------           ----------       

Let's finger something else. I type


(by the way, that is the letter "l" not the number "1") and the following appears on my screen:

Login: coke                             Name: Drink Coke
Directory: /usr/coke                    Shell: /usr/local/bin/tcsh
Last login Tue Jul  9 15:22 (EDT) on ttyp1 from GS84.SP.CS.CMU.EDU
Mail came on Fri Jul 12 14:31, last read on Fri Jul 12 14:31
    M & M                   Coke Buttons
   /-----\           C: CC......................
   |?????|        C: C...........   D: ............
   |?????|        C: CC..........   D: C...........
   |?????|        C: C...........   D: C...........
   |?????|                          C: C...........
   \-----/                          S: C...........
      |        Key:
      |          0 = warm;  9 = 90% cold;  C = cold;  . = empty
      |          Beverages: C = Coke, D = Diet Coke, S = Sprite
      |          Leftmost soda/pop will be dispensed next
   ---^---       M&M status guessed.
                 Coke status heuristics fit data.
Status last updated Tue Jul 16 18:17:03 1996

Huh?? The story, as best as I can remember it, is that the people who worked at the Computer Science department at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh were sick and tired of having to go down several flights of stairs only to discover that their Coke machine was empty. So, they hooked the Coke machine up to the Internet.

Using a finger command, they could tell how many Cokes were in the machine, and they could even tell if the Cokes were cold or not (the M&M machine came later). The neat thing about this is that ANYONE with access to finger can finger the CMU Coke machine and discover how many Cokes there are in this one vending machine in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. :)

While this is certainly funny -- and there are a lot of other neat things that you can find using finger -- there is a problem. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education

Many college and university computer system administrators are responding to rising concerns over misuse of the Finger tool with modifications that restrict the information users can glean, and some have eliminated it altogether. Critics note the tool violates privacy -- it provides information about where people are logging on and when they're doing it -- and security -- crackers can use it to obtain information that can help them break into computer accounts ... (4)

Don't be shocked if you try to finger someone and it does not work. Also, if your site does not have a finger program, you can still finger someone by sending an e-mail letter to

with the command

          #finger <user@address>

in the SUBJECT LINE of your letter (NOTE: do *NOT* put the command in the body of your letter), replacing <user@address> with the e-mail address of the person that you want to finger.

You should receive a response about a day later.

You can also try to finger someone using TELNET (but I have *yet* to get this to work from here). If the person's address is user@site, TELNET to

<site> 79

replacing <site> with the site's address. Once connected, type the username.



(1) *BESIDES* a squirrel!!!

(2) This is a personal problem, and I promise to seek the necessary professional counseling that I need (so PLEASE don't write to me).

(3) Adapted from the "EFF's Guide to the Internet" and reprinted by permission.

(4) Chronicle of Higher Education 7/13/94 A15, as reprinted in Edupage 07.14.94

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Originally written by Patrick Douglas Crispen