Internet Standards and the Request For Comment (RFC) Process
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The precursors of the modern Internet were diminutive networks developed and run by a small group of computer scientists and engineers. These technologists knew that developing open, widely-adopted standards would be essential to the eventual growth of the Internet and the TCP/IP protocol suite. But there was no formalized standards development mechanism back then.
Standardization was achieved largely through building consensus through discussion about new technologies and protocols. If someone had a proposal for a new protocol or technology, or an idea for a change to an existing one, that person would create a memorandum describing it and circulate it to others. Since the goal was to solicit comments on the proposal, these memos were called requests for comments (RFCs). Not all RFCs described formalized standards: many were just descriptive documents, clarifications or miscellaneous information.
Today, of course, the Internet is enormous and there is an official structure of Internet standards organizations that is responsible for creating new Internet and TCP/IP standards. Due to the many thousands of people who play an active role in developing Internet technologies, having an informal system where anyone could just write an RFC would lead to chaos. Thus, Internet and TCP/IP standards are still called RFCs, but the process of creating one is much more formal and organized today.
The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is the standards body that is most directly responsible for the creation of Internet standards. The IETFs working groups, overseen by the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) and the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), develop new protocols and technologies continuously, and these developments are formalized in RFCs.
The publishing of RFCs is handled by the office of the RFC Editor. From nearly thirty years, starting in 1969, the RFC Editor was Internet pioneer Jon Postel. After his death in 1998, the function was assigned to the Networking Division of the USC Information Sciences Institute (ISI), where Jon Postel was once director. The function of the RFC Editor is to publish and archive RFCs, and maintain an online repository of these documents so that they can accessed and used by the Internet community.
The open and free access to RFCs has greatly contributed to the Internets success. If you consider that even today there are standards bodies that charge thousands of dollars for access to a single standard, the ability to log on and immediately retrieve any of the thousands of RFCs is noteworthy.
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