BOX 3.3
The Internet Engineering Task Force and Requests for Comments

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)1 is a voluntary, non-commercial organization comprising individuals concerned with the evolution of the architecture and operation of the Internet. It is open to anyone who wishes to participate and draws from a large international community. However, almost all its participants are technologists from universities, network infrastructure operators, and firms in related industries. Although the IETF holds three meetings each year at locations around the world, much of its work is conducted through the circulation of e-mail to electronic mailing lists. The IETF divides its activities among working groups, organized into areas that are managed by area directors (ADs). The ADs, in turn, are members of the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG). The Internet Architecture Board (IAB) provides general oversight on Internet architecture issues and adjudicates appeals that are unresolved by the IESG, but it is not actively involved in standards development or implementation. The Internet Society (ISOC) charters the IAB and IESG.2

Requests for comments (RFCs) were established in 1969 to document technical and organizational aspects of the Internet (originally the ARPANET). RFC memos discuss protocols, procedures, programs, concepts, and various other aspects of the Internet. The IETF defines the official specification documents of the Internet Protocol suite that are published as “standards-track” RFCs. RFCs must first be published as Internet-Drafts—a mechanism to provide authors with the ability to distribute and solicit comments on documents that may ultimately become RFCs. An Internet-Draft, which can be published by anyone, has a maximum life of 6 months, unless updated and assigned a new version number. The Internet-Drafts that are intended for progression onto the standards track, and some other documents at IESG discretion, are “last called,” which involves an announcement being sent out to the Internet community that the IESG wants input on the document. The Last Call is usually of a few weeks’ duration. Using input from it, the IESG makes a decision on further processing of the Internet-Draft. Such decisions might include rejection of the draft, publishing it as a standards-track document, or handling it in some other way. Documents that are considered valuable and permanent, including all standards-track documents, are then submitted to the RFC editor for publication as RFCs.3


For a full description, see Susan Harris, “The Tao of IETF—A Novice’s Guide to the Internet Engineering Task Force,” RFC 2160, August 2001, available at <>.


For more information on the evolving relationship between ISOC and IESG, see <>.


For details on this process, see Scott O. Bradner, “The Internet Standards Process, Revision 3,” RFC 2026, October 1996, available at <>. For background on RFCs and a searchable repository of RFCs, see <>.

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