The purpose of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IEFT), as the name would suggest, is to engineer the technical architecture of the Internet; primarily the protocols within the Internet protocol suite. IEFT publishes it's work within Request for Comments (RFC) documents. The IEFT is currently a not-for-profit organisation that is a non-governmental organisation.
IEFT evolved out of the ARPA "Network Working Group": the NWG designed the first protocols of ARPANET (forerunner to the Internet) and IETF was created within the same context for the Internet. Steve Crocker was part of the NWG, Crocker invented the Request for Comments (RFC) document series and later became a leading member of the IEFT.
IEFT was founded on the 16th of January 1986, and was originally funded by the US federal government. In 1993, IEFT became an independent organisation with an international membership; and from (1993-present day (2014)) leadership of IEFT has been provided by the Internet Society. IEFT has a management relationship with the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG); and it's external relationships are overseen (2014) by the Internet Architecture Board (IAB).
Work carried out by the IETF is organised into one of two groups:
Each working group is formed to work on a specific task - usually related to security, applications, routing, operations, infrastructure, routing, and data transport - and is disbanded once the working group has achieved it's aim. Each working group has a chairman - known simple as the 'chair' - and once the working group's task has been completed: the 'chair' sits alongside members of the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) to review the group's final working submission.
The aims of the working groups are discussed at length by a discussion group - known as Birds of a Feather ("BoF") meetings. Working groups within the IEFT are 'made up' of volunteers - which number in the thousands - which can lead to issues of consensus on how problems/issues should be solved/evolved. Legal and finance (corporate) support is still provided by the Internet Society. The meetings of the discussion group are held between two or three times a year. The location of the meetings varies; but they are generally held in either North America or Europe.