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Jon Postel

Last Edit: 10/01/17

Jonathan Bruce Postel, who preferred to be known, simple, as Jon Postel, was a computer scientist and pioneer of the Internet. Postel had been a 'leading light' in developing, maintaining and governing the architecture of the Internet. He is chiefly acknowledged for his editorship of the Request for Comment (RFC) document system; he was an RFC editor from 1969 to his death in 1998. RFC documents handle the technical development and standards of Internet architecture and technology. Postel did not only edit RFC documents, he also authored and co-authored hundreds of RFC documents.

Jon Postel founded and worked for the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA); which is now a department of ICANN, and manages the root zone of the Domain Name System. Postel's influence within RFC and IANA meant that he had a unique influence over how the Internet would evolve. To celebrate Postel's contribution to the Internet, Vint Cerf (co-inventor of TCP/IP) wrote an obituary in 1998: suitable wrote as a RFC document (2468) the obituary was titled "I REMEMBER IANA" and included the following epithet "We will survive our loss and we will remember. He has left a monumental legacy for all Internauts to contemplate".

Postel was an American citizen, born on the 6th of August, 1943. Postel studied for a degree at UCLA in the 1960's, and studied for a ph.D (in computer science) at UCLA in the early 1970's. As fate would have it, in the early 1970's ARPANET (forerunner to the Internet) was being created, and would become one of the earliest computer networks to feature packet switching. UCLA would become the first node (location) to connect to ARPANET, and Postel helped to install the first IMP for the UCLA node. Before long, Postel was responsible for maintaining the numerical addresses of ARPANET (Assigned Numbers List) and eventually would co-found IANA which would continue the role of maintaining and assigning Internet numbers. Postel played a crucial role in the development of the Domain Name System and the process of mapping of Internet numerical addresses to domain names.

In the year of his death, 1998, Postel was involved in a controversial incident involving the root zone of the Internet. Postel emailed 8 out of the 12 regional root nameservers, and instructed them to reconfigure their servers to "pull" addresses (root zone file) from IANA's server instead of the Network Solutions root zone server. The US government ordered Postel to undo the change, which he did, and it is believed that advisors to the US president threatened Postel that "You'll never work on the Internet again". Postel died later that year due to the after effects of a heart operation. Some critics have claimed that Postel attempted to "hijack" the Internet, whereas others have stated it was simple a test of the DNS root authority.