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Request for Comments (RFC)

Last Edit: 25/01/17

bullet Introduction

Request for Comments (RFC) is a document series that outlines the technical architecture and organisational structure of the Internet. The inventor of Request for Comments (RFC) is Stephen D. Crocker: it was Crocker who wrote the first RFC document: RFC 1 (7th of April 1969). Crocker was part of the team (working group) that designed the first host to host protocols of the ARPANET computer network. Due to the hap-hazard design process of these protocols, numerous documents were written, and it was Crocker - amongst others - who became aware that an official and organised document system was needed. Request for Comments (RFC) slowly evolved into a document system (publication) that describes:

  1. Computer networking
  2. Internet protocols
  3. Internet programs
  4. Internet procedures
  5. Internet concepts
  6. Internet opinions

Request for Comments (RFC) documents are crossed referenced to indicate whether the document is current, obsolete, or revised. The information published in a RFC file must be concise, clear and easily understandable. Each RFC file is assigned a unique identifying number; such as: RFC 4021. RFC files are published in a basic text format, and do adhere to a commonly used syntax. When an RFC document is published it never changes; they are instead cross referenced as obsolete or revised at the top of the document. RFC documents are currently published by the IETF and can be accessed at the following URL: tools.ietf.org/html/rfc1 - simple replace "rfc1" with the number of the RFC you desire.

bullet History

Request for Comments (RFC) predates the Internet: it was a document series that outlined the design process of ARPANET's host to host protocols. The idea of a document system for ARPANET's development appears to have been seeded by meetings hosted by Elmer Shapiro and attended by Steve Crocker, Jeff Rulifson, Ron Stoughton and Steve Carr, in the summer of 1968. When this group of individuals met the BBN team led by Frank Heart (IMP builders) - to discuss network protocols for ARPANET - they eventually concluded that they needed to make some notes of these meetings.

Steve Crocker, invented the RFC documents and published RFC 1. Steve Crocker, RFC creator

Steve Crocker, the creator of RFC, orginally referred to RFC documents as "NWG notes" and "Network Working Group memos" (RFC 3-16) and stated that their purpose was to outline any "thought, suggestion, etc. related to the HOST software or other aspect of the network". Originally RFC documents were only distributed to a handful of individuals: Steve Crocker, Ron Stoughton, Elmer Shapiro, Steve Carr, John Haefner, Paul Rovner, Bob Kahn, Larry Roberts, and Jerry Cole. However the notes were available to anyone at any ARPA network sites and membership was not closed; hence why Crocker labelled the notes "Request for Comments"; Crocker wanted to facilitate open discussion.

Jon Postel, RFC editor 1969-1998Jon Postel, RFC editor: 1969-1998

When Crocker and friends began the process of designing the host to host protocols of ARPANET in 1969, the amount of RFC documents slowly built up, and by 1970 there was over 100 RFC documents. It was at this point that Steve Crocker said (RFC 1000) that Peggy Karp began indexing these RFC documents. Jon Postel is credited as being the principle RFC Editor from 1969-1998 - although it is somewhat difficult to ascertain how RFC documents were edited and organised in their early days: as it appears to have been a fairly disorganised process. Jon Postel was helped in editing RFC documents by Joyce Reynolds until 1998 and distribution of RFC documents was provided by Elizabeth Feinler at the SRI Network Information Center (NIC) in the 1970's and early 1980's. Up until 1998, funding for the RFC project was provided by the U.S. government.

When Jon Postel died in 1998, the job of editing RFC documents was conducted by Joyce Reynolds and Bob Braden; who created a small organisation to manage the process at the University of Southern California (USC) Information Sciences Institute (ISI). Reynolds and Bradan were jointly awarded the Postel Award in 2006 for their work in editing the RFC document series. Funding for this organisation was provided by the Internet Society (ISOC). RFC 5540 (2009), stated that the function of editing RFC documents will transition to a new organisation. The reason for this transition was stated as being to improve transparency and efficiency. The current company that is responsible for editing RFC documents is Association Management Solutions, LLC (AMS) - the contract was given to AMS by the IETF Administrative Oversight Committee (IAOC). The IETF publishes the RFC document series on their website.

Information about the current management of RFC can be found at the following website: rfc-editor.org. There is currently over 6500 RFC documents.