Making sense of Internet acronym soup and our work: IDs, IETF, IRTF, SDOs and RFCs

The Internet and its engineers love acronyms and the accompanying body of jargon often referred to as ‘Internet acronym soup’. Below you will find a quick explanation of the most commonly used acronyms on this website, what they mean and how they are important to the work we do.

 

SDO – Standard Developing Organization

Standard Developing Organizations (SDOs) are organizations that are involved in developing, engineering, improving, interpreting or otherwise generating technical standards. These standards can have a wide range of applications, depending on the nature of the SDO and the specific sub-section of the industry or standards it focuses on.

 

IETF – Internet Engineering Task Force

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is an SDO. It is described as a ‘self-organized group of people who contribute to the engineering and evolution of Internet technologies. It is the principal body engaged in the development of new Internet standard specifications’ [1]. In many ways the IETF mirrors the Internet, as it is an informal ‘decentralized confederation of equals’ [2]. Its work revolves around ‘the development and evolution of the core networking protocols (such as TCP/IP) and the basic Internet applications (e.g., SMTP for e-mail)’ [3]. The IETF essentially creates voluntary standards that maintain the interoperability and usability of the Internet. It has no official membership. The work is mostly done over the publicly available email lists, and during three annual meetings. Decisions at the meetings are made on the basis of ‘rough consensus’, often expressed by ‘humming’.

 

IRTF – The Internet Research Task Force

The Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) is a parallel organization of the IETF. The IRTF encourages research that is ‘of importance to the evolution of the Internet’ [4]. It does so by setting up long-term focused Research Groups (RGs) that analyze issues related to Internet protocols, applications, the Internet’s architecture and technology. The IRTF is different from the IETF because the IETF deals primarily with shorter-term work regarding engineering and standard creation. The IRTF currently has 11 chartered RGs that work on issues as diverse as cryptography, global Internet access, Internet congestion and human rights. The RGs are populated by members that are expected to contribute to the work in their personal capacity (rather than as representatives of organizations) and on a long-term basis.

 

RFC – Request for Comments

Requests for Comments (RFCs) are the official documents of Internet specifications, communication protocols, procedures, meeting notes and the occasional attempt at April fools jokes. The first RFCs were written by Steve Crocker in 1969 to record the development of ARPANET. They have since become the standard way to document all the developments describing the technical development of the Internet. IETF RFCs ‘contain technical and organizational notes about the Internet’ [5]. IETF RFCs are authored by engineers and others working in IETF working groups to define and specify how the Internet (and its connected systems) should connect and interoperate. The IETF adopts certain documents published as RFCs as Internet Standards.

 

I-D – Internet Draft

Internet Drafts (I-D) are the working documents published by the IETF [6]. They document the specific technical specifications, outputs of research related to network engineering, and other technical information related to the IETF’s work. They are the preliminary working, or ‘work-in-progress’, documents that can eventually become RFCs. Or, in some cases, achieve the coveted status of Internet standard. I-Ds have no formal status within the IETF and come with an expiry date of six months, after which they must be updated or replaced.

 

[1] http://ietf.org/about/

[2] & [3] Davidson, A., Morris, J., & Courtney, R. (2002). Strangers in a Strange Land: Public Interest Advocacy and Internet Standards. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs12130-004-1027-y

[4] https://irtf.org/

[5] https://www.ietf.org/rfc.html

[6] https://www.ietf.org/id-info/