About the Internet Engineering Task Force

Sept. 1, 2000


The growth of the Internet has been accompanied by an increasing use of Internet Protocol (IP) in communications networks. The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is a major provider of IP-related standards. In the past two years, the IETF has also significantly increased its effort in standardization of IP telephony and all aspects of the convergence between IP and the public-switched telephone network.

The IETF's umbrella organization is the Internet Society (ISOC), which plays an essential role in establishing and executing the processes of appointing the IETF leadership. ISOC permits both individuals and organizations to become members.

Unlike ISOC, IETF has no defined membership. Regardless, the IETF has done a remarkable job in producing stable and widely implemented Internet standards. The IETF is divided into eight broad expertise areas: Applications, Internet, Operations and Management, Routing, Transport, Security, User Services, and General Interest. Areas are governed by the area directors. Areas are, in turn, divided into working groups (currently about 120) that focus on specific subjects of standardization. The decisions are typically made online (by consensus-there is no voting in the IETF), and anyone with access to the Internet can participate in any working group and obtain any IETF document free (see http://www.ietf.org).

The IETF holds three official meetings (called IETF Conferences) a year. These meetings act as a catalyst for building the consensus; however, it is the (archived) results of the online discussions-not the meetings-that make the decisions. The latter point is the single most important difference between the IETF and other standards bodies.

A contribution to the IETF takes the form of an Internet Draft (I-D). Anyone can submit ideas in such a document, which is published by the IETF upon request without pre-screening for relevance or technical accuracy. The publication of an I-D implies no IETF endorsement. The I-Ds are working documents, which are stored by the IETF for a period of six months, then automatically removed. Some of them are working-group documents, but many are just individual publications whose authors want the IETF to take a look.

The only approved IETF documents are called Request for Comments (RFCs). These are approved and published by the RFC Editor and stored permanently under unique numbers. The term RFC, however, may denote a nonstandard document (such an RFC can be either informational or experimental) as well as a standards track document. The maturity levels-based on the maturity of a specification, existence of interoperable implementations, and deployment-are proposed standard, draft standard, and standard. The criteria for assigning these levels (as part of the comprehensive specification of the Internet standards process) are published in RFC 2026. Finally, yet another sub-series of RFC standards is called best current practice, which, according to RFC 2026, is "designed to be a way to standardize practices and the results of community deliberations."

IETF emphasizes personal contribution; all RFCs list the names (and affiliations) of their authors. It is the people who actively work in the IETF (and only they) who ultimately affect the IETF standards and are promoted to the IETF leadership.

Igor Faynberg is a technical manager at Lucent Technologies, Bell Laboratories (Murray Hill, NJ). He co-chairs the PSTN/Internet Interworking (PINT) Working Group, which he founded, in the Transport expertise area of the IETF. He is co-author of a Network Council Series book on telecom/Internet convergence. He can be contacted at tel: (732) 949-0137; fax: (732) 949-1196; e-mail: [email protected].