Internet Engineering Task Force

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The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) develops and promotes Internet standards, cooperating closely with the W3C and ISO/IEC standard bodies; and dealing in particular with standards of the TCP/IP and Internet protocol suite. It is an open, standards organization, with no formal membership or membership requirements. All participants and leaders are volunteers, though their work is usually funded by their employers or sponsors; for instance, the current chairperson is funded by VeriSign and the U.S. government's National Security Agency.[1]

It is organized into a large number of working groups and BoFs, each dealing with a specific topic. Each group is intended to complete work on that topic and then shut down. Each working group has an appointed chair (or sometimes several co-chairs), along with a charter that describes its focus, and what and when it is expected to produce.

The working groups are organized into areas by subject matter. Current areas include: Applications, General, Internet, Operations and Management, Real-time Applications and Infrastructure, Routing, Security, and Transport. Each area is overseen by an area director (AD), with most areas having two co-ADs. The ADs are responsible for appointing working group chairs. The area directors, together with the IETF Chair, form the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG), which is responsible for the overall operation of the IETF.

The IETF is formally an activity under the umbrella of the Internet Society. The IETF is overseen by the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), which oversees its external relationships, and relations with the RFC Editor. The IAB is also jointly responsible for the IETF Administrative Oversight Committee (IAOC), which oversees the IETF Administrative Support Activity (IASA), which provides logistical, etc support for the IETF. The IAB also manages the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF), with which the IETF has a number of cross-group relations.

IETF working groups

IETF working groups operate on rough consensus, are open to all who want to participate, have discussions on an open mailing list, and may hold meetings at IETF meetings. Unlike, for instance, IEEE working groups, the mailing list consensus is the final arbiter of decision-making, and there is no voting, but rather a consensus decision-making procedure.

An IETF working group is created by the IESG to work on a limited set of tasks described in its charter, and will normally be closed once the work described in its charter is finished. In some cases, the WG will instead have its charter updated to take on new tasks as appropriate.

Details of the IETF working group process can be found in RFC 2418.

IETF Trust

Traditionally, the IETF has not had any legal personality; therefore, its assets (copyright in RFCs, domain names, etc.) have been held on its behalf by either the Internet Society or CNRI. In 2006, an IETF Trust was established to hold these assets, and ISOC and CNRI as settlors transferred these assets to the Trust.

The IETF Trust is described in RFC 4371 and the IETF Trust agreement


The first IETF meeting was on January 16, 1986, consisting of 21 U.S.-government-funded researchers. Initially, it met quarterly, but from 1991, it has been meeting 3 times a year. Representatives from non-government vendors were invited starting with the fourth IETF meeting, in October of that year. Since that time all IETF meetings have been open to anyone. The majority of the IETF's work is done on mailing lists, however, and meeting attendance is not required for contributors.

The initial meetings were very small, with fewer than 35 people in attendance at each of the first five meetings and with the peak attendance in the first 13 meetings of only 120 attendees, at the 12th meeting in January of 1989. It has grown in both participation and scope a great deal since the early 90s; it had a peak attendance of almost 3000 at the December 2000 IETF held in San Diego, CA. Attendance declined with industry restructuring in the early 2000s, and is currently around 1300.

During the early 1990s the IETF changed institutional form from an activity of the U.S. government to an independent, international activity associated with the Internet Society.

The IETF has at times been ascribed nearly magical abilities by the trade press, who assumed its mechanisms were responsible for the success of the Internet because it works on the Internet's core protocols. The reality that it is a group of engineers putting together specifications so that multiple vendors' products can interoperate across networks is considerably more prosaic.

The details of its operations have changed considerably as it has grown, but the basic mechanism remains publication of draft specifications, review and independent testing by participants, and republication. Interoperability is the chief test for IETF specifications becoming standards. Most of its specifications are focused on single protocols rather than tightly-interlocked systems. This has allowed its protocols to be used in many different systems, and its standards are routinely re-used by bodies which create full-fledged architectures (e.g. 3GPP IMS).

Because it relies on volunteers and uses "rough consensus and running code" as its touchstone, it can, however, be slow whenever the number of volunteers is either too small to make progress or so large as to make consensus difficult. For protocols like SMTP, which is used to transport e-mail for a user community in the many hundreds of millions, there is also considerable resistance to any change which is not fully backwards compatible. Work within the IETF on ways to improve its speed is ongoing but, because the number of volunteers with opinions on it is very great, consensus mechanisms on how to improve have been slow to emerge.

List of IETF chairs

The IETF Chair is selected by the NOMCOM process specified in RFC 3777 for a 2-year term, renewable.

Before 1993, the IETF Chair was selected by the IAB.

See also


  1. ^ Q&A: Security top concern for new IETF chair, Carolyn Duffy Marsan, Network World, 26 July 2007, retrieved July 2007
  2. ^ "IETF Chairs by year". Retrieved 2007-03-23. 

External links