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Internet Standards

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Note: Many topics at this site are reduced versions of the text in "The Encyclopedia of Networking and Telecommunications." Search results will not be as extensive as a search of the book's CD-ROM.

The Internet, according to RFC 2026 (The Internet Standards Process-Revision 3, October 1996), is a "loosely-organized international collaboration of autonomous, interconnected networks that supports host-to-host communication through voluntary adherence to open protocols and procedures defined by Internet Standards." The Internet is not controlled by one government or entity, but by its users and the organizations that have formed to "watch over" and manage the Internet. These organizations include the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force), ISOC (Internet Society), and other groups described under "Internet Organizations and Committees."

The IETF is a large open international community of network designers, operators, vendors, researchers, and just about anyone else who wants to get involved in the development of the Internet. The actual technical work of the IETF is done in its working groups, which are organized by topic into several areas (e.g., routing, transport, and security). These working groups are managed by AD (area directors) who are members of the IESG (Internet Engineering Steering Group). The IAB (Internet Architectural Board) provides architectural oversight. Finally, the IAB and IESG are chartered by the ISOC. These working groups are accessible by visiting the IETF Web site at

Internet technical specifications evolve through various levels of maturity called the "standards track." A specification is first submitted as a draft specification and this draft is put up for review. The IESG may then choose to place it on the standards track. The standards track maturity levels are "proposed standard," "draft standard," and "standard." There are also "experimental" specifications, which do not follow the standards track, and "historical" specifications, which can be thought of as "retired." The complete process is outlined in RFC 2026 .

At the time of this writing, there were only 61 specification elevated to "standard" status. You can see a list of these standards by visiting the Internet protocol standards index at Also see, which lists documents that are in various stages of review, including "proposed standard," "draft standard," and "standard."

RFCs provide a wealth of information about the Internet. They are numbered, starting with RFC 1, which is dated April 1969. There are currently over 3,000 RFCs. RFC 2555 (30 Years of RFCs, April 1999) describes the early history of the standards process and the role that Jon Postel played in creating the documentation format and standards process. Jon was the original keeper of the "big red three ring notebook" that contained notes and information about the RFC publication process. Other RFCs related to the standards process are listed here:

  • RFC 1311 (Introduction to the STD Notes, March 1992)

  • RFC 1796 (Not All RFCs Are Standards, April 1995)

  • RFC 1818 (Best Current Practices, August 1995)

  • RFC 2119 (Key Words for Use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels, March 1997)

  • RFC 2223 (Instructions to RFC Authors, October 1997)

The CD-ROM included with the encyclopedia includes a very complete set of RFCs. Those not included on the disk may be obtained from the Internet.

One of the best sites for obtaining RFCs and information about RFCs and the Internet standards is You can display RFCs by number, search through the archives for keywords, display a complete title-only index, or obtain other information. If you know an RFC number, you can also go to the following address, replacing xxxx with the RFC number (leading 0s required):

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