RFC 3160 – A Novice’s Guide to the Internet Engineering Task Force

RFC 3160 – A Novice’s Guide to the Internet Engineering Task Force

Network Working Group                                          S. Harris
Request for Comments: 3160                                 Merit Network
FYI: 17                                                      August 2001
Obsoletes: 1718
Category: Informational

    The Tao of IETF - A Novice's Guide to the Internet Engineering
                               Task Force

Status of this Memo

   This memo provides information for the Internet community.  It does
   not specify an Internet standard of any kind.  Distribution of this
   memo is unlimited.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2001).  All Rights Reserved.


   This document describes the inner workings of IETF meetings and
   Working Groups, discusses organizations related to the IETF, and
   introduces the standards process.

Table of Contents

   Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
   Acknowledgements. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   3
   1. What Is the IETF?  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   4
      1.1 Humble Beginnings. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
      1.2 The Hierarchy  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
          1.2.1 ISOC . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   5
          1.2.2 IESG . . . .  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . . . .   6
          1.2.3 IAB. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   7
          1.2.4 IANA . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
          1.2.5 RFC Editor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   8
          1.2.6 IETF Secretariat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
      1.3  IETF Mailing Lists. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9
   2.  IETF Meetings   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  10
       2.1 Registration  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11
       2.2 Newcomers' Orientation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
       2.3 Dress Code. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  12
       2.4 Seeing Spots Before Your Eyes . . . . . . . . . . . . .  13
       2.5 Terminal Room . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  13
       2.6 Meals and Other Delights. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  14
       2.7 Social Event. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  14

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       2.8 Agenda. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  14
       2.9 Where Do I Fit In?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15
           2.9.1  IS Managers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  15
           2.9.2  Network Operators and ISPs . . . . . . . . . . .  15
           2.9.3  Networking Hardware and Software Vendors . . . .  15
           2.9.4  Academics  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  16
           2.9.5  Computer Trade Press . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  16
       2.10 Proceedings. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  16
       2.11 Other General Things . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  17
   3.  Working Groups. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  18
       3.1 Working Group Chairs  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .18
       3.2 Getting Things Done in a Working Group. . . . . . . . .  19
       3.3 Preparing for Working Group Meetings    . . . . . . . .  19
       3.4 Working Group Mailing Lists   . . . . . . . . . . . . .  20
       3.5 Interim Working Group Meetings  . . . . . . . . . . . .  21
   4.  BOFs. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  21
   5.  New to the IETF?  STOP HERE! (Temporarily). . . . . . . . .  22
   6.  RFCs and Internet Drafts  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  22
       6.1 Getting a Standard Published  . . . . . . . . . . . . .  22
       6.2 Letting Go Gracefully . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  24
       6.3 Internet Drafts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  24
           6.3.1 Recommended Reading for Writers . . . . . . . . .  25
           6.3.2 Filenames and Other Matters . . . . . . . . . . .  26
       6.4 Standards-Track RFCs  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  26
           6.4.1 Telling It Like It Is -- Using MUST and
                 SHOULD and MAY. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  27
           6.4.2 Normative References in Standards . . . . . . . .  28
           6.4.3 IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  29
           6.4.4 Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . .  29
           6.4.5 Patents in IETF Standards . . . . . . . . . . . .  30
       6.5 Informational and Experimental RFCs . . . . . . . . . .  31
   7. How to Contribute to the IETF -- What You Can Do . . . . . .  31
       7.1  What Your Company Can Do . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  32
   8. IETF and the Outside World . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  33
       8.1 IETF and Other Standards Groups . . . . . . . . . . . .  33
       8.2 Press Coverage of the IETF. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  33
   9. References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  35
       9.1 Tao . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  35
       9.2 Useful E-mail Addresses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  35
       9.3 Useful Documents and Files. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  35
       9.4 Acronyms and Abbreviations Used in the Tao  . . . . . .  36
       9.5 Documents Cited in the Tao  . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  36
   Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  37
   Editor's Address  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  37
   Full Copyright Statement  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  38

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   Over the last several years, attendance at Internet Engineering Task
   Force (IETF) face-to-face meetings has grown phenomenally.  Many of
   the attendees are new to the IETF at each meeting, and many of those
   go on to become regular attendees.  When the meetings were smaller,
   it was relatively easy for a newcomer to get into the swing of
   things.  Today, however, a newcomer meets many more new people, some
   previously known only as the authors of documents or thought-
   provoking e-mail messages.

   This document describes many aspects of the IETF, with the goal of
   explaining to newcomers how the IETF works.  This will give them a
   warm, fuzzy feeling and enable them to make the meeting and the
   Working Group discussions more productive for everyone.

   Of course, it's true that many IETF participants don't go to the
   face-to-face meetings at all.  Instead, they're active on the mailing
   list of various IETF Working Groups.  Since the inner workings of
   Working Groups can be hard for newcomers to understand, this FYI
   provides the mundane bits of information that newcomers will need in
   order to become active participants.

   Many types of IETF documentation are mentioned in the Tao, from BCPs
   to RFCs and FYIs.  (BCPs make recommendations for Best Current
   Practices in the Internet; RFCs are the IETF's main technical
   documentation series, politely known as "Requests for Comments;" and
   FYIs provide topical and technical overviews that are introductory or
   appeal to a broad audience.  See Section 6 for more information.)

   The acronyms and abbreviations used in this document are usually
   expanded in place, and are explained fully in Section 9.


   The original version of this document, published in 1994, was written
   by Gary Malkin.  His knowledge of the IETF, insights, and unmatched
   writing style set the standard for this later revision, and his
   contributions to the current draft are also much appreciated.  Paul
   Hoffman wrote significant portions of this revision and provided
   encouragement, expertise, and much-needed guidance.  Other
   contributors include Scott Bradner, Michael Patton, Donald E.
   Eastlake III, the IETF Secretariat, and members of the User Services
   Working Group.

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1. What Is the IETF?

   The Internet Engineering Task Force is a loosely 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.  The IETF is unusual in that it
   exists as a collection of happenings, but is not a corporation and
   has no board of directors, no members, and no dues.

   Its mission includes:

   -  Identifying, and proposing solutions to, pressing operational and
      technical problems in the Internet;

   -  Specifying the development or usage of protocols and the near-term
      architecture to solve such technical problems for the Internet;

   -  Making recommendations to the Internet Engineering Steering Group
      (IESG) regarding the standardization of protocols and protocol
      usage in the Internet;

   -  Facilitating technology transfer from the Internet Research Task
      Force (IRTF) to the wider Internet community; and

   -  Providing a forum for the exchange of information within the
      Internet community between vendors, users, researchers, agency
      contractors, and network managers.

   The IETF meeting is not a conference, although there are technical
   presentations.  The IETF is not a traditional standards organization,
   although many specifications are produced that become standards.  The
   IETF is made up of volunteers, many of whom meet three times a year
   to fulfill the IETF mission.

   There is no membership in the IETF.  Anyone may register for and
   attend any meeting.  The closest thing there is to being an IETF
   member is being on the IETF or Working Group mailing lists (see
   Section 1.3).  This is where the best information about current IETF
   activities and focus can be found.

   Of course, no organization can be as successful as the IETF is
   without having some sort of structure.  In the IETF's case, that
   structure is provided by other organizations, as described in BCP 11,
   "The Organizations Involved in the IETF Standards Process."  If you
   participate in the IETF and only read one BCP, this is the one you
   should read.

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1.1 Humble Beginnings

   The first IETF meeting was held in January, 1986, at Linkabit in San
   Diego, with 21 attendees.  The 4th IETF, held at SRI in Menlo Park in
   October, 1986, was the first that non-government vendors attended.
   The concept of Working Groups was introduced at the 5th IETF meeting
   at the NASA Ames Research Center in California in February, 1987.
   The 7th IETF, held at MITRE in McLean, Virginia in July, 1987, was
   the first meeting with over 100 attendees.

   The 14th IETF meeting was held at Stanford University in July 1989.
   It marked a major change in the structure of the IETF universe.  The
   IAB (then Internet Activities Board, now Internet Architecture
   Board), which until that time oversaw many "task forces," changed its
   structure to leave only two: the IETF and the IRTF.  The IRTF is
   tasked to consider long-term research problems in the Internet.  The
   IETF also changed at that time.

   After the Internet Society (ISOC) was formed in January, 1992, the
   IAB proposed to ISOC that the IAB's activities should take place
   under the auspices of the Internet Society.  During INET92 in Kobe,
   Japan, the ISOC Trustees approved a new charter for the IAB to
   reflect the proposed relationship.

   The IETF met in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, in July 1993.  This was
   the first IETF meeting held in Europe, and the US/non-US attendee
   split was nearly 50/50.  One in five IETF meetings are now held in
   Europe or Asia, and the number of non-US attendees continues to be
   high -- about 50%, even at meetings held in the US.

1.2 The Hierarchy

1.2.1 ISOC (Internet Society)

   The Internet Society is an international, non-profit, membership
   organization that fosters the expansion of the Internet.  One of the
   ways that ISOC does this is through financial and legal support of
   the other "I" groups described here, particularly the IETF.  ISOC's
   oversight of the IETF is remarkably hands-off, so many IETF
   participants don't even know about it.  ISOC provides insurance
   coverage for many of the people in the IETF process, and acts as a
   public relations channel for the times that one of the "I" groups
   wants to say something to the press.  The ISOC is one of the major
   unsung (and under-funded) heroes of the Internet.

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1.2.2 IESG (Internet Engineering Steering Group)

   The IESG is responsible for technical management of IETF activities
   and the Internet standards process.  It administers the process
   according to the rules and procedures that have been ratified by the
   ISOC Trustees.  However, the IESG doesn't do much direct leadership,
   such as the kind you will find in many other standards organizations.
   The IESG ratifies or corrects the output from the IETF's Working
   Groups, gets WGs started and finished, and makes sure that non-WG
   drafts that are about to become RFCs are correct.

   The IESG consists of the Area Directors ("ADs"), who are selected by
   the Nominations Committee (which is usually called "Nomcom") and are
   appointed for two years.  The process for choosing the members of the
   IESG is detailed in BCP 10, "IAB and IESG Selection, Confirmation,
   and Recall Process:  Operation of the Nominating and Recall

   The current areas and abbreviations are:

   -  Applications (APP)   Protocols seen by user programs, such as
                           e-mail and the Web
   -  General (GEN)        Catch-all for WGs that don't fit in other
                           areas (which is very few)
   -  Internet (INT)       Different ways of moving IP packets and DNS
   -  Operations and       Operational aspects, network monitoring,
      Management (OPS)     and configuration
   -  Routing (RTG)        Getting packets to their destinations
   -  Security (SEC)       Authentication and privacy
   -  Transport (TSV)      Special services for special packets
   -  User Services (USV)  Support for end users and user support

   Because the IESG has a great deal of influence on whether Internet
   Drafts become RFCs, many people look at the ADs as somewhat godlike
   creatures.  IETF participants sometimes reverently ask an Area
   Director for their opinion on a particular subject.  However, most
   ADs are nearly indistinguishable from mere mortals and rarely speak
   from mountaintops.  In fact, when asked for specific technical
   comments, the ADs may often defer to members at large whom they feel
   have more knowledge than they do in that area.

   The ADs for a particular area are expected to know more about the
   combined work of the WGs in that area than anyone else.  On the other
   hand, the entire IESG discusses each Internet Draft that is proposed
   to become an RFC.  At least two IESG members must express concerns
   before a draft can be blocked from moving forward.  These checks help

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   ensure that an AD's "pet project" doesn't make it onto the standards
   track if it will have a negative effect on the rest of the IETF

   This is not to say that the IESG never wields power.  When the IESG
   sees a Working Group veering from its charter, or when a WG asks the
   IESG to make the WG's badly designed protocol a standard, the IESG
   will act.  In fact, because of its high workload, the IESG usually
   moves in a reactive fashion.  It approves most WG requests for
   Internet Drafts to become RFCs, and usually only steps in when
   something has gone very wrong.  Another way to think about this is
   that the ADs are selected to think, not to just run the process.  The
   quality of the IETF standards comes both from the review they get in
   the Working Groups and the review that the WG review gets from the

   The IETF is run by rough consensus, and it is the IESG that decides
   if a WG has come up with a result that has a real consensus.  Because
   of this, one of the main reasons that the IESG might block something
   that was produced in a WG is that the result did not really gain
   consensus in the IETF as a whole, that is, among all of the Working
   Groups in all areas.  For instance, the result of one WG might clash
   with a technology developed in a different Working Group.  An
   important job of the IESG is to watch over the output of all the WGs
   to help prevent IETF protocols that are at odds with each other.
   This is why ADs are supposed to review the drafts coming out of areas
   other than their own.

1.2.3 IAB (Internet Architecture Board)

   The IAB is responsible for keeping an eye on the "big picture" of the
   Internet, and focuses on long-range planning and coordination among
   the various areas of IETF activity.  The IAB stays informed about
   important long-term issues in the Internet, and brings these topics
   to the attention of people they think should know about them.

   IAB members pay special attention to emerging activities in the IETF.
   When a new IETF working group is proposed, the IAB reviews its
   charter for architectural consistency and integrity.  Even before the
   group is chartered, the IAB members are more than willing to discuss
   new ideas with the people proposing them.

   The IAB also sponsors and organizes the Internet Research Task Force,
   and convenes invitational workshops that provide in-depth reviews of
   specific Internet architectural issues.  Typically, the workshop
   reports make recommendations to the IETF community and to the IESG.

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   The IAB also:

   -  Approves Nomcom's IESG nominations
   -  Acts as the appeals board for appeals against IESG actions
   -  Appoints and oversees the RFC Editor
   -  Approves the appointment of the IANA
   -  Acts as an advisory body to the ISOC
   -  Oversees IETF liaisons with other standards bodies

   Like the IESG, the IAB members are selected for multi-year positions
   by the Nomcom, and are approved by the Board of Trustees of the ISOC.

1.2.4 IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority)

   The core registrar for the IETF's activities is the IANA.  Many
   Internet protocols require that someone keep track of protocol items
   that were added after the protocol came out.  Typical examples of the
   kinds of registries needed are for TCP port numbers and MIME types.
   The IAB has designated the IANA organization to perform these tasks,
   and the IANA's activities are financially supported by ICANN, the
   Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.

   Five years ago, no one would have expected to ever see the IANA
   mentioned on the front page of a newspaper.  IANA's role had always
   been very low key.  The fact that IANA was also the keeper of the
   root of the domain name system forced it to become a much more public
   entity, one which was badly maligned by a variety of people who never
   looked at what its role was.  Nowadays the IETF is generally no
   longer involved in the IANA's domain name and IP address assignment
   functions, which are overseen by ICANN.

   Even though being a registrar may not sound interesting, many IETF
   participants will testify to how important IANA has been for the
   Internet.  Having a stable, long-term repository run by careful and
   conservative operators makes it much easier for people to experiment
   without worrying about messing things up.  IANA's founder, Jon
   Postel, was heavily relied upon to keep things in order while the
   Internet kept growing by leaps and bounds, and he did a fine job of
   it until his untimely death in 1998.

1.2.5 RFC Editor

   The RFC Editor edits, formats, and publishes Internet Drafts as RFCs,
   working in conjunction with the IESG.  An important secondary role is
   to provide one definitive repository for all RFCs (see
   http://www.rfc-editor.org).  Once an RFC is published, it is never
   revised.  If the standard it describes changes, the standard will be
   re-published in another RFC that "obsoletes" the first.

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   One of the most popular misconceptions in the IETF community is that
   the role of the RFC Editor is performed by IANA.  In fact, the RFC
   Editor is a separate job, although both the RFC Editor and IANA
   involved the same people for many years.  The IAB approves the
   organization that will act as RFC Editor and the RFC Editor's general
   policy.  The RFC Editor is funded by ISOC and can be contacted by e-
   mail at rfc-ed@rfc-editor.org.

1.2.6 IETF Secretariat

   There are, in fact, a few people who are paid to maintain the IETF.
   The IETF Secretariat provides day-to-day logistical support, which
   mainly means coordinating face-to-face meetings and running the
   IETF-specific mailing lists (not the WG mailing lists).  The
   Secretariat is also responsible for keeping the official Internet
   Drafts directory up to date and orderly, maintaining the IETF Web
   site, and for helping the IESG do its work.  The IETF Secretariat is
   financially supported by the fees of the face-to-face meetings.

1.3  IETF Mailing Lists

   Anyone who plans to attend an IETF meeting should join the IETF
   announcement mailing list, "ietf-announce@ietf.org".  This is where
   all of the meeting information, Internet Draft and RFC announcements,
   and IESG Protocol Actions and Last Calls are posted.  People who
   would like to "get technical" may also join the IETF discussion list,
   "ietf@ietf.org".  This is where discussions of cosmic significance
   are held (Working Groups have their own mailing lists for discussions
   related to their work).

   Subscriptions to these and other IETF mailing lists are handled by a
   program called Majordomo.  Majordomo tends to be somewhat finicky
   about the format of subscription messages, and interacts poorly with
   email programs that make all email messages into HTML files.
   Majordomo will treat you well, however, if you format your messages
   just the way it likes.  To join the IETF announcement list, for
   example, send email to:


   Enter the word 'subscribe' (without the quotes) in the Subject line
   of the message and in the message body.  To join the IETF discussion
   list, send email to:


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   and enter the word 'subscribe' as explained above.  If you decide to
   withdraw from either list, use the word 'unsubscribe.' Your messages
   to Majordomo should have nothing other than the commands 'subscribe'
   or 'unsubscribe' in them.

   Both lists are archived on the IETF web site:


   Do not, ever, under any circumstances, for any reason, send a request
   to join a list to the list itself!  The thousands of people on the
   list don't need, or want, to know when a new person joins.
   Similarly, when changing e-mail addresses or leaving a list, send
   your request only to the "-request" address, not to the main list.
   This means you!!

   The IETF discussion list is unmoderated.  This means that anyone can
   express their opinions about issues affecting the Internet.  However,
   it is not a place for companies or individuals to solicit or
   advertise, as noted in "IETF Discussion List Charter," RFC 3005.  It
   is a good idea to read the whole RFC (it's short!) before posting to
   the IETF discussion list.

   Only the Secretariat can send messages to the announcement list.

   Even though the IETF mailing lists "represent" the IETF membership at
   large, it is important to note that attending an IETF meeting does
   not mean you'll be automatically added to either mailing list.

2. IETF Meetings

   The computer industry is rife with conferences, seminars,
   expositions, and all manner of other kinds of meetings.  IETF face-
   to-face meetings are nothing like these.  The meetings, held three
   times a year, are week-long dweebfests whose primary goal is to
   reinvigorate the WGs to get their tasks done, and whose secondary
   goal is to promote a fair amount of mixing between the WGs and the
   areas.  The cost of the meetings is paid by the people attending and
   by the corporate host for each meeting, although ISOC kicks in
   additional funds for things like the multicast simulcast of some
   Working Group sessions.

   For many people, IETF meetings are a breath of fresh air when
   compared to the standard computer industry conferences.  There is no
   exposition hall, few tutorials, and no big-name industry pundits.
   Instead, there is lots of work, as well as a fair amount of time for
   socializing.  IETF meetings are of little interest to sales and
   marketing folks, but of high interest to engineers and developers.

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   Most IETF meetings are held in North America, because that's where
   most of the participants are from; however, meetings are held on
   other continents about once every year or two.  The past few meetings
   have had about 2,500 attendees.  There have been over 50 IETF
   meetings so far, and a list of upcoming meetings is available on the
   IETF web pages, http://www.ietf.org/meetings/0mtg-sites.txt.

   Newcomers to IETF face-to-face meetings are often in a bit of shock.
   They expect them to be like other standards bodies, or like computer
   conferences.  Fortunately, the shock wears off after a day or two,
   and many new attendees get quite animated about how much fun they are
   having.  One particularly jarring feature of recent IETF meetings is
   the use of wireless Internet connections throughout the meeting
   space.  It is common to see half the people in a WG meeting reading
   e-mail or perusing the web during presentations they find

2.1 Registration

   To attend an IETF meeting you have to register and you have to pay
   the registration fee.  The meeting site and advance registration are
   announced about two months ahead of the meeting -- earlier if
   possible.  An announcement goes out via e-mail to the IETF-announce
   mailing list, and information is posted on the IETF web site,
   http://www.ietf.org, that same day.

   To pre-register, you must submit your registration on the Web.  You
   may pre-register and pre-pay, pre-register and return to the Web site
   later to pay with a credit card, pre-register and pay on-site at the
   meeting, or register and pay on-site.  To get a lower registration
   fee, you must pay by the early registration deadline (about one week
   before the meeting).  The registration fee covers all of the week's
   meetings, the Sunday evening reception (cash bar), daily continental
   breakfasts, and afternoon coffee breaks.

   Credit card payments on the web are encrypted and secure, or, if you
   prefer, you can use PGP to send your payment information to the
   Registrar (ietf-registrar@ietf.org).

   Registration is open throughout the week of the meeting.  However,
   the Secretariat highly recommends that attendees arrive for early
   registration, beginning at noon on Sunday and continuing throughout
   the 5:00 Sunday evening reception.  The reception is a popular event
   where you can get a bite to eat and socialize with other early

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   Registered attendees (and there aren't any other kind) receive a
   registration packet.  It contains much useful information, including
   a general orientation sheet, the most recent agenda, and a name tag.
   Attendees who pre-paid will also find their receipt in their packet.
   It's worth noting that neither attendee names and addresses or IETF
   mailing lists are ever offered for sale.

2.2 Newcomers' Orientation

   Newcomers are encouraged to attend the Newcomers' Orientation, which
   is especially designed for first-time attendees.  The orientation is
   organized and conducted by the IETF Secretariat, and is intended to
   provide useful introductory information.  The orientation is
   typically about 30 minutes long and covers what's in the attendee
   packets, what all the dots on name tags mean, the structure of the
   IETF, and many other essential and enlightening topics for new

   Immediately following the Newcomers' Orientation is the IETF
   Standards Process Orientation.  This session demystifies much of the
   standards process by explaining what stages a document has to pass
   through on its way to becoming a standard, and what has to be done to
   advance to the next stage.  The Standards Process Orientation also
   lasts about 30 minutes.

   There is ample time at the end for questions.  The Secretariat also
   provides handouts that include an overview of the IETF, a list of
   important files available online, and hard copies of the slides of
   the "IETF Structure and Internet Standards Process" presentation.
   These very useful slides are also available online at www.ietf.org
   under "Additional Information".

   The orientation is held on Sunday afternoon before the 5:00 p.m.
   reception (check the agenda for exact time and location).  Be advised
   that attending the orientation does NOT mean you can go to the
   reception early!

2.3 Dress Code

   Since attendees must wear their name tags, they must also wear shirts
   or blouses.  Pants or skirts are also highly recommended.  Seriously
   though, many newcomers are often embarrassed when they show up Monday
   morning in suits, to discover that everybody else is wearing t-
   shirts, jeans (shorts, if weather permits) and sandals.  There are
   those in the IETF who refuse to wear anything other than suits.
   Fortunately, they are well known (for other reasons) so they are

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   forgiven this particular idiosyncrasy.  The general rule is "dress
   for the weather" (unless you plan to work so hard that you won't go
   outside, in which case, "dress for comfort" is the rule!).

2.4 Seeing Spots Before Your Eyes

   Some of the people at the IETF will have a little colored dot on
   their name tag.  A few people have more than one.  These dots
   identify people who are silly enough to volunteer to do a lot of
   extra work.  The colors have the following meanings:

      blue    -  Working Group/BOF chair
      green   -  Host group
      red     -  IAB member
      yellow  -  IESG member
      orange  -  Nominating Committee member

   (Members of the press wear orange-tinted badges.)

   Local hosts are the people who can answer questions about the
   terminal room, restaurants, and points of interest in the area.

   It is important that newcomers to the IETF not be afraid to strike up
   conversations with people who wear these dots.  If the IAB and IESG
   members and Working Group and BOF chairs didn't want to talk to
   anybody, they wouldn't be wearing the dots in the first place.

2.5 Terminal Room

   One of the most important (depending on your point of view) things
   the host does is provide Internet access for the meeting attendees.
   In general, wired and wireless connectivity is excellent.  This is
   entirely due to the Olympian efforts of the local hosts, and their
   ability to beg, borrow and steal.  The people and companies who
   donate their equipment, services and time are to be heartily
   congratulated and thanked.

   While preparation far in advance of the meeting is encouraged, there
   may be some unavoidable "last minute" things that can be accomplished
   in the terminal room.  It may also be useful to people who need to
   make trip reports or status reports while things are still fresh in
   their minds.  The terminal room provides workstations, one or two
   printers, and ports for laptops.

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2.6 Meals and Other Delights

   Marshall Rose once remarked that the IETF was a place to go for "many
   fine lunches and dinners."  While it is true that some people eat
   very well at the IETF, they find the food on their own; lunches and
   dinners are not included in the registration fee.  The Secretariat
   does provide appetizers at the Sunday evening reception (not meant to
   be a replacement for dinner), continental breakfast every morning,
   and (best of all) cookies, brownies and other yummies during
   afternoon breaks.

   If you prefer to get out of the hotel for meals, the local host
   usually provides a list of places to eat within easy reach of the
   meeting site.

2.7 Social Event

   Another of the most important things organized and managed by the
   host is the IETF social event.  Sometimes, the social event is a
   computer or high-tech related event.  At the Boston IETF, for
   example, the social was dinner at the Computer Museum.  Other times,
   the social might be a dinner cruise or a trip to an art gallery.

   Newcomers to the IETF are encouraged to attend the social event.
   Everyone is encouraged to wear their name tags and leave their
   laptops behind.  The social event is designed to give people a chance
   to meet on a social, rather than technical, level.

2.8 Agenda

   The agenda for the IETF meetings is a very fluid thing.  It is sent,
   updated, to the IETF announcement list three times prior to the
   meeting, and is also available on the web.  The agenda for the 50th
   IETF, for example, is at http://www.ietf.org/meetings/agenda_50.html.
   The final agenda is included in the registration packets.  Of course,
   "final" in the IETF doesn't mean the same thing as it does elsewhere
   in the world.  The final agenda is simply the version that went to
   the printer.  The Secretariat will post agenda changes on the
   bulletin board near the IETF registration desk (not the hotel
   registration desk).

   Assignments for breakout rooms (where the Working Groups and BOFs
   meet) and a map showing the room locations are also shown on the
   agenda.  Room assignments can change as the agenda changes.  Some
   Working Groups meet multiple times during a meeting and every attempt
   is made to have a Working Group meet in the same room for each

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2.9  Where Do I Fit In?

   The IETF is different things to different people.  There are many
   people who have been very active in the IETF who have never attended
   an IETF meeting.  You should not feel obligated to come to an IETF
   meeting just to get a feel for the IETF.  The following guidelines
   (based on stereotypes of people in various industries) might help you
   decide whether you actually want to come and, if so, what might be
   the best use of your time at your first meeting.

2.9.1  IS Managers

   As discussed throughout this document, an IETF meeting is nothing
   like any trade show you have attended.  IETF meetings are singularly
   bad places to go if your intention is to find out what will be hot in
   the Internet industry next year.  You can safely assume that going to
   Working Group meetings will confuse you more than it will help you
   understand what is happening, or will be happening, in the industry.

   This is not to say that no one from industry should go to IETF
   meetings.  As an IS manager, you might want to consider sending
   specific people who are responsible for technologies that are under
   development in the IETF.  As these people read the current Internet
   Drafts and the traffic on the relevant Working Group lists, they will
   get a sense of whether or not their presence would be worthwhile for
   your company or for the Working Groups.

2.9.2  Network Operators and ISPs

   Running a network is hard enough without having to grapple with new
   protocols or new versions of the protocols with which you are already
   dealing.  If you work for the type of network that is always using
   the very latest hardware and software, and you are following the
   relevant Working Groups in your copious free time, you might find
   attending the IETF meeting valuable.  The closer you are to the
   bleeding edge of networking, particularly in the areas of routing and
   switching, the more likely it is that you will be able to learn and
   contribute at an IETF meeting.

2.9.3  Networking Hardware and Software Vendors

   The image of the IETF being mostly ivory tower academics may have
   been true in the past, but the jobs of typical attendees are now in
   industry.  In most areas of the IETF, employees of vendors are the
   ones writing the protocols and leading the Working Groups, so it's
   completely appropriate for vendors to attend.  If you create Internet
   hardware or software, and no one from your company has ever attended
   an IETF meeting, it behooves you to come to a meeting if for no other

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   reason than to tell the others how relevant the meeting was or was
   not to your business.

   This is not to say that companies should close up shop during IETF
   meeting weeks so everyone can go to the meeting.  Marketing folks,
   even technical marketing folks, are usually safe in staying away from
   the IETF as long as some of the technical people from the company are
   at the meeting.  Similarly, it isn't required, or likely useful, for
   everyone from a technical department to go, particularly if they are
   not all reading the Internet Drafts and following the Working Group
   mailing lists.  Many companies have just a few designated meeting
   attendees who are chosen for their ability to do complete and useful
   trip reports.

2.9.4  Academics

   IETF meetings are often excellent places for computer science folk to
   find out what is happening in the way of soon-to-be-deployed
   protocols.  Professors and grad students (and sometimes overachieving
   undergrads) who are doing research in networking or communications
   can get a wealth of information by following Working Groups in their
   specific fields of interest.  Wandering into different Working Group
   meetings can have the same effect as going to symposia and seminars
   in your department.

2.9.5  Computer Trade Press

   If you're a member of the press and are considering attending IETF,
   we've prepared a special section of the Tao just for you -- please
   see Section 8.2.

2.10  Proceedings

   IETF proceedings are compiled in the two months following each
   meeting, and are available on the web, on CD, and in print.  Be sure
   to look through a copy -- the proceedings are filled with information
   about IETF that you're not likely to find anywhere else.  For
   example, you'll find snapshots of most WG charters at the time of the
   meeting, giving you a better understanding of the evolution of any
   given effort.

   The proceedings usually start with an informative (and highly
   entertaining) message from Steve Coya, the Executive Director of the
   IETF.  Each volume of contains the final (hindsight) agenda, an IETF
   overview, area and Working Group reports, and slides from the
   protocol and technical presentations.  The Working Group reports and
   presentations are sometimes incomplete, if the materials haven't been
   turned in to the Secretariat in time for publication.

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   An attendee list is also included, and contains names, affiliations,
   work and fax phone numbers, and e-mail addresses as provided on the
   registration form.  For information about obtaining copies of the
   proceedings, see the Web listing at

2.11  Other General Things

   The IETF Secretariat, and IETFers in general, are very approachable.
   Never be afraid to approach someone and introduce yourself.  Also,
   don't be afraid to ask questions, especially when it comes to jargon
   and acronyms!

   Hallway conversations are very important.  A lot of very good work
   gets done by people who talk together between meetings and over
   lunches and dinners.  Every minute of the IETF can be considered work
   time (much to some people's dismay).

   A "bar BOF" is an unofficial get-together, usually in the late
   evening, during which a lot of work gets done over drinks.  Bar BOFs
   spring up in many different places around an IETF meeting, such as
   restaurants, coffee shops, and (if we are so lucky) pools.

   It's unwise to get between a hungry IETFer (and there isn't any other
   kind) and coffee break brownies and cookies, no matter how
   interesting a hallway conversation is.

   IETFers are fiercely independent.  It's safe to question opinions and
   offer alternatives, but don't expect an IETFer to follow orders.

   The IETF, and the plenary session in particular, are not places for
   vendors to try to sell their wares.  People can certainly answer
   questions about their company and its products, but bear in mind that
   the IETF is not a trade show.  This does not preclude people from
   recouping costs for IETF-related t-shirts, buttons and pocket

   There is always a "materials distribution table" near the
   registration desk.  This desk is used to make appropriate information
   available to the attendees (e.g., copies of something discussed in a
   Working Group session, descriptions of online IETF-related
   information, etc.).  Please check with the Secretariat before placing
   materials on the desk; the Secretariat has the right to remove
   material that they feel is not appropriate.

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3.0 Working Groups

   The vast majority of the IETF's work is done in many "Working
   Groups;" at the time of this writing, there are about 115 different
   WGs.  (The term "Working Group" is often seen capitalized, but
   probably not for a very good reason.)  BCP 25, "IETF Working Group
   Guidelines and Procedures," is an excellent resource for anyone
   participating in WG discussions.

   A WG is really just a mailing list with a bit of adult supervision.
   You "join" the WG by subscribing to the mailing list; all mailing
   lists are open to anyone.  Some IETF WG mailing lists only let
   subscribers to the mailing list post to the mailing list, while
   others let anyone post.  Each Working Group has one or two chairs.

   More importantly, each WG has a charter that the WG is supposed to
   follow.  The charter states the scope of discussion for the Working
   Group, as well as its goals.  The WG's mailing list and face-to-face
   meetings are supposed to focus on just what is in the charter, and
   not to wander off on other "interesting" topics.  Of course, looking
   a bit outside the scope of the WG is occasionally useful, but the
   large majority of the discussion should be on the topics listed in
   the charter.  In fact, some WG charters actually specify what the WG
   will not do, particularly if there were some attractive but nebulous
   topics brought up during the drafting of the charter.  The list of
   all WG charters makes interesting reading for folks who want to know
   what the different Working Groups are supposed to be doing.

3.1 Working Group Chairs

   The role of the WG chairs is described in both BCP 11 and BCP 25.
   Basically, their job is to keep the discussion moving forward towards
   the milestones in the WG charter -- usually publication of one or
   more RFCs.  They are not meant to be taskmasters, but are responsible
   for assuring positive forward motion and preventing random wandering.

   As you can imagine, some Working Group chairs are much better at
   their jobs than others.  When a WG has fulfilled its charter, it is
   supposed to cease operations.  (Most WG mailing lists continue on
   after a WG is closed, still discussing the same topics as the Working
   Group did.)  In the IETF, it is a mark of success that the WG closes
   up because it fulfilled its charter.  This is one of the aspects of
   the IETF that newcomers who have experience with other standards
   bodies have a hard time understanding.  However, some WG chairs never
   manage to get their WG to finish, or keep adding new tasks to the
   charter so that the Working Group drags on for many years.  The
   output of these aging WGs is often not nearly as useful as the

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   earlier products, and the messy results are sometimes called
   "degenerative Working Group syndrome."

   One important role of the chair is to decide which Internet Drafts
   get published as "official" Working Group drafts, and which don't.
   In practice, there is actually not much procedural difference between
   WG drafts and independent drafts; for example, many WG mailing lists
   also discuss independent drafts (at the discretion of the WG chair).
   Procedures for Internet Drafts are covered in much more detail later
   in this document.

   WG chairs are strongly advised to go to the new chairs' training
   lunch the first day of the IETF meeting.  If you're interested in
   what they hear there, take a look at the slides at

3.2  Getting Things Done in a Working Group

   One fact that confuses many novices is that the face-to-face WG
   meetings are much less important in the IETF than they are in most
   other organizations.  Any decision made at a face-to-face meeting
   must also gain consensus on the WG mailing list.  There are numerous
   examples of important decisions made in WG meetings that are later
   overturned on the mailing list, often because someone who couldn't
   attend the meeting pointed out a serious flaw in the logic used to
   come to the decision.

   Another aspect of Working Groups that confounds many people is the
   fact that there is no formal voting.  The general rule on disputed
   topics is that the Working Group has to come to "rough consensus,"
   meaning that a very large majority of those who care must agree.  The
   exact method of determining rough consensus varies from Working Group
   to Working Group.  The lack of voting has caused some very long
   delays for some proposals, but most IETF participants who have
   witnessed rough consensus after acrimonious debates feel that the
   delays often result in better protocols.  (And, if you think about
   it, how could you have "voting" in a group that anyone can join, and
   when it's impossible to count the participants?)

3.3  Preparing for Working Group Meetings

   The most important thing that everyone (newcomers and seasoned
   experts) should do before coming to a face-to-face meeting is to read
   the Internet Drafts and RFCs beforehand.  WG meetings are explicitly
   not for education:  they are for developing the group's documents.
   Even if you do not plan to say anything in the meeting, you should
   read the group's documents before attending so you can understand
   what is being said.

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   It's up to the WG chair to set the meeting agenda, usually a few
   weeks in advance.  If you want something discussed at the meeting, be
   sure to let the chair know about it.  The agendas for all the WG
   meetings are available in advance (see
   http://www.ietf.org/meetings/wg_agenda_xx.html, where 'xx' is the
   meeting number), but many WG chairs are lax (if not totally
   negligent) about turning them in.

   The Secretariat only schedules WG meetings a few weeks in advance,
   and the schedule often changes as little as a week before the first
   day.  If you are only coming for one WG meeting, you may have a hard
   time booking your flight with such little notice, particularly if the
   Working Group's meeting changes schedule.  Be sure to keep track of
   the current agenda so you can schedule flights and hotels.  But, when
   it comes down to it, you probably shouldn't be coming for just one WG
   meeting.  It's likely that your knowledge could be valuable in a few
   WGs, assuming that you've read the drafts and RFCs for those groups.

   If you're giving a presentation at a face-to-face meeting, you should
   probably come with a few slides prepared.  Projectors for laptop-
   based presentations are available in all the meeting rooms.  And
   here's a tip for your slides:  don't put your company's logo on every
   one, even though it's common practice outside the IETF.  The IETF
   frowns on this kind of corporate advertising, and most presenters
   don't even put their logo on their opening slide.  The IETF is about
   technical content, not company boosterism.

3.4  Working Group Mailing Lists

   As we mentioned earlier, the IETF announcement and discussion mailing
   lists are the central mailing lists for IETF activities.  However,
   there are many other mailing lists related to IETF work.  For
   example, every Working Group has its own discussion list.  In
   addition, there are some long-term technical debates that have been
   moved off of the IETF list onto lists created specifically for those
   topics.  It is highly recommended that everybody follow the
   discussions on the mailing lists of the Working Groups that they wish
   to attend.  The more work that is done on the mailing lists, the less
   work that will need to be done at the meeting, leaving time for cross
   pollination (i.e., attending Working Groups outside one's primary
   area of interest in order to broaden one's perspective).

   The mailing lists also provide a forum for those who wish to follow,
   or contribute to, the Working Groups' efforts, but can't attend the
   IETF meetings.

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   Most IETF discussion lists use Majordomo and have a "-request"
   address which handles the administrative details of joining and
   leaving the list.  (See Section 1.3 for more information on
   Majordomo.)  It is generally frowned upon when such administrivia
   appears on the discussion mailing list.

   Most IETF discussion lists are archived.  That is, all of the
   messages sent to the list are automatically stored on a host for
   anonymous FTP access.  Many such archives are listed online at
   ftp://ftp.ietf.org/ietf-mail-archive/.  If you don't find the list
   you're looking for, send a message to the list's "-request" address
   (not to the list itself!).

3.5 Interim Working Group Meetings

   Working groups sometimes hold interim meetings between IETFs.
   Interim meetings aren't a substitute for IETF meetings, however -- a
   group can't decide to skip a meeting in a location they're not fond
   of and meet in Cancun three weeks later, for example.  Interim
   meetings require AD approval, and need to be announced at least one
   month in advance.  Location and timing need to allow fair access for
   all participants.  Like regular IETF meetings, someone needs to take
   notes and send them to minutes@ietf.org, and the group needs to take

4. BOFs

   In order to form a Working Group, you need a charter and someone who
   is able to be chair.  In order to get those things, you need to get
   people interested so that they can help focus the charter and
   convince an Area Director that the project is worthwhile.  A face-
   to-face meeting is useful for this.  In fact, very few WGs get
   started by an Area Director; most start after a face-to-face BOF
   because attendees have expressed interest in the topic.

   A BOF meeting has to be approved by the Area Director in the relevant
   area before it can be scheduled.  If you think you really need a new
   WG, approach an AD informally with your proposal and see what they
   think.  The next step is to request a meeting slot at the next face-
   to-face meeting.  Of course, you don't need to wait for that meeting
   to get some work done, such as setting up a mailing list and starting
   to discuss a charter.

   BOF meetings have a very different tone than WG meetings.  The
   purpose of a BOF is to make sure that a good charter with good
   milestones can be created, and that there are enough people willing
   to do the work needed in order to create standards.  Some BOFs have
   Internet Drafts already in process, while others start from scratch.

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   An advantage of having a draft before the BOF is to help focus the
   discussion.  On the other hand, having a draft might tend to limit
   what the other folks in the BOF want to do in the charter.  It's
   important to remember that most BOFs are held in order to get support
   for an eventual Working Group, not to get support for a particular

   Many BOFs don't turn into WGs for a variety of reasons.  A common
   problem is that not enough people can agree on a focus for the work.
   Another typical reason is that the work wouldn't end up being a
   standard -- if, for example, the document authors don't really want
   to relinquish change control to a WG.  (We'll discuss change control
   later in this document.)  Only two meetings of a BOF can be scheduled
   on a particular subject; either a WG has to form, or the topic should
   be dropped.

5.  ** New to the IETF? STOP HERE! (Temporarily) **
   If you're new to the IETF and this is the only reference you plan to
   read before coming to the meeting, stop here -- at least temporarily.
   Then, on your flight home, read the rest of the Tao.  By that time
   you'll be ready to get actively involved in the Working Groups that
   interested you at the meeting, and the Tao will get you started on
   your way.

6. RFCs and Internet Drafts

   If you're a new IETF participant and are looking for a particular RFC
   or Internet Draft, go to the RFC Editor's Web pages, http://www.rfc-
   editor.org/rfc.html.  That site also has links to other RFC
   collections, many with search capabilities.  If you know the number
   of the RFC you're looking for, go to the IETF RFC pages,
   http://www.ietf.org/rfc.html.  For Internet Drafts, the best resource
   is the IETF web site, http://www.ietf.org/ID.html, where you can
   search by title and keyword.

6.1 Getting a Standard Published

   One of the most common questions seasoned IETFers hear from newcomers
   is, "How do I get an IETF standard published?"  A much better
   question is, "Should I write an IETF standard?" since the answer is
   not always "yes."  If you do decide to try to write a document that
   becomes an IETF standard, be warned that the overall process may be
   arduous, even if the individual steps are fairly straightforward.
   Lots of people get through the process unscathed, though, and there's
   plenty of written guidance that helps authors emerge with their ego
   more or less intact.

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   Every IETF standard is published as an RFC (a "Request For Comments,"
   but everyone just calls them RFCs), and every RFC starts out as an
   Internet Draft (often called an "I-D").  The basic steps for getting
   something published as an IETF standard are:

      1. Publish the document as an Internet Draft
      2. Receive comments on the draft
      3. Edit your draft based on the comments
      4. Repeat steps 1 through 3 a few times
      5. Ask an Area Director to take the draft to the IESG (if it's an
         individual submission).  If the draft is an official Working
         Group product, the WG chair asks the AD to take it to the IESG.
      6. Make any changes deemed necessary by the IESG (this might
         include giving up on becoming a standard)
      7. Wait for the document to be published by the RFC Editor

   A much more complete explanation of these steps is contained in BCP
   9, "The Internet Standards Process."  Anyone who writes a draft that
   they hope will become an IETF standard must read BCP 9 so that they
   can follow the path of their document through the process.  BCP 9
   goes into great detail on a topic that is very often misunderstood,
   even by seasoned IETF participants:  different types of RFCs go
   through different processes and have different rankings.  There are
   six kinds of RFCs:

      -  Proposed standards
      -  Draft standards
      -  Internet standards (sometimes called "full standards")
      -  Experimental protocols
      -  Informational documents
      -  Historic standards

   Only the first three (proposed, draft, and full) are standards within
   the IETF.  A good summary of this can be found in the aptly titled
   RFC 1796, "Not All RFCs are Standards."

   There are also three sub-series of RFCs, known as FYIs, BCPs, and
   STDs.  The For Your Information RFC sub-series was created to
   document overviews and topics which are introductory or appeal to a
   broad audience.  Frequently, FYIs are created by groups within the
   IETF User Services Area.  Best Current Practice documents describe
   the application of various technologies in the Internet.  The STD RFC
   sub-series was created to identify RFCs that do in fact specify
   Internet standards.  Some STDs are actually sets of more than one
   RFC, and the "standard" designation applies to the whole set of

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6.2 Letting Go Gracefully

   The biggest reason some people do not want their documents put on the
   IETF standards track is that they must give up change control of the
   protocol.  That is, as soon as you propose that your protocol become
   an IETF standard, you must fully relinquish control of the protocol.
   If there is general agreement, parts of the protocol can be
   completely changed, whole sections can be ripped out, new things can
   be added, and the name can be changed.

   Some authors find it very hard to give up control of their pet
   protocol.  If you are one of those people, don't even think about
   trying to get your protocol to become an IETF standard.  On the other
   hand, if your goal is the best standard possible with the widest
   implementation, then you might find the IETF process to your liking.

   Incidentally, the change control on Internet standards doesn't end
   when the protocol is put on the standards track.  The protocol itself
   can be changed later for a number of reasons, the most common of
   which is that implementors discover a problem as they implement the
   standard.  These later changes are also under the control of the
   IETF, not the editors of the standards document.

   IETF standards exist so that people will use them to write Internet
   programs that interoperate.  They don't exist to document the
   (possibly wonderful) ideas of their authors, nor do they exist so
   that a company can say "we have an IETF standard."  If a standards-
   track RFC only has one implementation (whereas two are required for
   it to advance on the standards track), it was probably a mistake to
   put it on the standards track in the first place.

6.3 Internet Drafts

   First things first.  Every document that ends up in the RFC
   repository starts life as an Internet Draft.  Internet Drafts are
   tentative documents -- they're meant for readers to comment on, so
   authors can mull over those comments and decide which ones to
   incorporate in the draft.  In order to remind folks of their
   tentativeness, Internet Drafts are automatically removed from the
   online directories after six months.  They are most definitely not
   standards or even specifications.  As BCP 9 says:

      An Internet Draft is NOT a means of "publishing" a specification;
      specifications are published through the RFC mechanism ...
      Internet Drafts have no formal status, and are subject to change
      or removal at any time.  Under no circumstances should an Internet
      Draft be referenced by any paper, report, or Request-for-Proposal,
      nor should a vendor claim compliance with an Internet Draft.

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   You can always tell a person who doesn't understand the IETF (or is
   intentionally trying to fool people) when they brag about having
   published an Internet Draft; it takes no significant effort.

   An I-D should have approximately the same format as an RFC.  Contrary
   to many people's beliefs, an I-D does not need to look exactly like
   an RFC, but if you can use the same formatting procedures used by the
   RFC Editor when you create your I-Ds, it will simplify the RFC
   Editor's work when your draft is published as an RFC.  RFC 2223,
   "Instructions to RFC Authors," describes the nroff formatting used by
   the RFC Editor.

   An Internet Draft can be either a Working Group draft or an
   individual submission.  Working Group drafts are usually reviewed by
   the chair before being accepted as a WG item.

6.3.1 Recommended Reading for Writers

   Before you create the first draft of your Internet Draft, you should
   read four documents:

      - More important than just explaining formatting, RFC 2223 also
        explains what needs to be in an Internet Draft before it can
        become an RFC.  This document describes all the sections and
        notices that will need to be in your document, and it's good to
        have them there from the beginning so that readers aren't
        surprised when you put them in later versions.

      - BCP 22, "Guide for Internet Standards Writers," provides tips
        that will help you write a standard that leads to
        interoperability.  For instance, it explains how to choose the
        right number of protocol options, how to respond to out-of-spec
        behavior, and how to show state diagrams.

      - The online "Guidelines to Authors of Internet Drafts,"
        http://www.ietf.org/ietf/1id-guidelines.txt, has up-to-date
        information about the process for turning in Internet Drafts, as
        well as the most current boilerplate information that has to be
        included in each Internet Draft.

      - When you think you are finished with the draft process and are
        ready to request that the draft become an RFC, you should
        definitely read "Considerations for Internet Drafts,"
        http://www.ietf.org/ID-nits.html, a list of common "nits" that
        have been known to stop documents in the IESG.  In fact, you
        should probably read that document well before you are finished,
        so that you don't have to make a bunch of last-minute changes.

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6.3.2 Filenames and Other Matters

   When you're ready to turn in your Internet Draft, send it to the
   Internet Drafts editor at internet-drafts@ietf.org.  There is a real
   person at the other end of this mail address -- their job is to make
   sure you've included the minimum items you need for the Internet
   Draft to be published.  When you submit the first version of the
   draft, the draft editor supplies the filename for the draft.  If the
   draft is an official Working Group product, the name will start with
   "draft-ietf-" followed by the designation of the WG, followed by a
   descriptive word or two, followed by "00.txt".

   For example, a draft in the S/MIME WG about creating keys might be
   named "draft-ietf-smime-keying-00.txt".  If it's not the product of a
   Working Group, the name will start with "draft-" and the last name of
   one of the authors followed by a descriptive word or two, followed by
   "00.txt".  For example, a draft that someone named Smith wrote might
   be named "draft-smith-keying-00.txt".  If a draft is an individual
   submission but relates to a particular working group, the author
   sometimes follows their name with the name of the working group, such
   as "draft-smith-smime-keying-00.txt".  You are welcome to suggest
   names; however, it is up to the Internet Drafts editor (and, if it is
   an official WG draft, the WG chair) to come up with the filename.

   After the first edition of a draft, the number in the filename is
   incremented; for instance, the second edition of the S/MIME draft
   named above would be "draft-ietf-smime-keying-01.txt".  Note that
   there are cases where the filename changes after the first version,
   such as when a personal effort is pulled into a Working Group.

6.4 Standards-Track RFCs

   The procedure for creating and advancing a standard is described in
   BCP 9.  After an Internet Draft has been sufficiently discussed and
   there is rough consensus that what it says would be a useful
   standard, it is presented to the IESG for consideration.  If the
   draft is an official WG draft, the WG chair sends it to the
   appropriate Area Director after it has gone through Working Group
   last call.  If the draft is an individual submission, the draft's
   author or editor submits it to the appropriate Area Director.  BCP 9
   also describes the appeals process for people who feel that a Working
   Group chair, an AD, or the IESG has made the wrong decision in
   considering the creation or advancement of a standard.

   After it is submitted to the IESG, the IESG announces an IETF-wide
   last call.  This helps get the attention of people who weren't
   following the progress of the draft, and can sometimes cause further
   changes to the draft.  It is also a time when people in the WG who

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   feel that they weren't heard can make their comments to everyone.
   The IETF last call is two weeks for drafts coming from WGs and four
   weeks for individual submissions.

   If the IESG approves the draft to become an Internet Standard, they
   ask the RFC Editor to publish it as a Proposed Standard.  After it
   has been a Proposed Standard for at least six months, the RFC's
   author (or the appropriate WG chair) can ask for it to become a Draft
   Standard.  Before that happens, however, someone needs to convince
   the appropriate Area Director that there are at least two
   independent, interoperable implementations of each part of the
   standard.  This is a good test of the usefulness of the standard as a
   whole, as well as an excellent way to check if the standard was
   really readable.

   A few things typically happen at this point.  First, it's common to
   find that some of the specifications in the standard need to be
   reworded because one implementor thought they meant one thing while
   another implementor thought they meant something else.  Another
   common occurrence is that none of the implementations actually tried
   to implement a few of the features of the standard; these features
   get removed not just because no one tested them, but also because
   they weren't needed.

   Don't be surprised if a particular standard doesn't progress from
   Proposed to Draft.  In fact, most of the standards in common use are
   Proposed Standards and never move forward.  This may be because no
   one took the time to try to get them to Draft, or some of the
   normative references in the standard are still at Proposed Standard,
   or it may be that everyone found more important things to do.

   A few years after a document has been a Draft Standard, it can become
   an Internet Standard, also known as "full standard."  This doesn't
   happen often, and is usually reserved for protocols that are
   absolutely required for the Internet to function.  The IESG goes over
   the document with a fine-tooth comb before making a Draft Standard an
   Internet Standard.

6.4.1 Telling It Like It Is -- Using MUST and SHOULD and MAY

   Writing specifications that get implemented the way you want is a bit
   of an art.  You can keep the specification very short, with just a
   list of requirements, but that tends to cause implementors to take
   too much leeway.  If you instead make the specification very wordy
   with lots of suggestions, implementors tend to miss the requirements
   (and often disagree with your suggestions anyway).  An optimal
   specification is somewhere in between.

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   One way to make it more likely that developers will create
   interoperable implementations of standards is to be clear about
   what's being mandated in a specification.  Early RFCs used all kinds
   of expressions to explain what was needed, so implementors didn't
   always know which parts were suggestions and which were requirements.
   As a result, standards writers in the IETF generally agreed to limit
   their wording to a few specific words with a few specific meanings.

   RFC 1123, "Requirements for Internet Hosts -- Application and
   Support," written way back in 1989, had a short list of words that
   had appeared to be useful, namely "must", "should", and "may".  These
   definitions were updated and further refined in BCP 14, "Key words
   for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels," which is widely
   referenced in current Internet standards.  BCP 14 also specifically
   defines "must not" and "should not", and lists a few synonyms for the
   words defined.

   In a standard, in order to make it clear that you're using the
   definitions from BCP 14, you should do two things.  First, refer to
   BCP 14 (although most people refer to it as RFC 2119, because that's
   what BCP 14 tells you to do), so that the reader knows how you're
   defining your words.  Second, you should point out which instances of
   the words you are using come from BCP 14.  The accepted practice for
   this is to capitalize the words.  That is why you see "MUST" and
   "SHOULD" capitalized in IETF standards.

   BCP 14 is a short document, and should be read by everyone who is
   reading or writing IETF standards.  Although the definitions of
   "must" and "must not" are fairly clear, the definitions of "should"
   and "should not" cause a great deal of discussion in many WGs.  When
   reviewing an Internet Draft, the question is often raised, "should
   that sentence have a MUST or a SHOULD in it?"  This is, indeed, a
   very good question, because specifications shouldn't have gratuitous
   MUSTs, but also should not have SHOULDs where a MUST is needed for
   interoperability.  This goes to the crux of the question of over-
   specifying and under-specifying requirements in standards.

6.4.2 Normative References in Standards

   One aspect of writing IETF standards that trips up many novices (and
   quite a few long-time IETF folk) is the rule about how to make
   "normative references" to non-IETF documents or to other RFCs in a
   standard.  A normative reference is a reference to a document that
   must be followed in order to implement the standard.  A non-normative
   reference is one that is helpful to an implementor but is not needed.
   As we noted above, a "MUST" specification would certainly be
   normative, so any reference needed to implement the "MUST" would be
   normative.  A "SHOULD" or "MAY" specification is not necessarily

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   normative, but it could be normative based on what is being required.
   There is definitely room for debate here!

   An IETF standard may make a normative reference to any other
   standards-track RFC that is at the same standards level or higher, or
   to any "open standard" that has been developed outside the IETF.  The
   "same level or higher" rule means that before a standard can move
   from Proposed to Draft, all of the RFCs for which there is a
   normative reference must also be at Draft or Internet Standard.  This
   rule gives implementors assurance that everything in a Draft Standard
   or Internet Standard is quite stable, even the things referenced
   outside the standard.  This can also delay the publication of the
   Draft or Internet Standard by many months (sometimes even years)
   while the other documents catch up.

   There is no hard and fast rule about what is an "open standard," but
   generally this means a stable standard that anyone can get a copy of
   (although they might have to pay for it) and that was made by a
   generally recognized standards group.  If the external standard
   changes, you have to reference the particular instantiation of that
   standard in your specification, as with a designation of the date of
   the standard.  Some external standards bodies don't make old
   standards available, which is a problem for IETF standards that need
   to be used in the future.  When in doubt, a draft author should ask
   the WG chair or appropriate Area Director if a particular external
   standard can be used in an IETF standard.

6.4.3 IANA Considerations

   More and more IETF standards require the registration of various
   protocol parameters, such as named options in the protocol.  As we
   noted in Section 1.2.4, the main registry for all IETF standards has
   long been IANA.  Because of the large and diverse kinds of registries
   that standards require, IANA needs to have specific information about
   how to register parameters, what not to register, who (if anyone)
   will decide what is to be registered, and so on.

   Anyone writing an Internet standard that may need an IANA registry
   needs to read BCP 26, "Guidelines for Writing an IANA Considerations
   Section in RFCs," which describes how RFC authors should properly ask
   for IANA to start or take over a registry.  IANA also maintains
   registries that were started long before BCP 26 was produced.

6.4.4 Security Considerations

   One thing that's required in every RFC is a "Security Considerations"
   section.  This section should describe any known vulnerabilities of
   the protocol, possible threats, and mechanisms or strategies to

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   address them.  Don't gloss over this section -- in particular, don't
   say "here's our protocol, if you want security, just use IPSEC".
   This won't do at all, because it doesn't answer the question of how
   IPSEC interacts with your protocol, and vice versa.  Be sure to check
   with your Working Group chair if you're not sure how to handle this
   section in your draft.

6.4.5 Patents in IETF Standards

   The problems of intellectual property have cropped up more and more
   often in the past few years, particularly with respect to patents.
   The goal of the IETF is to have its standards widely used and
   validated in the marketplace.  If creating a product that uses a
   standard requires getting a license for a patent, people are less
   likely to implement the standard.  Not surprisingly, then, the
   general rule has been "use good non-patented technology where

   Of course, this isn't always possible.  Sometimes patents appear
   after a standard has been established.  Sometimes there's a patent on
   something that is so valuable that there isn't a non-patented
   equivalent.  Sometimes, the patent holder is generous and promises to
   give all implementors of a standard a royalty-free license to the
   patent, thereby making it almost as easy to implement as it would
   have been if no patent existed.

   The IETF's methods for dealing with patents in standards are a
   subject of much debate.  You can read about the official rules in BCP
   9, but you should assume that the application of those rules is
   flexible and depends on the type of patent, the patent holder, and
   the availability of alternate technologies that are not encumbered by

   Patent holders who freely allow their patents to be used by people
   implementing IETF standards often get a great deal of good will from
   the folks in the IETF.  Such generosity is more common than you might
   think.  For example, RFC 1822 is a license from IBM for one of its
   security patents, and the security community has responded very
   favorably to IBM for this (whereas a number of other companies have
   made themselves pariahs for their intractability on their security

   If you are writing an Internet Draft and you know of a patent that
   applies to the technology you're writing about, don't list the patent
   in the document.  Instead, send a note to the IETF Secretariat
   (ietf-secretariat@ietf.org) about the patent or other intellectual
   property rights.  The note will be published on the IETF IPR web page
   (http://www.ietf.org/ipr.html).  Intellectual property rights aren't

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   mentioned in RFCs because RFCs never change after they are published,
   but knowledge of IPR can change at any time.  Therefore, an IPR list
   in a RFC could be incomplete and mislead the reader.  BCP 9 provides
   specific text that should be added to RFCs where the author knows of
   IPR issues.

6.5 Informational and Experimental RFCs

   As we noted earlier, not all RFCs are standards.  In fact, plenty of
   important RFCs are not on the standards track at all.  Currently,
   there are two designations for RFCs that are not meant to be
   standards:  Informational, like the Tao, and Experimental.  (There is
   actually a third designation, Historical, but that is reserved for
   documents that were on the standards track and have been removed due
   to lack of current use, or that more recent thinking indicates the
   technology is actually harmful to the Internet.)

   The role of Informational RFCs is often debated in the IETF.  Many
   people like having them, particularly for specifications that were
   created outside the IETF but are referenced by IETF documents.  They
   are also useful for specifications that are the precursors for work
   being done by IETF Working Groups.  On the other hand, some people
   refer to Informational RFCs as "standards" even though the RFCs are
   not standards, usually to fool the gullible public about something
   that the person is selling or supporting.  When this happens, the
   debate about Informational RFCs is renewed.

   Experimental RFCs are for specifications that may be interesting, but
   for which it is unclear if there will be much interest in
   implementing them.  That is, a specification might solve a problem,
   but if it is not clear many people think that the problem is
   important, or think that they will bother fixing the problem with the
   specification, the specification might be labeled an Experimental
   RFC.  If, later, the specification becomes popular, it can be re-
   issued as a standards-track RFC.  Experimental RFCs are also used to
   get people to experiment with a technology that looks like it might
   be standards track material, but for which there are still unanswered

7. How to Contribute to the IETF -- What You Can Do

   Read --        Review the Internet Drafts in your area of expertise,
                  and comment on them in the Working Groups.
                  Participate in the discussion in a friendly, helpful
                  fashion, with the goal being the best Internet
                  standards possible.  Listen much more than you speak.

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   Implement --   Write programs that use the current Internet
                  standards.  The standards aren't worth much unless
                  they are available to Internet users.  Implement even
                  the "minor" standards, since they will become less
                  minor if they appear in more software.  Report any
                  problems you find with the standards to the
                  appropriate Working Group so that the standard can be
                  clarified in later revisions.  One of the oft-quoted
                  tenets of the IETF is "running code wins," so you can
                  help support the standards you want to become more
                  widespread by creating more running code.

   Write --       Edit or co-author Internet Drafts in your area of
                  expertise.  Do this for the benefit of the Internet
                  community, not to get your name (or, even worse, your
                  company's name) on a document.  Draft authors are
                  subject to all kinds of technical (and sometimes
                  personal) criticism; receive it with equanimity and
                  use it to improve your draft in order to produce the
                  best and most interoperable standard.

7.1  What Your Company Can Do

   Share --       Avoid proprietary standards.  If you are an
                  implementor, exhibit a strong preference for IETF
                  standards.  If the IETF standards aren't as good as
                  the proprietary standards, work to make the IETF
                  standards better.  If you're a purchaser, avoid
                  products that use proprietary standards that compete
                  with the open standards of the IETF, and tell the
                  companies you buy from that you are doing so.

   Open Up --     If your company controls a patent that is used in an
                  IETF standard, convince them to make the patent
                  available at no cost to everyone who is implementing
                  the standard.  In the past few years, patents have
                  caused a lot of serious problems for Internet
                  standards because they prevent some companies from
                  being able to freely implement the standards.
                  Fortunately, many companies have generously offered
                  unlimited licenses for particular patents in order to
                  help the IETF standards flourish.  These companies are
                  usually rewarded with positive publicity for the fact
                  that they are not as greedy or short-sighted as other

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   Join --        Become a member of ISOC.  More importantly, urge any
                  company that has benefited from the Internet to become
                  a corporate member of ISOC, since this has the
                  greatest financial benefit for the group.  It will, of
                  course, also benefit the Internet as a whole.

8. IETF and the Outside World

8.1 IETF and Other Standards Groups

   As much as many IETF participants would like to think otherwise, the
   IETF does not exist in a standards vacuum.  There are many (perhaps
   too many) other standards organizations whose decisions affect the
   Internet.  There are also a fair number of standards bodies who
   ignored the Internet for a long time and now want to get a piece of
   the action.

   In general, the IETF tries to have cordial relationships with other
   significant standards bodies.  This isn't always easy, since many
   other bodies have very different structures than the IETF, and the
   IETF is mostly run by volunteers who would probably prefer to write
   standards rather than meet with representatives from other bodies.
   Even so, some other standards bodies make a great effort to interact
   well with the IETF despite the obvious cultural differences.

   At the time of this writing, the IESG has some liaisons with large
   standards bodies, including the ITU (International Telecommunication
   Union), the W3C, the Unicode Consortium, the ATM Forum, and ISO-
   IEC/JTC1 (The Joint Technical Committee of the International
   Organization for Standardization and International Electrotechnical
   Commission).  The list of IETF liaisons, www.ietf.org/ietf/1iesg-
   liaisons.txt, shows that there are many different liaisons to ISO-
   IEC/JTC1 subcommittees.

8.2 Press Coverage of the IETF

   Given that the IETF is one of the best-known bodies that is helping
   move the Internet forward, it's natural for the computer press (and
   even the trade press) to want to cover its actions.  In recent years,
   a small number of magazines have assigned reporters and editors to
   cover the IETF in depth over a long period of time.  These reporters
   have ample scars from articles that they got wrong, incorrect
   statements about the status of Internet Drafts, quotes from people
   who are unrelated to the IETF work, and so on.

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   Major press errors fall into two categories: saying that the IETF is
   considering something when in fact there is just an Internet Draft in
   a Working Group, and saying that the IETF approved something when all
   that happened was that an Informational RFC was published.  In both
   cases, the press is not fully to blame for the problem, since they
   are usually alerted to the story by a company trying to get publicity
   for a protocol that they developed or at least support.  Of course, a
   bit of research by the reporter would probably get them in contact
   with someone who could straighten them out, such as a WG chair or an
   Area Director.  The official press contact for the IETF is the IETF

   The fact that those reporters who've gotten it wrong once come back
   to IETF meetings shows that it is possible to get it right
   eventually.  However, IETF meetings are definitely not for reporters
   who are naive about the IETF process (although if you are a reporter
   the fact that you are reading this document is a very good sign!).
   Further, if you think that you'll get a hot story from attending an
   IETF meeting, you are likely to be disappointed.

   Considering all this, it's not surprising that some IETFers would
   prefer to have the press stay as far away from meetings as possible.
   Having a bit of press publicity for protocols that are almost near
   completion and will become significant in the industry in the next
   year can be a good thing.  However, it is the rare reporter who can
   resist over-hyping a nascent protocol as the next savior for the
   Internet.  Such stories do much more harm than good, both for the
   readers of the article and for the IETF.

   The main reason why a reporter might want to attend an IETF meeting
   is not to cover hot technologies (since that can be done in the
   comfort of your office by reading the mailing lists), but to meet
   people face to face.  Unfortunately, the most interesting people are
   the ones who are also the busiest during the IETF meeting, and some
   folks have a tendency to run away when they see a press badge.
   However, IETF meetings are excellent places to meet and speak with
   document authors and Working Group chairs; this can be quite valuable
   for reporters who are covering the progress of protocols.

   Reporters who want to find out about "what the IETF is doing" on a
   particular topic would be well-advised to talk to more than one
   person who is active on that topic in the IETF, and should probably
   try to talk to the WG chair in any case.  It's impossible to
   determine what will happen with a draft by looking at the draft or
   talking to the draft's author.  Fortunately, all WGs have archives
   that a reporter can look through for recent indications about what
   the progress of a draft is; unfortunately, few reporters have the
   time or inclination to do this kind of research.  Because the IETF

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   doesn't have a press liaison, a magazine or newspaper that runs a
   story with errors won't hear directly from the IETF and therefore
   often won't know what they did wrong, so they might easily do it
   again later.

9. References

9.1 Tao

   Pronounced "dow", Tao is the basic principle behind the teachings of
   Lao-tse, a Chinese master.  Its familiar symbol is the black and
   white Yin-Yang circle.  Taoism conceives the universe as a single
   organism, and human beings as interdependent parts of a cosmic whole.
   Tao is sometimes translated "the way," but according to Taoist
   philosophy the true meaning of the word cannot be expressed in words.

9.2 Useful E-mail Addresses

   agenda@ietf.org              Requests for agenda slots at IETF
   ietf-info@ietf.org           General questions about the IETF
   ietf-registrar@ietf.org      Questions about registration, meeting
                                     locations, and fees
   ietf-request@ietf.org        Requests to join/leave IETF lists
   ietf-secretariat@ietf.org    Questions for the Secretariat
   ietf-web@ietf.org            Web questions/comments
   internet-drafts@ietf.org     Internet Draft submissions and queries
   minutes@ietf.org             Where to send Working Group minutes
   proceedings@ietf.org         IETF Proceedings Coordinator
   iana@iana.org                Internet Assigned Numbers Authority
   rfc-ed@rfc-editor.org        RFC Editor

9.3 Useful Documents and Files

   The IETF web site, http://www.ietf.org, is the best source for
   information about meetings, Working Groups, Internet Drafts, RFCs,
   IETF e-mail addresses, and much more.  Click on "Additional
   Information" to find a variety of helpful links.  Internet Drafts and
   other documents are also available in the "ietf" directory on
   anonymous FTP sites worldwide.  For a listing of these sites, see:


   Check the IESG web pages, http://www.ietf.org/iesg.html, to find
   up-to-date information about drafts processed, RFCs published, and
   documents in Last Call, as well as the monthly IETF status reports.

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9.4 Acronyms and Abbreviations Used in the Tao

   AD       Area Director
   BCP      Best Current Practice
   BOF      Birds Of a Feather
   FAQ      Frequently Asked Question(s)
   FYI      For Your Information (RFC)
   IAB      Internet Architecture Board
   IANA     Internet Assigned Numbers Authority
   ICANN    Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers,
   I-D      Internet Draft
   IESG     Internet Engineering Steering Group,
   IETF     Internet Engineering Task Force, http://www.ietf.org/
   INET     Internet Society Conference,
   IRTF     Internet Research Task Force, http://www.irtf.org/
   ISO      International Organization for Standardization,
            Joint Technical Committee of the International
            Organization for Standardization and International
            Electrotechnical Commission, http://www.jtc1.org/
   ISOC     Internet Society, http://www.isoc.org
   ITU      International Telecommunication Union, http://www.itu.int
   RFC      Request For Comments
   STD      Standard (RFC)
   W3C      World Wide Web Consortium, http://www.w3.org/
   WG       Working Group

9.5 Documents Cited in the Tao

   BCP 9     "The Internet Standards Process"
   BCP 10    "IAB and IESG Selection, Confirmation, and Recall Process:
              Operation of the Nominating and Recall Committees"
   BCP 11    "The Organizations Involved in the IETF Standards Process"
   BCP 14    "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels"
   BCP 22    "Guide for Internet Standards Writers"
   BCP 25    "IETF Working Group Guidelines and Procedures"
   BCP 26    "Guidelines for Writing an IANA Considerations Section
              in RFCs"
   RFC 1123  "Requirements for Internet Hosts -- Application and
   RFC 1796  "Not All RFCs are Standards"
   RFC 2223  "Instructions to RFC Authors"

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RFC 3160                    The Tao of IETF                  August 2001

   "Considerations for Internet Drafts,"

   "Guidelines to Authors of Internet-Drafts,"

Security Considerations

   Section 6.4.5 explains why each RFC is required to have a Security
   Considerations section, and gives some idea of what it should and
   should not contain.  Other than that information, this document does
   not touch on Internet security.

Editor's Address

   Susan Harris
   Merit Network, Inc.
   4251 Plymouth Road, Suite 2000
   Ann Arbor, MI  48105

   EMail: srh@merit.edu

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RFC 3160                    The Tao of IETF                  August 2001

Full Copyright Statement

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2001).  All Rights Reserved.

   This document and translations of it may be copied and furnished to
   others, and derivative works that comment on or otherwise explain it
   or assist in its implementation may be prepared, copied, published
   and distributed, in whole or in part, without restriction of any
   kind, provided that the above copyright notice and this paragraph are
   included on all such copies and derivative works.  However, this
   document itself may not be modified in any way, such as by removing
   the copyright notice or references to the Internet Society or other
   Internet organizations, except as needed for the purpose of
   developing Internet standards in which case the procedures for
   copyrights defined in the Internet Standards process must be
   followed, or as required to translate it into languages other than

   The limited permissions granted above are perpetual and will not be
   revoked by the Internet Society or its successors or assigns.

   This document and the information contained herein is provided on an


   Funding for the RFC Editor function is currently provided by the
   Internet Society.

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