Skip to main content

Handling Normative References to Standards-Track Documents

The information below is for an old version of the document that is already published as an RFC.
Document Type
This is an older version of an Internet-Draft that was ultimately published as RFC 4897.
Authors Sam Hartman , Dr. John C. Klensin
Last updated 2020-01-21 (Latest revision 2007-03-28)
RFC stream Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)
Intended RFC status Best Current Practice
Stream WG state (None)
Document shepherd (None)
IESG IESG state Became RFC 4897 (Best Current Practice)
Action Holders
Consensus boilerplate Unknown
Telechat date (None)
Responsible AD Russ Housley
Send notices to,
Network Working Group                                         J. Klensin
Updates: 3967 (if approved)                                   S. Hartman
Expires: September 27, 2007                                          MIT
                                                          March 26, 2007

       Handling Normative References to Standards Track Documents

Status of this Memo

   By submitting this Internet-Draft, each author represents that any
   applicable patent or other IPR claims of which he or she is aware
   have been or will be disclosed, and any of which he or she becomes
   aware will be disclosed, in accordance with Section 6 of BCP 79.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
   Task Force (IETF), its areas, and its working groups.  Note that
   other groups may also distribute working documents as Internet-

   Internet-Drafts are draft documents valid for a maximum of six months
   and may be updated, replaced, or obsoleted by other documents at any
   time.  It is inappropriate to use Internet-Drafts as reference
   material or to cite them other than as "work in progress."

   The list of current Internet-Drafts can be accessed at

   The list of Internet-Draft Shadow Directories can be accessed at

   This Internet-Draft will expire on September 27, 2007.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The IETF Trust (2007).


   The IETF and RFC Editor have a long-standing rule that a document at
   a given maturity level cannot be published until all documents it
   references as normative are at that maturity level or higher.  This
   rule has sometimes resulted in very long publication delays for
   documents and some claims that it was a major obstruction to
   advancing documents in maturity level.  The IETF agreed to a way to
   bypass this rule with RFC 3967.  This document describes a simpler

Klensin & Hartman      Expires September 27, 2007               [Page 1]
Internet-Draft            Normative References                March 2007

   procedure for downward references to Standards track and BCP
   documents, namely "note and move on".  The procedure in RFC 3967
   still applies for downward references to other classes of document.
   In both cases, annotations should be added to such References.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
   2.  Terminology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
   3.  Normative Reference Rule  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
     3.1.  Source Documents Not Yet Processed by the IESG  . . . . . . 4
     3.2.  Documents Already in RFC Editor Queue . . . . . . . . . . . 4
   4.  Target Documents not on the Standards Track . . . . . . . . . . 5
   5.  Target Documents that Can Be Referenced This Way  . . . . . . . 5
   6.  Security Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
   7.  IANA Considerations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
   8.  Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5
   9.  Changes for version -02 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
   10. Normative References  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
   Authors' Addresses  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
   Intellectual Property and Copyright Statements  . . . . . . . . . . 8

Klensin & Hartman      Expires September 27, 2007               [Page 2]
Internet-Draft            Normative References                March 2007

1.  Introduction

   The IETF and RFC Editor have a long-standing rule (see, e.g., RFC
   2026, Section 4.2.4 [RFC2026] and the extended discussion in RFC 3967
   [RFC3967]) that a document at a given maturity level cannot be
   published until all documents it references as normative are at that
   maturity level or higher.  This rule has sometimes resulted in very
   long publication delays for documents and some claims that it was a
   major obstruction to advancing documents in maturity level.
   Recognizing the problems that this rule sometimes caused, RFC 3967
   established an exception procedure for normative downward references
   under some specific circumstances.  Perhaps because of its fairly
   stringent requirements, RFC 3967 has not proven adequate either to
   clear the backlog of documents awaiting upgraded documents or to
   prevent additional documents from joining that queue.

   This document replaces the long-standing rule for downward references
   to standards-track documents (including BCPs) that are already
   published.  While downward references to, e.g., Internet Drafts, are
   theoretically possible, they are not contemplated here.

   This document replaces the "hold on normative reference" rule with a
   "note downward normative reference and move on" approach for
   normative references to standards-track documents and BCPs.

   This document also updates RFC 3967 to encourage downward references
   approved through that procedure to be noted in the same way as
   references approved under this rule.

2.  Terminology

   A reference involves two documents, the one in which the reference is
   embedded and the document referenced.  Where needed for clarity,
   these documents are referred to as the "source document" and "target
   document" respectively.

   The term "standards track document", as used in this specification,
   is assumed to include BCPs but not Informational or Experimental
   documents of any variety or origin.

3.  Normative Reference Rule

   This document specifies a alternative to holding source documents
   until all target documents referenced normatively are upgraded or by
   applying the procedure of RFC 3967.

Klensin & Hartman      Expires September 27, 2007               [Page 3]
Internet-Draft            Normative References                March 2007

3.1.  Source Documents Not Yet Processed by the IESG

   An author or editor who requires a normative downward reference to a
   standards-track RFC uses the following very simple procedure:

   o  The reference text (i.e., in the "Normative References" section of
      the source document) is written as usual.
   o  A note is included in the reference text that indicates that the
      reference is to a target document of a lower maturity level, that
      some caution should be used since it may be less stable than the
      document from which it is being referenced, and, optionally,
      explaining why the downward reference is appropriate.

   The IESG may, at its discretion, specify the exact text to be used,
   establish procedures regarding the text to use, or give guidance on
   this text.  When establishing procedures the IESG should seek
   appropriate community review.

   These annotations are part of the source document.  If members of the
   community consider either the downward reference or the annotation
   text to be inappropriate, those issues can be raised at any time in
   the document life cycle, just as with any other text in the document.
   There is no separate review on these references.

   With appropriate community review, the IESG may establish procedures
   for when normative downward references should delay a document and
   when downward references should be noted.  Absent specific guidance,
   authors and reviewers should use their best judgment.  It is assumed
   that in a significant majority of cases, noting a downward reference
   is preferable to delaying publication.

   At the option of the author, similar notes may be attached to non-
   normative references.

3.2.  Documents Already in RFC Editor Queue

   The IESG may, at its discretion, specify a procedure to be applied to
   source documents that are already in the RFC Editor queue, awaiting
   target referenced documents.  The IESG should encourage authors with
   documents in the rfc-editor queue awaiting downward references to
   standards-track RFCs to evaluate whether this new rule is appropriate
   for their documents.  If authors believe that adding an annotation
   and releasing the documents is the best way forward, then the IESG
   should insure that appropriate review is conducted and if that review
   agrees with the authors allow the annotations to be added.  The IESG
   will announce its decision via the normal Protocol-Action or
   Document-Action mechanisms.

Klensin & Hartman      Expires September 27, 2007               [Page 4]
Internet-Draft            Normative References                March 2007

4.  Target Documents not on the Standards Track

   In the case of a normative reference to a document not on the
   standards track that is approved under the procedures defined in RFC
   3967, the annotation described in section 3.1, or the retrospective
   annotation described in section 3.2, SHOULD be added to the reference
   unless the IESG, after consideration of Last Call input, concludes it
   is inappropriate.

5.  Target Documents that Can Be Referenced This Way

   The "downward reference by annotation" model specified here is
   applicable only to published standards track RFCs at lower maturity

   Obviously such downward references are part of the relevant source
   document at IETF Last Call and subject to comments from the

   Advancing documents, when appropriate, is still considered preferable
   to the use of either this procedure or the one specified in RFC 3967.
   This specification does not impose a specific test or requirement to
   determine appropriateness, partially because it would be impossible
   to do so for the general case, but the intention is to permit the
   IESG and the community to balance the importance of getting a source
   document published against the time and difficulty associated with
   upgrading a target document.  That requirement is intended to be less
   stringent than the one of RFC 3967.

6.  Security Considerations

   This document specifies an IETF procedure.  It is not believed to
   raise any security issues although, in principle, relaxing the
   normative downward reference rules for references associated with
   security mechanisms could make a specification less stable and hence
   less secure.

7.  IANA Considerations

   This document requires no actions by the IANA.

8.  Acknowledgments

   This proposal was suggested by a comment by Spencer Dawkins and many

Klensin & Hartman      Expires September 27, 2007               [Page 5]
Internet-Draft            Normative References                March 2007

   complaints about the negative impact of the current rules.  The
   author is unsure about the validity of some of those complaints; the
   proposal is, in part, a way to test the validity question.  Spencer
   also provided helpful comments on a preliminary draft.  It was
   revised in response to extensive discussion in the IESG and benefited
   significantly by comments by Brian Carpenter.

9.  Changes for version -02

   The proposal has been significantly trimmed based on discussion with
   the IESG during and after Last Call.  In particular, the provisions
   for downward references to approved, but unpublished, Internet-Drafts
   and for references to Informational documents have been removed and
   the proposal targeted at BCP rather than experimental status.  The
   revised procedure applies only to published standards-track documents
   at a lower maturity level.

   Some editorial corrections have also been made to improve clarity.

10.  Normative References

   [RFC2026]  Bradner, S., "The Internet Standards Process -- Revision
              3", BCP 9, RFC 2026, October 1996.

   [RFC3967]  Bush, R. and T. Narten, "Clarifying when Standards Track
              Documents may Refer Normatively to Documents at a Lower
              Level", BCP 97, RFC 3967, December 2004.

Authors' Addresses

   John C Klensin
   1770 Massachusetts Ave, #322
   Cambridge, MA  02140

   Phone: +1 617 491 5735

Klensin & Hartman      Expires September 27, 2007               [Page 6]
Internet-Draft            Normative References                March 2007

   Sam Hartman
   Massachusetts Institute of Technology
   77 Massachusetts Ave
   Cambridge, MA  02139


Klensin & Hartman      Expires September 27, 2007               [Page 7]
Internet-Draft            Normative References                March 2007

Full Copyright Statement

   Copyright (C) The IETF Trust (2007).

   This document is subject to the rights, licenses and restrictions
   contained in BCP 78, and except as set forth therein, the authors
   retain all their rights.

   This document and the information contained herein are provided on an

Intellectual Property

   The IETF takes no position regarding the validity or scope of any
   Intellectual Property Rights or other rights that might be claimed to
   pertain to the implementation or use of the technology described in
   this document or the extent to which any license under such rights
   might or might not be available; nor does it represent that it has
   made any independent effort to identify any such rights.  Information
   on the procedures with respect to rights in RFC documents can be
   found in BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Copies of IPR disclosures made to the IETF Secretariat and any
   assurances of licenses to be made available, or the result of an
   attempt made to obtain a general license or permission for the use of
   such proprietary rights by implementers or users of this
   specification can be obtained from the IETF on-line IPR repository at

   The IETF invites any interested party to bring to its attention any
   copyrights, patents or patent applications, or other proprietary
   rights that may cover technology that may be required to implement
   this standard.  Please address the information to the IETF at


   Funding for the RFC Editor function is provided by the IETF
   Administrative Support Activity (IASA).

Klensin & Hartman      Expires September 27, 2007               [Page 8]