Network Working Group                                         P. Hoffman
Internet-Draft                                            VPN Consortium
Obsoletes: RFC 4677                                            June 2012
(if approved)
Intended status: Informational
Expires: December 3, 2012

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


   This document describes the inner workings of IETF meetings and
   Working Groups, discusses organizations related to the IETF, and
   introduces the standards process.  It is not a formal IETF process
   document but instead an informational overview.

Status of This Memo

   This Internet-Draft is submitted in full conformance with the
   provisions of BCP 78 and BCP 79.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
   Task Force (IETF).  Note that other groups may also distribute
   working documents as Internet-Drafts.  The list of current Internet-
   Drafts is at

   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."

   This Internet-Draft will expire on December 3, 2012.

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   Copyright (c) 2012 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
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   the Trust Legal Provisions and are provided without warranty as

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   described in the Simplified BSD License.

   This document may contain material from IETF Documents or IETF
   Contributions published or made publicly available before November
   10, 2008.  The person(s) controlling the copyright in some of this
   material may not have granted the IETF Trust the right to allow
   modifications of such material outside the IETF Standards Process.
   Without obtaining an adequate license from the person(s) controlling
   the copyright in such materials, this document may not be modified
   outside the IETF Standards Process, and derivative works of it may
   not be created outside the IETF Standards Process, except to format
   it for publication as an RFC or to translate it into languages other
   than English.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  4
   2.  What Is the IETF?  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
     2.1.  Humble Beginnings  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
     2.2.  The Hierarchy  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
       2.2.1.  ISOC (Internet Society)  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
       2.2.2.  IESG (Internet Engineering Steering Group) . . . . . .  7
       2.2.3.  IAB (Internet Architecture Board)  . . . . . . . . . .  9
       2.2.4.  IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) . . . . . . 10
       2.2.5.  RFC Editor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
       2.2.6.  IETF Secretariat . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
       2.2.7.  IETF Trust . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
     2.3.  IETF Mailing Lists . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
   3.  IETF Meetings  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
     3.1.  Registration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
     3.2.  Take the Plunge and Stay All Week! . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
     3.3.  Newcomer Training  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
     3.4.  Dress Code . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
     3.5.  WG Meetings  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
     3.6.  Seeing Spots Before Your Eyes  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
     3.7.  Terminal Room  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17
     3.8.  Meals and Other Delights . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
     3.9.  Social Event . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
     3.10. Agenda . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 18
     3.11. EDU to the Rescue  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
     3.12. Where Do I Fit In? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
       3.12.1. IS Managers  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
       3.12.2. Network Operators and ISPs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 19
       3.12.3. Networking Hardware and Software Vendors . . . . . . . 20
       3.12.4. Academics  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
       3.12.5. Computer Trade Press . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
     3.13. Proceedings  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
     3.14. Other General Things . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21

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   4.  Working Groups . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
     4.1.  Working Group Chairs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
     4.2.  Getting Things Done in a Working Group . . . . . . . . . . 23
     4.3.  Working Group Documents  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25
     4.4.  Preparing for Working Group Meetings . . . . . . . . . . . 26
     4.5.  Working Group Mailing Lists  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
     4.6.  Interim Working Group Meetings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
   5.  BOFs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
   6.  RFCs and Internet-Drafts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
     6.1.  Getting an RFC Published . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
     6.2.  Letting Go Gracefully  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32
     6.3.  Internet-Drafts  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
       6.3.1.  Recommended Reading for Writers  . . . . . . . . . . . 34
       6.3.2.  Filenames and Other Matters  . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
     6.4.  Standards-Track RFCs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
       6.4.1.  Telling It Like It Is -- Using MUST and SHOULD and
               MAY  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
       6.4.2.  Normative References in Standards  . . . . . . . . . . 38
       6.4.3.  IANA Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
       6.4.4.  Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
       6.4.5.  Patents in IETF Standards  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
     6.5.  Informational and Experimental RFCs  . . . . . . . . . . . 40
   7.  How to Contribute to the IETF  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
     7.1.  What You Can Do  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
     7.2.  What Your Company Can Do . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
   8.  IETF and the Outside World . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
     8.1.  IETF and Other Standards Groups  . . . . . . . . . . . . . 42
     8.2.  Press Coverage of the IETF . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
   9.  Security Considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
   10. Acknowledgements . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
   11. Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
   Appendix A.  Related Information . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
     A.1.  Why "the Tao"? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
     A.2.  Useful Email Addresses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46
     A.3.  Useful Documents and Files . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 47
     A.4.  Acronyms and Abbreviations Used in the Tao . . . . . . . . 47
   Appendix B.  IETF Guiding Principles . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
     B.1.  General  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
     B.2.  Management and Leadership  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
     B.3.  Process  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
     B.4.  Working Groups . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
     B.5.  Documents  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50

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1.  Introduction

   Since its early 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 email 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.  This
   document started out fairly short, but expanded over time in response
   to suggestions from IETF novices about what more they would have
   wanted to know before attending their first face-to-face meeting or
   becoming active in their first Working Group.

   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 document
   provides the mundane bits of information that newcomers will need in
   order to become active participants.

   The IETF is always in a state of change.  Although the principles in
   this document are expected to remain largely the same over time,
   practical details may well have changed by the time you read it; for
   example, a web-based tool may have replaced an email address for
   requesting some sort of action.

   Many types of IETF documentation are mentioned in the Tao, from BCPs
   to RFCs and STDs.  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
   STDs are RFCs identified as "standards".  Actually, all three types
   of documents are RFCs; see Section 6 for more information.

   This document is intended to obsolete RFC 4677.  See Section 2.2.5
   for information on what it means for one RFC to obsolete another.

   The acronyms and abbreviations used in this document are usually
   expanded in place and are explained fully in Appendix A.

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2.  What Is the IETF?

   The IETF 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; see [BCP95], "A Mission
   Statement for the IETF", for more detail.

   Its mission includes the following:

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

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

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

   o  Facilitating technology transfer from the Internet Research Task
      Force (IRTF) to the wider Internet community

   o  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 that are produced 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 a
   meeting and then attend.  The closest thing there is to being an IETF
   member is being on the IETF or Working Group mailing lists (see
   Section 2.3).  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
   [BCP11], "The Organizations Involved in the IETF Standards Process".
   If you participate in the IETF and read only one BCP, this is the one
   you should read.

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   In many ways, the IETF runs on the beliefs of its participants.  One
   of the "founding beliefs" is embodied in an early quote about the
   IETF from David Clark: "We reject kings, presidents and voting.  We
   believe in rough consensus and running code".  Another early quote
   that has become a commonly-held belief in the IETF comes from Jon
   Postel: "Be conservative in what you send and liberal in what you

   The IETF is really about its participants.  Because the IETF welcome
   all interested individuals, IETF participants come from all over the
   world and from many different parts of the Internet industry.  See
   Section 3.12 for information about the ways that many people fit into
   the IETF.

   One more thing that is important for newcomers: the IETF in no way
   "runs the Internet", despite what some people mistakenly might say.
   The IETF makes voluntary standards that are often adopted by Internet
   users, but it does not control, or even patrol, the Internet.  If
   your interest in the IETF is because you want to be part of the
   overseers, you may be badly disappointed by the IETF.

2.1.  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 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 more than 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
   structure of the IAB (then the Internet Activities Board, now the
   Internet Architecture Board), which until that time oversaw many
   "task forces", was changed, leaving it with 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.  The IETF first met in Asia (in Adelaide,

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   Australia) in 2000.

   Currently, the IETF meets in North America, Europe, and Asia.  The
   intention is to meet once a year in each region, although due to
   scheduling issues there are often more meetings in North America and
   fewer in Asia and Europe.  The number of non-US attendees continues
   to be high -- about 50%, even at meetings held in the United States.

2.2.  The Hierarchy

2.2.1.  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
   provides insurance coverage for many of the people holding leadership
   positions 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 heroes of the

   Starting in spring 2005, the ISOC also became home base for the
   IETF's directly employed administrative staff.  This is described in
   more detail in [BCP101], "Structure of the IETF Administrative
   Support Activity (IASA)".  The staff initially includes only an
   Administrative Director (IAD) who works full-time overseeing IETF
   meeting planning, operational aspects of support services (the
   secretariat, IANA (the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority), and the
   RFC Editor, which are described later in this section), and the
   budget.  He or she (currently it's a he) leads the IETF
   Administrative Support Activity (IASA), which takes care of tasks
   such as collecting meeting fees and paying invoices, and also
   supports the tools for the work of IETF working groups, the IESG, the
   IAB, and the IRTF (more about these later in this section).

   The IETF Administrative Oversight Committee (IAOC) consists of
   volunteers, all chosen directly or indirectly by the IETF community,
   as well as appropriate ex officio members from ISOC and IETF
   leadership.  The IASA and the IAD are directed by the IAOC.

   Neither the IAD nor the IAOC have any influence over IETF standards
   development, which we turn to now.

2.2.2.  IESG (Internet Engineering Steering Group)

   The IESG is responsible for technical management of IETF activities
   and the Internet standards process.  It administers the process

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   according to the rules and procedures that have been ratified by the
   ISOC Board of Trustees.  However, the IESG doesn't exercise much
   direct leadership, such as the kind you will find in many other
   standards organizations.  As its name suggests, its role is to set
   directions rather than to give orders.  The IESG ratifies or steers
   the output from the IETF's Working Groups (WGs), 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 (often called "ADs"), who are
   selected by the Nominations Committee (which is usually called "the
   NomCom") and are appointed for two years.  The process for choosing
   the members of the IESG is detailed in [BCP10], "IAB and IESG
   Selection, Confirmation, and Recall Process: Operation of the
   Nominating and Recall Committees".

   The current Areas and abbreviations are shown below.

   Area                    Description
   Applications (APP)      Protocols seen by user programs, such as
                                email and the web

   General (GEN)           IETF process, and 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 information

   Operations and          Operational aspects, network monitoring,
   Management (OPS)            and configuration

   Real-time               Delay-sensitive interpersonal
   Applications and            communications
   Infrastructure (RAI)

   Routing (RTG)           Getting packets to their destinations

   Security (SEC)          Authentication and privacy

   Transport (TSV)         Special services for special packets

   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 Area Directors
   for their opinion on a particular subject.  However, most ADs are
   nearly indistinguishable from mere mortals and rarely speak from

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   mountaintops.  In fact, when asked for specific technical comments,
   the ADs may often defer to IETF participants whom they feel have more
   knowledge than they do on that topic.

   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 reviews each Internet-Draft that is proposed to
   become an RFC.  Any AD may record a "DISCUSS" ballot position against
   a draft if he or she has serious concerns.  If these concerns cannot
   be resolved by discussion, an override procedure is defined such that
   at least two IESG members must express concerns before a draft can be
   blocked from moving forward.  These procedures help 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 protocols and
   that an AD's "pet peeve" cannot indefinitely block something.

   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 eventually 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 scrutiny that the WG review gets from the

   The IETF is run by rough consensus, and it is the IESG that judges
   whether a WG has come up with a result that has IETF community
   consensus.  (See Section 4.2 for more information on WG 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,
   perhaps from another Area.  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.

2.2.3.  IAB (Internet Architecture Board)

   The IAB is responsible for keeping an eye on the "big picture" of the
   Internet, and it 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 it brings these
   topics to the attention of people it thinks should know about them.

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   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.

   The IAB also:

   o  Approves NomCom's IESG nominations

   o  Acts as the appeals board for appeals against IESG and IAOC

   o  Oversees the RFC series through the RFC Series Oversight Committee

   o  Approves the appointment of the IANA

   o  Acts as an advisory body to ISOC

   o  Oversees IETF liaisons with other standards bodies

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

2.2.4.  IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority)

   The core registrar for the IETF's activities is the IANA (see  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.  The IAB selected ICANN, and the IANA activities
   are provided for free as specified in [RFC2860].

   Ten years ago, no one would have expected to 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
   that was badly maligned by a variety of people who never looked at
   what its role was.  Nowadays, the IETF is generally no longer

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   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.

2.2.5.  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  Once an RFC is published, it is never
   revised.  If the specification it describes changes, the standard
   will be re-published in another RFC that "obsoletes" the first.

   One of the most popular misconceptions in the IETF community is that
   the role of the RFC Editor is performed by IANA.  Although both the
   RFC Editor and IANA involved the same people for many years, the RFC
   Editor is a separate job.  Today, these jobs are performed by
   separate organizations.  The IAB approves the organization that will
   act as RFC Editor and the RFC Editor's general policy.  The RFC
   Editor is funded by IASA.

   Up through the end of 2009, the RFC Editor was a single entity.  The
   function was split by the IAB, in coordination with the IETF
   community, into many roles that can be performed by different people
   or organizations, led by the IAB-appointed RFC Series Editor.  The
   RFC Editor model is described in [RFC6635].

2.2.6.  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.  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.  It provides various tools for use by the community and the
   IESG.  The IETF Secretariat is under contract to IASA, which in turn
   is financially supported by the fees collected for attending the
   face-to-face meetings.

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2.2.7.  IETF Trust

   Near the end of 2005, the IETF Trust was set up to hold and license
   the intellectual property of the IETF.  The reason the IETF Trust was
   set up is that someone has to hold intellectual property, and that
   someone should be a stable, legally-identifiable entity.  The IETF
   Trustees are the same people who serve as members of the IAOC at any
   given point in time.  Few IETF participants come into contact with
   the IETF Trust, which is a good sign that they are quietly doing
   their job.  You can find out more about the IETF trust at their web

2.3.  IETF Mailing Lists

   Anyone who plans to attend an IETF meeting should join the IETF
   announcement mailing list (see  This is where
   all of the meeting information, RFC announcements, and IESG Protocol
   Actions and Last Calls are posted.  People who would like to "get
   technical" may also join the IETF general discussion list (see  This is where
   discussions of cosmic significance are held (Working Groups have
   their own mailing lists for discussions related to their work).
   Another mailing list announces each new version of every Internet-
   Draft as it is published (see

   Subscriptions to these and other IETF-run mailing lists are handled
   by a program called "mailman".  Mailman can be somewhat finicky about
   the format of subscription messages, and sometimes interacts poorly
   with email programs that make all email messages into HTML files.
   Mailman will treat you well, however, if you format your messages
   just the way it likes.

   The IETF discussion list is unmoderated.  This means that all 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 [BCP45], "IETF Discussion List Charter".  It
   is a good idea to read the whole RFC (it's short!) before posting to
   the IETF discussion list.  Actually, the list does have two
   "sergeants at arms" who keep an eye open for inappropriate postings,
   and there is a process for banning persistent offenders from the
   list, but fortunately this is extremely rare.

   Only the Secretariat and a small number of IETF leaders can approve
   messages sent to the announcement list, although those messages can
   come from a variety of people.

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

3.  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 "gatherings of the tribes" 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 (if any),
   although IASA kicks in additional funds for things such as the audio
   broadcast 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 for many participants.  IETF meetings are of little
   interest to sales and marketing folks, but of high interest to
   engineers and developers.

   The general flow of an IETF meeting is that it begins with tutorials
   and an informal gathering on Sunday, and that there are WG and BoF
   meetings Monday through Friday.  WG meetings last for between 1 and
   2.5 hours each, and some WGs have meetings multiple times during the
   week, depending on how much work they anticipate doing.

   There are two plenary sessions, one technical and one administrative,
   in the evenings during the week.  The technical plenary is organized
   by the IAB and usually has one or two panels of experts on topics of
   interest across many WGs and Areas.  The administrative plenary,
   organized by the IETF Chair, covers things like progress reports from
   the RFC Editor and announcements of upcoming meetings.  The plenaries
   are a good time to share with the IESG and IAOC.  Praise is welcome,
   but more often concerns and gripes are raised.

   Currently, the IETF meets in North America, Europe, and Asia,
   approximately once a year in each region.  The past few meetings have
   had about 1,200 attendees.  There have been more than 80 IETF
   meetings so far, and a list of upcoming meetings is available on the
   IETF web pages,

   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

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   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.  On the other hand, IETFers can sometimes be surprisingly
   rude, such as talking loudly during functions when someone is
   speaking at the microphone or pushing through a crowd to get to food
   or drinks.  This type of anti-social behavior seems to be more common
   at IETF meetings than at computer conferences.

3.1.  Registration

   To attend an IETF meeting, you have to register and pay a
   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 email to the IETF-announce
   mailing list, and information is posted on the IETF web site,, that same day.

   You can register and pay on the web before the meeting, or in person
   at the meeting.  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 welcome reception (cash bar), daily continental breakfasts,
   and afternoon beverage and snack breaks.

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

   It's worth noting that neither attendee names and addresses nor IETF
   mailing lists are ever offered for sale.

   Before you register, you see a web page titled "Note Well".  You
   should indeed read it carefully because it lays out the rules for
   IETF intellectual property rights.

   If you need to leave messages for other attendees, you can do so at
   the cork boards that are often near the registration desk.  These
   cork boards will also have last-minute meeting changes and room

   You can also turn in lost-and-found items to the registration desk.
   At the end of the meeting, anything left over from the lost-and-found
   will usually be turned over to the hotel or brought back to the
   Secretariat's office.

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   Incidentally, the IETF registration desk is often a convenient place
   to arrange to meet people.  If someone says "meet me at
   registration", you should clarify if they mean the IETF registration
   desk, or the hotel registration desk.  This has been a common cause
   of missed connections.

3.2.  Take the Plunge and Stay All Week!

   IETF WG meetings are scheduled from Monday morning through Friday
   afternoon.  Associated non-WG meetings often take place on the
   preceding or following weekends.  It is best to plan to be present
   the whole week, to benefit from cross-fertilization between Working
   Groups and from corridor discussions.  As noted below, the agenda is
   fluid, and there have been many instances of participants missing
   important sessions due to last-minute scheduling changes after their
   travel plans were fixed.  Being present the whole week is the only
   way to avoid this annoyance.

   If you cannot find meetings all week to interest you, you can still
   make the most of the IETF meeting by working between sessions.  Most
   IETF attendees carry laptop computers, and it is common to see many
   of them in the terminal room or in the hallways working during
   meeting sessions.  There is often good wireless Internet coverage in
   many places of the meeting venue (restaurants, coffee shops, and so
   on), so catching up on email when not in meetings is a fairly common
   task for IETFers.

3.3.  Newcomer Training

   Newcomers are encouraged to attend the Newcomer's Orientation on
   Sunday afternoon, which is especially designed for first-time
   attendees.  The orientation is organized and conducted by the IETF
   EDU team and is intended to provide useful introductory information.
   The session covers what all the dots on name tags mean, the structure
   of the IETF, and many other essential and enlightening topics for new

   Later in the afternoon is the Newcomer's Meet and Greet, which is
   only open to newcomers and WG chairs.  This is a great place to try
   to find people knowledgeable in the areas in which you are
   interested.  Feel free to approach any WG chair, not just those in
   your area, to either learn about their WG or to have them help find
   you someone in yours.

3.4.  Dress Code

   Since attendees must wear their name tags, they must also wear shirts
   or blouses.  Pants or skirts are also highly recommended.  Seriously

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   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
   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!).

3.5.  WG Meetings

   The heart of an IETF meeting is the WG meetings themselves.
   Different WGs chairs have very different styles, so it is impossible
   to generalize how a WG meeting will feel.  Even though nearly all WGs
   have agendas for their meetings, some meetings stick tightly to their
   agenda while others are run more loosely.

   There are a few important things that are true for all WG meetings at
   an IETF meeting.  Near the beginning of the meeting, the chair will
   pass around the "blue sheets", which are paper forms on which
   everyone prints their name and puts their email address.  These are
   used for long-term archival purpose to show how many people came to a
   particular meeting and, in rare cases, exactly who showed up.  The
   normal etiquette is to watch where the blue sheets came from and to
   pass them along in the same direction.

   When speaking in a meeting, you should always go to the microphones
   in the room.  For controversial topics, there will be a line at the
   mic, but do not hesitate to be the first person at the mic if you
   have a question or a contribution to the discussion.  The WG chair or
   presenter will indicate when you can speak.  Although it would be
   easier to just raise your hand from where you are sitting, the mics
   perform a very useful task: they let the people listening remotely
   and in the room hear your question or comment.  It is also expected
   that you will say your name at the mic so that the person taking
   minutes will know who is speaking.

3.6.  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 meanings shown here.

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   Color     Meaning
   Blue      Working Group/BOF chair
   Green     Host group
   Red       IAB member
   Yellow    IESG member
   Orange    Nominating Committee member
   Purple    IAOC
   Pink      IRSG
   Teal      RSE

   (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.  Note,
   however, that IETF meetings are usually intense times for Area
   Directors.  Talking to an AD during an IETF meeting will often lead
   to a request to send her or him email about two weeks later.  Also,
   when you start a hallway conversation with an Area Director (or even
   a WG chair, for that matter), it is often good to give them about 30
   seconds of context for the discussion.

3.7.  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, wireless connectivity is excellent in all the meeting
   rooms and most common areas, and the wired connectivity is provided
   in the terminal room.  The people and companies that donate their
   equipment, services, and time are to be heartily congratulated and

   Although 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.

   You need to be wearing your badge in order to get into the terminal
   room.  The terminal room provides lots of power strips, lots of
   Ethernet ports for laptops, wireless (for the people who don't need
   Ethernet but want power), usually a printer for public use, and
   sometimes workstations.  What it doesn't provide are terminals; the

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   name is historical.  The help desk in the terminal room is a good
   place to ask questions about network failures, although they might
   point you off to different networking staff.

3.8.  Meals and Other Delights

   Marshall Rose once remarked that the IETF was a place to go for "many
   fine lunches and dinners".  Although 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
   arranges for appetizers at the Sunday evening welcome reception (not
   meant to be a replacement for dinner), continental breakfast on
   Monday through Friday mornings (depending on the meeting venue), and
   (best of all) cookies, brownies, fruit, and other yummies during some
   of the afternoon breaks.  These are very often paid for by the
   meeting host or a meeting sponsor.

   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.

3.9.  Social Event

   Another of the most important things organized and managed by the
   host is the IETF social event.  The social event is sometimes high-
   tech-related event, or it might be in an art museum or a reception
   hall.  Note, however, that not all IETF meetings have social events.

   Newcomers to the IETF are encouraged to attend the social event.  All
   are 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.

3.10.  Agenda

   The agenda for the IETF meetings is a very fluid thing.  It is
   available on the web starting a few weeks before the meeting.  Small-
   sized agendas are available for pickup at the registration desk for
   those with good eyesight who want to keep a copy in their pocket or
   attached to the back of their badge.  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).  These late
   changes are not capricious: they are made "just in time" as session
   chairs and speakers become aware of unanticipated clashes.  The IETF
   is too dynamic for agendas to be tied down weeks in advance.

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   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 session.

3.11.  EDU to the Rescue

   If certain aspects of the IETF still mystify you (even after you
   finish reading the Tao), you'll want to drop in on the on-site
   training offered by the Education (EDU) team.  These informal classes
   are designed for newcomers and seasoned IETFers alike.  In addition
   to the Newcomer Training, the EDU team offers workshops for document
   editors and Working Group chairs, plus an in-depth security tutorial
   that's indispensable for both novices and longtime IETF attendees.
   EDU sessions are generally held on Sunday afternoons.  You'll find
   more about the EDU team at

3.12.  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.

3.12.1.  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 the 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.

3.12.2.  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

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   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 could
   certainly find participating in the IETF valuable.  A fair amount of
   IETF work also covers many other parts of operations of ISPs and
   large enterprises, and the input of operators is quite valuable to
   keep this work vibrant and relevant.  Many of the best operations
   documents from the IETF come from real-world operators, not vendors
   and academics.

3.12.3.  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
   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.  In addition, many companies have internal coordination
   efforts and a standards strategy.  If a company depends on the
   Internet for some or all of its business, the strategy should
   probably cover the IETF.

3.12.4.  Academics

   IETF meetings are often excellent places for computer science folks
   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.  Researchers are also, of course, likely to be
   interested in IRTF activities.

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3.12.5.  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.

3.13.  Proceedings

   IETF proceedings are compiled in the two months following each
   meeting and are available on the web.  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 sometimes start with an informative (and highly
   entertaining) message.  Each volume 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.

   An attendee list is also included, which contains names and
   affiliations as provided on the registration form.  For information
   about obtaining copies of the proceedings, see the web listing at

3.14.  Other General Things

   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 side meeting (historically but often inaccurately called a "bar
   BOF") is an unofficial get-together between WG meetings or in the
   late evening, during which a lot of work gets done.  These side
   meetings spring up in many different places around an IETF meeting,
   such as restaurants, coffee shops, unused hall spaces, 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 the hallway conversation.  Steve Coya, the first IETF

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   Executive Director, often said, "Take your cookie, then step away
   from the table."

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

   The IETF meetings, 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 protectors.

   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).  Please check with the Secretariat before placing
   materials on the desk; the Secretariat has the right to remove
   material that he or she feels is not appropriate.

   If you rely on your laptop during the meeting, it is a good idea to
   bring an extra battery.  It is not always easy to find a spare outlet
   in some meeting rooms, and using the wireless access can draw down
   your battery faster than you might expect.  If you are sitting near a
   power-strip in a meeting room, expect to be asked to plug and unplug
   for others around you.  Many people bring an extension cord with
   spare outlets, which is a good way to make friends with your neighbor
   in a meeting.  If you need an outlet adapter, you should try to buy
   it in advance because the one you need is usually easier to find in
   your home country.

4.  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.
   [BCP25], "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.  Anyone can post to a WG mailing list,
   although most lists require non-subscribers to have their postings
   moderated.  Each Working Group has one or two (or, rarely, three)

   More important, each WG has a charter that the WG is supposed to
   follow.  The charter states the scope of discussion for the Working

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   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.

4.1.  Working Group Chairs

   The role of the WG chairs is described in both [BCP11] and [BCP25].

   As volunteer cat-herders, a chair's first job is to determine the WG
   consensus goals and milestones, keeping the charter up to date.
   Next, often with the help of WG secretaries or document editors, the
   chair must manage WG discussion, both on the list and by scheduling
   meetings when appropriate.  Sometimes discussions get stuck on
   contentious points and the chair may need to steer people toward
   productive interaction and then declare when rough consensus has been
   met and the discussion is over.  Sometimes chairs also manage
   interactions with non-WG participants or the IESG, especially when a
   WG document approaches publication.  Chairs have responsibility for
   the technical and non-technical quality of WG output.  As you can
   imagine given the mix of secretarial, interpersonal, and technical
   demands, some Working Group chairs are much better at their jobs than

   WG chairs are strongly advised to go to the WG leadership training
   that usually happens on the Sunday preceding the IETF meeting.  There
   is also usually a WG chairs lunch mid-week during the meeting where
   chair-specific topics are presented and discussed.  If you're
   interested in what they hear there, take a look at the slides at

4.2.  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.  Finally, WG meetings aren't "drafting
   sessions", as they are in some other standards bodies: in the IETF,

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   drafting is done elsewhere.

   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.  Sometimes consensus is determined by "humming" --
   if you agree with a proposal, you hum when prompted by the chair.
   Most "hum" questions come in two parts: you hum to the first part if
   you agree with the proposal, or you hum to the second part if you
   disagree with the proposal.  Newcomers find it quite peculiar, but it
   works.  It is up to the chair to decide when the Working Group has
   reached rough consensus.

   The lack of formal 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 invites all interested individuals to
   participate, and when it's impossible to count the participants?)
   Rough consensus has been defined in many ways; a simple version is
   that it means that strongly held objections must be debated until
   most people are satisfied that these objections are wrong.

   A related problem is that some people think that their proposals
   should be discussed in the WG even when the WG Chairs do not.  For
   example, if the proposed work is not really part of the charter, the
   WG Chairs may constrain the discussion of the proposal in order to
   keep the WG focused on the chartered work.  Individuals who think
   that a WG should bring up a topic that is considered off-charter by
   the WG Chairs can bring their concerns to the responsible AD; the AD
   may agree to add the topic to the charter, or that it is already
   covered in the charter, or that the WG Chairs are correct and that
   the participant should work on the proposal outside the WG.

   When a WG document has been fully discussed, it usually goes through
   Working Group Last Call (often abbreviated as "WGLC").  This is a
   hopefully-final time fo the WG to iron out issues.  Sometimes, WGLC
   will bring out so many issues that there will be a second WGLC after
   the revisions have been incorporated.  There are no formal rules for
   how a WGLC happens, or even if a WGLC is needed: it is up to the WG

   Another method that some Working Groups adopt is to have a Working
   Group "secretary" to handle the juggling of the documents and the
   changes.  The secretary can run the issue tracker if there is one, or
   can simply be in charge of watching that all of the decisions that

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   are made on the mailing list are reflected in newer versions of the

   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 (or, in a few cases,
   decades).  The output of these aging WGs is often not nearly as
   useful as the earlier products, and the messy results are sometimes
   attributed to what's called "degenerative Working Group syndrome".

4.3.  Working Group Documents

   There is an official distinction between WG drafts and independent
   drafts, but in practice, sometimes there is not much procedural
   difference.  For example, many WG mailing lists also discuss
   independent drafts (at the discretion of the WG chair).  The WG
   chairs get to make the decisions about which drafts will become WG
   drafts and who the authors or editors of those drafts will be,
   usually based on consultation with the WG, and sometimes with their
   Area Director.  This process can be tricky in cases where many people
   want to be a draft author, but can be just as tricky when no one
   wants to be a draft author but the WG is charted to do some specific
   work.  Procedures for Internet-Drafts are covered in much more detail
   later in this document.

   Some Working Groups have complex documents or a complex set of
   documents (or even both).  Shaking all the bugs out of one or more
   complex documents is a daunting task.  In order to help relieve this
   problem, some Working Groups use "issue trackers", which are online
   lists of the open issues with the documents, the status of the issue,
   proposed fixes, and so on.  Using an issue tracker not only helps the
   WG not to forget to do something important, it helps when someone
   asks a question later about why something was done in a particular

   For Working Group documents, the document editor serves at the
   pleasure of the WG Chair.  There are often more than one editor for
   Working Group documents, particularly for complex documents.  The
   document editor is responsible for ensuring that the contents of the
   document accurately reflects Working Group decisions, particularly
   when creating a new protocol or extension; when a document editor
   does not follow the WG consensus, the WG Chairs will either be more

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   forceful about getting changes that match the consensus or replace
   the document editor with someone more responsive to the WG.  As a
   Working Group document is progressing, participants suggest changes
   on the Working Group's mail list; the editors are expected to follow
   the discussion and make changes when there is agreement.

   If a participant makes significant contributions, the document editor
   or chair can invite the participant to become a co-author or co-
   editor, although such an addition needs to be approved by the WG
   Chairs.  Sometimes a Working Group will consider several alternatives
   before selecting a particular Internet-Draft as a Working Group
   document.  A Working Group will often take ideas from several of the
   alternatives to create a single Working Group document; in such a
   case, the chair determines who will be listed as authors on the title
   page and who will be acknowledged as contributors in the body of the

   When a WG document is ready to progress beyond the WG, the WG Chairs
   will assign a "shepherd" to take over the final process.  The role of
   the document shepherd is described in [RFC4858].

4.4.  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 ahead of time.  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, or at least skim, the group's documents before
   attending so you can understand what is being said.

   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 on the IETF web site, but some 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 are on the agenda at a face-to-face meeting, you should

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   probably come with a few slides prepared.  But don't come with a
   tutorial; people are supposed to read the drafts in advance.
   Projectors for laptop-based presentations are available in all the
   meeting rooms.

   And here's a tip for your slides in WG or plenary presentations:
   don't put your company's logo on every one, even though that is a
   common practice outside the IETF.  The IETF frowns on this kind of
   corporate advertising (except for the meeting sponsor in the plenary
   presentation), and most presenters don't even put their logo on their
   opening slide.  The IETF is about technical content, not company
   boosterism.  Slides are often plain black and white for legibility,
   with color used only when it really adds clarity.  Again, the content
   is the most important part of the slides, not how it's presented.

   One thing you might find helpful, and possibly even entertaining,
   during Working Group sessions is to follow the running commentary on
   the Jabber room associated with that Working Group.  The running
   commentary is often used as the basis for the minutes of the meeting,
   but it can also include jokes, sighs, and other extraneous chatter.
   Jabber is a free, streaming XML technology mainly used for instant
   messaging.  You can find pointers to Jabber clients for many
   platforms at  The Jabber
   chatrooms have the name of the Working Group followed by
   "".  Those rooms are, in fact, available year-round,
   not just during IETF meetings, and some are used by active Working
   Group participants during protocol development.

4.5.  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 you follow the discussions on
   the mailing lists of the Working Groups that you 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.  That's why IETF procedures require all decisions to
   be confirmed "on the list" and you will often hear a WG chair say,
   "Let's take it to the list" to close a discussion.

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   Many IETF discussion lists use either mailman or another list
   manager, Majordomo.  They usually have a "-request" address that
   handles the administrative details of joining and leaving the list.
   (See Section 2.3 for more information on mailman.)  It is generally
   frowned upon when such administrivia appears on the discussion
   mailing list.

   IETF discussion lists are archived.  That is, all of the messages
   sent to the list are automatically stored on a host for anonymous
   HTTP or FTP access.  Many such archives are listed online at or they are in a web-based
   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!).
   The Working Group charter listings at
   are a useful source. is a list of
   old, concluded WGs.

   Some WG lists apply size limits on messages, particularly to avoid
   large documents or presentations landing in everyone's mailbox.  It
   is well worth remembering that participants do not all have broadband
   connections (and even those with broadband connections sometimes get
   their mail on slow connections when they travel), so shorter messages
   are greatly appreciated.  Documents can be posted as Internet-Drafts;
   presentation material can be posted to a web site controlled by the
   sender or sent personally to people who ask for it.  Some WGs set up
   special sites to hold these large documents so that senders can post
   there first, then just send to the list the URL of the document.

4.6.  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 (or even someplace mundane) 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 the group needs to take attendance.
   Decisions tentatively made during an interim WG meeting still must be
   ratified on the mailing list.

   In recent years, some Working Groups have started to have "virtual
   interim meetings" which take place over the phone and/or online
   instead of face-to-face.  Virtual interim meetings can be useful for
   getting Working Groups to pay attention to their work between the
   regular IETF face-to-face meetings, and have a much lower cost for
   attendance than face-to-face interim meetings.  Virtual interim
   meetings have the same reporting requirements as face-to-face virtual

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   The IESG has rules for advance notice on time and place of interim
   Working Group meetings, as well as reporting the results of the
   meetings.  The purpose of these rules is to make interim meetings
   accessible to as many Working Group members as possible and to
   maintain the transparency of the Working Group process.

5.  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 Birds of a Feather (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 he or she thinks.  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 do 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, whereas others start from

   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.

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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,  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 RFC Editor's RFC
   pages,  For Internet-Drafts, a
   good resource is the IETF web site,,
   where you can search by title and keyword.

6.1.  Getting an RFC 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.

   One of the first things you must decide is whether you want your
   document to be considered in a Working Group, of you want it to be
   considered as an individual (that is, non-WG) submission to the IETF.
   Even though most IETF standards come from Working Groups, some are
   individual efforts: there might be no appropriate Working Group, or a
   potentially-appropriate Working Group might be to busy on other work
   to consider your idea.

   Every IETF standard is published as an RFC ("Request for Comments"),
   and every RFC starts out as an Internet-Draft (often called an "I-D"
   or just "draft").  The basic steps for getting something published as
   an IETF standard are as follows:

   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.

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   6.  If the Area Director accepts the submission, they will do their
       own initial review, and maybe ask for updates before they move it

   7.  Get reviews from the wider IETF membership.  In particular, some
       of the Areas in the IETF have formed review teams to look over
       drafts that are ready to go to the IESG.  Two of the more active
       review teams are from the Security Directorate ("SecDir") and the
       General Area Review Team (Gen-Art).  Remember that all these
       reviews can help improve the quality of the eventual RFC.

   8.  Discuss concerns with the IESG members.  Their concerns might be
       resolved with a simple answer, or they might require additions or
       changes to the document.

   9.  Wait for the document to be published by the RFC Editor.

   A much more complete explanation of these steps is contained in
   [BCP9], "The Internet Standards Process".  Those who write drafts
   that they hope will become IETF standards must read BCP 9 so that
   they can follow the path of their document through the process.  You
   can follow the progress on the IETF Datatracker  BCP 9 (and various other documents that
   update it) 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:

   o  Proposed standards

   o  Internet standards (sometimes called "full standards")

   o  Best current practices (BCP) documents

   o  Informational documents

   o  Experimental documents

   o  Historic documents

   Only the first two, proposed and full, are standards within the IETF.
   A good summary of this can be found in the aptly titled [RFC1796],
   "Not All RFCs Are Standards".

   There are also two sub-series of RFCs, known as BCPs and STDs.  Best
   Current Practice documents describe the application of various
   technologies in the Internet, and are also commonly used to document
   the many parts of the IETF process.  The sub-series of FYIs are

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   comprised of "Informational documents" in the sense of the
   enumeration above, with special tagging applied.  (There was also a
   "For Your Information" RFC sub-series that was created to document
   overviews and topics that are introductory or that appeal to a broad
   audience; however, that series has been officially closed.)

   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

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.

   Note that new authors cannot take someone else's document and pass it
   off as their own; see [BCP78], section 5.6, point (a).

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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
   active online directories after six months.  They are most definitely
   not standards.  As [BCP9] 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".

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

   When you submit an Internet-Draft, you give some publication rights
   to the IETF.  This is so that your Internet-Draft is freely available
   to everyone who wants to read and comment on it.  The rights you do
   and don't give to the IETF are described in [BCP78], "IETF Rights in

   There is a very useful checking tool at  Using this tool before you turn
   in an Internet-Draft will help prevent the draft from being rejected
   due to errors in form and formatting.

   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.  [RFC2223],
   "Instructions to RFC Authors", describes the submission format.
   There is also a tool called "xml2rfc", available from, that takes XML-formatted text and turns it
   into a valid Internet-Draft.

   An Internet-Draft can be either a Working Group draft or an
   individual submission.  Working Group drafts are usually reviewed by
   the Working Group before being accepted as a WG item, although the
   chairs have the final say.

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   If you're interested in checking the status of a particular draft, or
   can't remember its exact name, or want to find out which drafts a WG
   is working on, two handy tools are available.  The "Internet-Drafts
   Database Interface", at, lets you
   search for a draft by author, Working Group, date, or filename.  This
   is especially useful for authors who want to track the progress of
   their draft as it makes its way through the publication process.

   There are some informal rules for Internet-Draft naming that have
   evolved over the years.  Internet-Drafts that revise existing RFCs
   often have draft names with "bis" in them, meaning "again" or
   "twice"; for example, a draft might be called

6.3.1.  Recommended Reading for Writers

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

   o  More important than just explaining formatting, [RFC2223] 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.

   o  [BCP22], "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.

   o  The online "Guidelines to Authors of Internet-Drafts",, 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.

   o  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 "Checklist for Internet-Drafts (I-Ds) Submitted
      for RFC Publication",, a
      list of common issues 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.

   Also, you should visit the IETF Tools web pages,

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   will automate some of your work for the IETF.

6.3.2.  Filenames and Other Matters

   When you're ready to turn in your Internet-Draft, you submit it to  The instructions on that web
   page will walk you through the needed steps, and there is also an
   email address there in case you need personalized help.

   When you submit the first version of the draft, you also tell the
   draft administrator your proposed 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, authors
   sometimes follow their name with the name of the Working Group, such
   as "draft-smith-smime-keying-00.txt".  If you follow the naming
   guidelines given at,
   chances are quite good that your suggested filename will be fine.

   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 one or more
   versions, such as when a personal effort is pulled into a Working
   Group; when a draft has its filename changed, the number reverts to
   -00.  The WG chairs will let the Internet-Drafts administrator know
   the previous name of the draft when such a name change occurs so that
   the databases can be kept accurate.

6.4.  Standards-Track RFCs

   The procedure for creating and advancing a standard is described in
   [BCP9].  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.  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

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   feel that a Working Group chair, an AD, or the IESG has made the
   wrong decision in considering the creation or advancement of a

   After the I-D is submitted to the IESG, the IESG announces an IETF-
   wide Last Call (often abbreviated as "LC").  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 feel that they weren't heard can make
   their comments to everyone.  The IETF Last Call is at least two weeks
   for drafts coming from WGs and four weeks for individual submissions.

   The purpose of IETF Last Call is to get community-wide discussion on
   documents before the IESG considers them.  Note the word "discussion"
   here.  It is generally considered bad form to send IETF Last Call
   comments on documents that you have not read, or to send comments but
   not be prepared to discuss your views.  The IETF Last Call is not a
   vote, and campaigns aimed at getting people to send support or
   opposition to a document usually backfire.  Having said that, IETF
   Last Call comments that come from people who have just read the
   document for the first time can expose issues that IETF and WG
   regulars may have completely missed, which is why the discussion is
   open to everyone.

   If the IESG approves the draft to become a standards-track RFC, they
   ask the RFC Editor to publish it as a Proposed standard.  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 whereas 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 Standard to Internet Standard.  To become an Internet
   Standard, an RFC must have multiple interoperable implementations and
   the unused features in the Proposed Standard must be removed; there
   are additional requirements listed in [BCP9].  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 Internet
   Standard, 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.

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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.

   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.

   [STD3], "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 [BCP14], "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 it lists a few synonyms for the words

   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 it 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.

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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 folks) 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 (sometimes called an "informative reference") is one that
   is helpful to an implementor but is not needed.

   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 is described in [BCP97].  This rule gives implementors assurance
   that everything in a 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 2.2.4, 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 a new IANA registry
   or new values in a current IANA registry needs to read [BCP26],
   "Guidelines for Writing an IANA Considerations Section in RFCs",
   which describes how RFC authors should properly ask for IANA to start

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   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 and Internet-Draft is a
   "Security Considerations" section.  This section should describe any
   known vulnerabilities of the protocol, possible threats, and
   mechanisms or strategies to 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.  See [BCP72], "Guidelines for Writing RFC
   Text on Security Considerations", for more information on writing
   good security considerations sections.

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.  The official rules for all intellectual
   property rights (IPR) in IETF documents (not just patents) are
   covered in [BCP78] and [BCP79], "Intellectual Property Rights in IETF
   Technology".  Everyone who participates in IETF Working Groups will
   probably find these documents interesting because they lay out the
   rules that everyone agrees to follow.

   Patent holders who freely allow their patents to be used by people
   implementing IETF standards often get a great deal of goodwill 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 in a particular protocol context, and the security

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   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 patents).

   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, consult the IETF IPR page at to determine how to proceed.  Intellectual
   property rights aren't 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 an RFC could be incomplete and
   mislead the reader.  [BCP79] 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, Historic, 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, or whether they will work once deployed.  That is,
   a specification might solve a problem, but if it is not clear that
   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 (or proves that it works well), 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 questions.

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   The IESG has created guidelines on how it chooses between
   Informational and Experimental status:  If you
   are creating a document that you think might become an Experimental
   RFC, knowing the current thinking will help you justify your proposed

7.  How to Contribute to the IETF

7.1.  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.  If you
   disagree, debate the technical issues: never attack the people.

   *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.  You can help the development of protocols before
   they become standards by implementing (but not deploying) from I-Ds
   to ensure that the authors have done a good job.  If you find errors
   or omissions, offer improvements based on your implementation

   *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

7.2.  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

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   *Open Up* -- If your company controls a patent that is used in an
   IETF standard, convince the company 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 patent-holders.

   *Join* -- Become a member of ISOC.  More important, 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 that
   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
   standards bodies.  This isn't always easy, since many other bodies
   have very different structures than the IETF does, 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 IETF has some liaisons with large
   standards bodies, including the ITU-T (the Telecommunication
   Standardization Sector of the International Telecommunication Union),
   the W3C (World Wide Web Consortium), the IEEE (the Institute of
   Electrical and Electronics Engineers), and the Unicode Consortium.
   As stated in the IAB Charter [BCP39], "Liaisons are kept as informal
   as possible and must be of demonstrable value in improving the
   quality of IETF specifications".  In practice, the IETF prefers
   liaisons to take place directly at Working Group level, with formal
   relationships and liaison documents in a backup role.

   Some of these liaison tasks fall to the IESG, whereas others fall to
   the IAB.  Detail-oriented readers will learn much about the formal

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   methods for dealing with other standards bodies in [BCP102], "IAB
   Processes for Management of IETF Liaison Relationships", and
   [BCP103], "Procedures for Handling Liaison Statements to and from the
   IETF".  The best place to check to see whether the IETF has any
   formal liaison at all is the list of IETF liaisons,  The list 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.

   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 reporters would probably get them in contact
   with someone who could straighten them out, such as a WG chair or an
   Area Director.  The default place that press should look for press
   contacts for the IETF is <>.

   The fact that those reporters who've gotten it wrong once still 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!).
   Furthermore, 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.

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   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
   doesn't have a press liaison, magazines or newspapers that run 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.  Security Considerations

   Section 6.4.4 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.

10.  Acknowledgements

   The previous version of this document, RFC 4677, was co-authored with
   Susan Harris, who put an incredible amount work and feeling into the
   final product.  Other contributors include Brian Carpenter, Scott
   Bradner, Michael Patton, Donald E. Eastlake III, Tony Hansen, Pekka
   Savola, Lisa Dusseault, Russ Housley, the IETF Secretariat, members
   of the User Services Working Group, and members of the PESCI (Process
   Evolution Consideration for the IETF) design team.

   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 document are also much appreciated.

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11.  Informative References

   [BCP10]    Galvin, J., "IAB and IESG Selection, Confirmation, and
              Recall Process: Operation of the Nominating and Recall
              Committees", BCP 10, RFC 3777, June 2004.

   [BCP101]   Austein, R. and B. Wijnen, "Structure of the IETF
              Administrative Support Activity (IASA)", BCP 101,
              RFC 4071, April 2005.

   [BCP102]   Daigle, L. and Internet Architecture Board, "IAB Processes
              for Management of IETF Liaison Relationships", BCP 102,
              RFC 4052, April 2005.

   [BCP103]   Trowbridge, S., Bradner, S., and F. Baker, "Procedures for
              Handling Liaison Statements to and from the IETF",
              BCP 103, RFC 4053, April 2005.

   [BCP11]    Hovey, R. and S. Bradner, "The Organizations Involved in
              the IETF Standards Process", BCP 11, RFC 2028,
              October 1996.

   [BCP14]    Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
              Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.

   [BCP22]    Scott, G., "Guide for Internet Standards Writers", BCP 22,
              RFC 2360, June 1998.

   [BCP25]    Bradner, S., "IETF Working Group Guidelines and
              Procedures", BCP 25, RFC 2418, September 1998.

   [BCP26]    Narten, T. and H. Alvestrand, "Guidelines for Writing an
              IANA Considerations Section in RFCs", BCP 26, RFC 5226,
              May 2008.

   [BCP39]    Internet Architecture Board and B. Carpenter, "Charter of
              the Internet Architecture Board (IAB)", BCP 39, RFC 2850,
              May 2000.

   [BCP45]    Harris, S., "IETF Discussion List Charter", BCP 45,
              RFC 3005, November 2000.

   [BCP72]    Rescorla, E. and B. Korver, "Guidelines for Writing RFC
              Text on Security Considerations", BCP 72, RFC 3552,
              July 2003.

   [BCP78]    Bradner, S., "IETF Rights in Contributions", BCP 78,
              RFC 5378, November 2008.

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   [BCP79]    Bradner, S., "Intellectual Property Rights in IETF
              Technology", BCP 79, RFC 3979, March 2005.

   [BCP9]     Bradner, S., "The Internet Standards Process -- Revision
              3", BCP 9, RFC 2026, RFC 6410, October 1996.

   [BCP95]    Alvestrand, H., "A Mission Statement for the IETF",
              BCP 95, RFC 3935, October 2004.

   [BCP97]    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.

   [RFC1796]  Huitema, C., Postel, J., and S. Crocker, "Not All RFCs are
              Standards", RFC 1796, April 1995.

   [RFC2223]  Postel, J. and J. Reynolds, "Instructions to RFC Authors",
              RFC 2223, October 1997.

   [RFC2860]  Carpenter, B., Baker, F., and M. Roberts, "Memorandum of
              Understanding Concerning the Technical Work of the
              Internet Assigned Numbers Authority", RFC 2860, June 2000.

   [RFC4858]  Levkowetz, H., Meyer, D., Eggert, L., and A. Mankin,
              "Document Shepherding from Working Group Last Call to
              Publication", RFC 4858, May 2007.

   [RFC6635]  Kolkman, O. and J. Halpern, "RFC Editor Model (Version
              2)", RFC 6635, March 2012.

   [STD3]     Braden, R., "Requirements for Internet Hosts - Application
              and Support", STD 3, RFC 1123, October 1989.

Appendix A.  Related Information

A.1.  Why "the 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.

A.2.  Useful Email Addresses

   Some useful email addresses are listed here.  These addresses may
   change from time to time, and it's a good idea to check the IETF web

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   pages for the correct address before sending your mail.

   Address                    Description
   -----------------------------------------------------------------       Requests for things to be done when you
                                   don't know exactly where to send the
                                   request              Internet Assigned Numbers Authority  RFC Editor

   Online upload pages are planned for the future to facilitate
   submission of Internet-Drafts, Proceedings, and Liaison statements.

A.3.  Useful Documents and Files

   The IETF web site,, is the best source for
   information about meetings, Working Groups, Internet-Drafts, RFCs,
   IETF email addresses, and much more.

   Check the IESG web pages,, to find up-
   to-date information about drafts processed, RFCs published, and
   documents in Last Call, as well as the monthly IETF status reports.

A.4.  Acronyms and Abbreviations Used in the Tao

   Some of the acronyms and abbreviations from this document are listed

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   Term          Meaning
   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
   IAD           IETF Administrative Director
   IANA          Internet Assigned Numbers Authority
   IAOC          IETF Administrative Oversight Committee
   IASA          IETF Administrative Support Activity
   ICANN         Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers
   I-D           Internet-Draft
   IESG          Internet Engineering Steering Group
   IETF          Internet Engineering Task Force
   IPR           Intellectual property rights
   IRTF          Internet Research Task Force
   ISOC          Internet Society
   RFC           Request for Comments
   STD           Standard (RFC)
   WG            Working Group

Appendix B.  IETF Guiding Principles

   If you've gotten this far in the Tao, you've learned a lot about how
   the IETF works.  What you'll find in this appendix summarizes much of
   what you've read and adds a few new points to ponder.  Be sure to
   read through all the principles; taken as a whole, they'll give you a
   new slant on what makes the IETF work.

B.1.  General

   P1.  The IETF works by an open process and by rough consensus.  This
        applies to all aspects of the operation of the IETF, including
        creation of IETF documents and decisions on the processes that
        are used.  But the IETF also observes experiments and running
        code with interest, and this should also apply to the
        operational processes of the organization.

   P2.  The IETF works in areas where it has, or can find, technical

   P3.  The IETF depends on a volunteer core of active participants.

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   P4.  Participation in the IETF or of its WGs is not fee-based or
        organizationally defined, but is based upon self-identification
        and active participation by individuals.

B.2.  Management and Leadership

   P5.   The IETF recognizes leadership positions and grants power of
         decision to the leaders, but decisions are subject to appeal.

   P6.   Delegation of power and responsibility are essential to the
         effective working of the IETF.  As many individuals as possible
         will be encouraged to take on leadership of IETF tasks.

   P7.   Dissent, complaint, and appeal are a consequence of the IETF's
         nature and should be regarded as normal events, but ultimately
         it is a fact of life that certain decisions cannot be
         effectively appealed.

   P8.   Leadership positions are for fixed terms (although we have no
         formal limitation on the number of terms that may be served).

   P9.   It is important to develop future leaders within the active

   P10.  A community process is used to select the leadership.

   P11.  Leaders are empowered to make the judgment that rough consensus
         has been demonstrated.  Without formal membership, there are no
         formal rules for consensus.

B.3.  Process

   P12.  Although the IETF needs clear and publicly documented process
         rules for the normal cases, there should be enough flexibility
         to allow unusual cases to be handled according to common sense.
         We apply personal judgment and only codify when we're certain.
         (But we do codify who can make personal judgments.)

   P13.  Technical development work should be carried out by tightly
         chartered and focused Working Groups.

   P14.  Parts of the process that have proved impractical should be
         removed or made optional.

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B.4.  Working Groups

   P15.  Working Groups (WGs) should be primarily responsible for the
         quality of their output; WG chairs as WG leaders, backed up by
         the IETF leadership, should act as a quality backstop.

   P16.  WGs should be primarily responsible for assessing the negative
         impact of their work on the Internet as a whole, and therefore
         for obtaining cross-area review; the IETF leadership should act
         as a cross-area backstop.

   P17.  Early review of documents, particularly by WGs, is more
         effective in dealing with major problems than late review.

   P18.  Area Directors (ADs) are responsible for guiding the formation
         and chartering of WGs, for giving them direction as necessary,
         and for terminating them.  WG chairs serve at the pleasure of
         the responsible AD.

   P19.  WG chairs are responsible for ensuring that WGs execute their
         charters, meet their milestones, and produce deliverables that
         are ready for publication.  Document editors serve at the
         pleasure of the WG chair.

   P20.  ADs are responsible for arranging backstop review and final
         document approval.

B.5.  Documents

   P21.  IETF standards often start as personal drafts, may become WG
         drafts, and are approved for permanent publication by a
         leadership body independent of the WG or individuals that
         produced them.

   P22.  IETF standards belong to the community, not to their authors.
         But authorship is recognized and valued, as are lesser
         contributions than full authorship.

   P23.  Technical quality and correctness are the primary criteria for
         reaching consensus about documents.

   P24.  IETF specifications may be published as Informational,
         Experimental, Standards Track, Historic, or Best Current

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   P25.  IETF Standards Track specifications are not considered to be
         satisfactory standards until interoperable independent
         implementations have been demonstrated.  (This is the
         embodiment of the "running code" slogan.)  However, the IETF
         does not take responsibility for interoperability tests and
         does not certify interoperability.

   P26.  IETF processes are published as Best Current Practice

   P27.  Useful information that is neither a specification nor a
         process may be published as Informational.

   P28.  Obsolete or deprecated specifications and processes may be
         downgraded to Historic.

   P29.  The standards track should distinguish specifications that have
         been demonstrated to interoperate.

   P30.  Standards Track and Best Current Practice documents must be
         subject to IETF wide rough consensus (Last Call process).  WG
         rough consensus is normally sufficient for other documents.

   P31.  Substantive changes made as a result of IETF Last Call or IESG
         evaluation must be referred back to the WG.

   P32.  The IETF determines requirements for publication and archiving
         of its documents.

Author's Address

   Paul Hoffman
   VPN Consortium
   127 Segre Place
   Santa Cruz, CA  95060


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