On the Naming and Binding of Network Destinations
RFC 1498

Document Type RFC - Informational (August 1993; Errata)
Author Jerome Saltzer 
Last updated 2020-01-21
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Network Working Group                                        J. Saltzer
Request for Comments: 1498       M.I.T. Laboratory for Computer Science
                                                            August 1993

           On the Naming and Binding of Network Destinations

Status of this Memo

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


   This brief paper offers a perspective on the subject of names of
   destinations in data communication networks. It suggests two ideas:
   First, it is helpful to distinguish among four different kinds of
   objects that may be named as the destination of a packet in a
   network.  Second, the operating system concept of binding is a useful
   way to describe the relations among the four kinds of objects. To
   illustrate the usefulness of this approach, the paper interprets some
   more subtle and confusing properties of two real-world network
   systems for naming destinations.


   This document was originally published in: "Local Computer Networks",
   edited by P. Ravasio et al., North-Holland Publishing Company,
   Amsterdam, 1982, pp. 311-317.  Copyright IFIP, 1982.  Permission is
   granted by IFIP for reproduction for non-commercial purposes.
   Permission to copy without fee this document is granted provided that
   the copies are not made or distributed for commercial advantage, the
   IFIP copyright notice and the title of the publication and its date
   appear, and notice is given that copying is by permission of IFIP. To
   copy otherwise, or to republish, requires a specific permission.

   This research was supported in part by the Defense Advanced Research
   Projects Agency of the United States Government and monitored by the
   Office of Naval Research under contract number N00014-75-C-0661.

What is the Problem?

   Despite a very helpful effort of John Shoch [1] to impose some
   organization on the discussion of names, addresses, and routes to
   destinations in computer networks, these discussions continue to be
   more confusing than one would expect. This confusion stems sometimes
   from making too tight an association between various types of network

Saltzer                                                         [Page 1]
RFC 1498   On the Naming and Binding of Network Destinations August 1993

   objects and the most common form for their names.  It also stems from
   trying to discuss the issues with too few well-defined concepts at
   hand.  This paper tries a different approach to develop insight, by
   applying a perspective that has proven helpful in the corresponding
   area of computer operating systems.

   Operating systems have a similar potential for confusion concerning
   names and addresses, since there are file names, unique identifiers,
   virtual and real memory addresses, page numbers, block numbers, I/O
   channel addresses, disk track addresses, a seemingly endless list.
   But most of that potential has long been rendered harmless by
   recognizing that the concept of binding provides a systematic way to
   think about naming [2]. (Shoch pointed out this opportunity to
   exploit the operating system concept; in this paper we make it the
   central theme.) In operating systems, it was apparent very early that
   there were too many different kinds of identifiers and therefore one
   does not get much insight by trying to make a distinction just
   between names and addresses.  It is more profitable instead to look
   upon all identifiers as examples of a single phenomenon, and ask
   instead "where is the context in which a binding for this name (or
   address, or indentifier, or whatever) will be found?", and "to what
   object, identified by what kind of name, is it therein bound?"  This
   same approach is equally workable in data communications networks.

   To start with, let us review Shoch's suggested terminology in its
   broadest form:

        -  a name identifies what you want,
        -  an address identifies where it is, and
        -  an route identifies a way to get there.

   There will be no need to tamper with these definitions, but it will
   be seen that they will leave a lot of room for interpretation.
   Shoch's suggestion implies that there are three abstract concepts
   that together provide an intellectual cover for discussion. In this
   paper, we propose that a more mechanical view may lead to an easier-
   to-think-with set of concepts. This more mechanical view starts by
   listing the kinds of things one finds in a communication network.

Types of Network Destinations, and Bindings Among Them

   In a data communication network, when thinking about how to describe
   the destination of a packet, there are several types of things for
   which there are more than one instance, so one attaches names to them
   to distinguish one instance from another. Of these several types,
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