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Not All RFCs are Standards
RFC 1796

Document Type RFC - Informational (April 1995)
Was draft-iab-rfc-not-std (individual)
Authors Steve Crocker , Christian Huitema , Dr. Jon Postel
Last updated 2013-03-02
RFC stream Legacy stream
IESG Responsible AD (None)
Send notices to (None)
RFC 1796
Network Working Group                                         C. Huitema
Request for Comments: 1796                                         INRIA
Category: Informational                                        J. Postel
                                                              S. Crocker
                                                              April 1995

                       Not All RFCs are Standards

Status of this Memo

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


   This document discusses the relationship of the Request for Comments
   (RFCs) notes to Internet Standards.

Not All RFCs Are Standards

   The "Request for Comments" (RFC) document series is the official
   publication channel for Internet standards documents and other
   publications of the IESG, IAB, and Internet community.  From time to
   time, and about every six months in the last few years, someone
   questions the rationality of publishing both Internet standards and
   informational documents as RFCs.  The argument is generally that this
   introduces some confusion between "real standards" and "mere

   It is a regrettably well spread misconception that publication as an
   RFC provides some level of recognition.  It does not, or at least not
   any more than the publication in a regular journal.  In fact, each
   RFC has a status, relative to its relation with the Internet
   standardization process: Informational, Experimental, or Standards
   Track (Proposed Standard, Draft Standard, Internet Standard), or
   Historic.  This status is reproduced on the first page of the RFC
   itself, and is also documented in the periodic "Internet Official
   Protocols Standards" RFC (STD 1).  But this status is sometimes
   omitted from quotes and references, which may feed the confusion.

   There are two important sources of information on the status of the
   Internet standards:  they are summarized periodically in an RFC
   entitled "Internet Official Protocol Standards" and they are
   documented in the "STD" subseries.  When a specification has been

Huitema, Postel & Crocker                                       [Page 1]
RFC 1796               Not All RFCs are Standards             April 1995

   adopted as an Internet Standard, it is given the additional label
   "STD xxxx", but it keeps its RFC number and its place in the RFC

   It is important to note that the relationship of STD numbers to RFC
   numbers is not one to one.  STD numbers identify protocols, RFC
   numbers identify documents.  Sometimes more than one document is used
   to specify a Standard protocol.

   In order to further increase the publicity of the standardization
   status, the IAB proposes the following actions:

      Use the STD number, rather than just the RFC numbers, in the cross
      references between standard tracks documents,

      Utilize the "web" hypertext technology to publicize the state of
      the standardization process.

   More precisely, we propose to add to the current RFC repository an
   "html" version of the "STD-1" document, i.e., the list of Internet
   standards.  We are considering the extension of this document to also
   describes actions in progress, i.e., standards track work at the
   "proposed" or "draft" stage.

A Single Archive

   The IAB believes that the community benefitted significantly from
   having a single archival document series.  Documents are easy to find
   and to retrieve, and file servers are easy to organize.  This has
   been very important over the long term.  Experience of the past shows
   that subseries, or series of limited scope, tend to vanish from the
   network.  And, there is no evidence that alternate document schemes
   would result in less confusion.

   Moreover, we believe that the presence of additional documents does
   not actually hurt the standardization process.  The solution which we
   propose is to better publicize the "standard" status of certain
   documents, which is made relatively easy by the advent of networked
   hypertext technologies.

Rather Document Than Ignore

   The RFC series includes some documents which are informational by
   nature and other documents which describe experiences.  A problem of
   perception occurs when such a document "looks like" an official
   protocol specification.  Misguided vendors may claim conformance to
   it, and misguided clients may actually believe that they are buying
   an Internet standard.

Huitema, Postel & Crocker                                       [Page 2]
RFC 1796               Not All RFCs are Standards             April 1995

   The IAB believes that the proper help to misguided vendors and
   clients is to provide them guidance.  There is actually very little
   evidence of vendors purposely attempting to present informational or
   experimental RFCs as "Internet standards".  If such attempts
   occurred, proper response would indeed be required.

   The IAB believes that the community is best served by openly
   developed specifications.  The Internet standardization process
   provides guarantees of openness and thorough review, and the normal
   way to develop the specification of an Internet protocol is indeed
   through the IETF.

   The community is also well served by having access to specifications
   of which have been developed outside the IETF standards process,
   either because the protocols are experimental in nature, were
   developed privately, or failed to achieve the acquire the degree of
   consensus required for elevation to the standards track.

   The IAB believes that publication is better than ignorance.  If a
   particular specification ends up being used in products that are
   deployed over the Internet, we are better off if the specification is
   easy to retrieve as an RFC than if it is hidden in some private

Huitema, Postel & Crocker                                       [Page 3]
RFC 1796               Not All RFCs are Standards             April 1995

Security Considerations

   Security issues are not discussed in this memo.

Authors' Addresses

   Christian Huitema
   INRIA, Sophia-Antipolis
   2004 Route des Lucioles
   BP 109
   F-06561 Valbonne Cedex

   Phone: +33 93 65 77 15
   EMail: Christian.Huitema@MIRSA.INRIA.FR

   Jon Postel
   USC/Information Sciences Institute
   4676 Admiralty Way
   Marina del Rey, CA 90292

   Phone: 1-310-822-1511
   EMail: Postel@ISI.EDU

   Steve Crocker
   CyberCash, Inc.
   2086 Hunters Crest Way
   Vienna, VA 22181

   Phone: 1- 703-620-1222

Huitema, Postel & Crocker                                       [Page 4]