Fifty Years of RFCs
RFC 8700

Document Type RFC - Informational (December 2019; Errata)
Updates RFC 5540, RFC 2555
Author Heather Flanagan 
Last updated 2019-12-27
Replaces draft-flanagan-fiftyyears
Stream IAB
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Stream IAB state Published RFC
Consensus Boilerplate Yes
RFC Editor Note (None)

Internet Architecture Board (IAB)                       H. Flanagan, Ed.
Request for Comments: 8700                                    RFC Editor
Updates: 2555, 5540                                        December 2019
Category: Informational                                                 
ISSN: 2070-1721

                          Fifty Years of RFCs


   This RFC marks the fiftieth anniversary for the RFC Series.  It
   includes both retrospective material from individuals involved at key
   inflection points as well as a review of the current state of
   affairs.  It concludes with thoughts on possibilities for the next
   fifty years for the Series.  This document updates the perspectives
   offered in RFCs 2555 and 5540.

Status of This Memo

   This document is not an Internet Standards Track specification; it is
   published for informational purposes.

   This document is a product of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB)
   and represents information that the IAB has deemed valuable to
   provide for permanent record.  It represents the consensus of the
   Internet Architecture Board (IAB).  Documents approved for
   publication by the IAB are not candidates for any level of Internet
   Standard; see Section 2 of RFC 7841.

   Information about the current status of this document, any errata,
   and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (c) 2019 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
   document authors.  All rights reserved.

   This document is subject to BCP 78 and the IETF Trust's Legal
   Provisions Relating to IETF Documents
   ( in effect on the date of
   publication of this document.  Please review these documents
   carefully, as they describe your rights and restrictions with respect
   to this document.

Table of Contents

   1.  Introduction
   2.  Key Moments in RFC History
   3.  Perspectives
     3.1.  The Origins of RFCs - by Stephen D. Crocker
     3.2.  The RFC Management and Editing Team - by Vint Cerf
     3.3.  Formalizing the RFC Editor Model - by Leslie Daigle
     3.4.  The Continuation, or Creation, of a Stream - by Nevil
     3.5.  A View from inside the RFC Editor - by Sandy Ginoza
   4.  The Next Fifty Years of RFCs
     4.1.  Preservation
     4.2.  Evolution of the RFC Format
     4.3.  Stream Structure
   5.  Conclusion
   6.  IANA Considerations
   7.  Security Considerations
   8.  Informative References
   IAB Members at the Time of Approval
   Author's Address

1.  Introduction

   The RFC Series began in April 1969 with the publication of "Host
   Software" by Steve Crocker.  The early RFCs were, in fact, requests
   for comments on ideas and proposals; the goal was to start
   conversations rather than to create an archival record of a standard
   or best practice.  This goal changed over time, as the formality of
   the publication process evolved and the community consuming the
   material grew.  Today, over 8500 RFCs have been published, ranging
   across best practice guidance, experimental protocols, informational
   material, and, of course, Internet standards.  Material is accepted
   for publication through the IETF, the IAB, the IRTF, and the
   Independent Submissions streams, each of which have clear processes
   on how drafts are submitted and potentially approved for publication
   as an RFC.  Ultimately, the goal of the RFC Series is to provide a
   canonical source for the material published by the RFC Editor and to
   support the preservation of that material in perpetuity.

   The RFC Editor as a role came a few years after the first RFC was
   published.  The actual date the term "RFC Editor" was first used is
   unknown, but it was formalized by [RFC0902] in July 1984; Jon Postel,
   the first RFC Editor, defined the role by his actions and later by
   defining the initial processes surrounding the publication of RFCs.
   What is certain is that the goal of the RFC Editor is to produce
   documents that are readable, clear, consistent, and reasonably
   uniform, and that the archival record of what has been published is

   Change does come to the Series, albeit slowly.  First, we saw the
   distribution method change from postal mail to FTP and then to email.
   RFCs could not be distributed electronically in the beginning, as the
   means to do that distribution would not be defined until years after
   the first RFC was "published".  Not all early RFCs were even created
   electronically; some were written out by hand or on a typewriter.
   Eventually, the process for creating RFCs became more structured;
   authors were provided guidance on how to write an RFC.  The editorial
   effort went from Steve Crocker to a more official model with a
   designated editor, Jon Postel, and later to a team of five to seven
   individuals.  The actual editing and publishing work split from the
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