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The IETF -- what is it?

Document Type IAB Statement
Title The IETF -- what is it?
Published 2004-02-26
Metadata last updated 2023-08-09
State Active
Send notices to (None)

The IETF — what is it?

*Leslie Daigle

Updated: February 26, 2004.*

The suite of reference documents, necessary reading, are:

  • RFC2014 “IRTF Research Group Guidelines and Procedures”
  • RFC2026 “The Internet Standards Process — Revision 3”
  • RFC2028 “The Organizations Involved in the IETF Standards Process”

*Process and definitions are updated elsewhere:RFC2727 and

* RFC2418 “IETF Working Group Guidelines and Procedures”
* RFC2727 “IAB and IESG Selection, Confirmation, and Recall Process: Operation of the Nominating and Recall Committees”
* RFC2850 “Charter of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB)”
* RFC2860

“Memorandum of Understanding Concerning the Technical Work of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority”
* RFC3160 “The Tao of the IETF”
* RFC3233 “Defining the IETF”

The IETF — individual contribution

Individuals contribute the work that makes the IETF technical content:

  • individuals participating in standards discussions
  • document authors/editors/contributors
  • working group chairs
  • NomCom — NomCom chair is appointed by the ISOC president; the 10 voting members are selected at random from the pool of IETF participant volunteers
  • IESG — Area Directors selected by the NomCom, to charter and manage WGs, and review their output. The IESG collectively defines its processes to achieve this IETF function.
  • IAB — individuals selected by the NomCom to provide architectural input — on proposed WG charters, BoF sessions, through workshops, and, lately, through papers on specific topics helpful to pre-working group work
  • IRTF — research arm of the IETF, defined in RFC2014; the IAB appoints the IRTF chair.

IETF Functions — Caring for the technical content

The IETF is an unincorporated body; it is not a legal entity. In matters of management of content — things that must be maintained and operated (i.e., paid for) — other bodies are relied upon. Wherever possible, we (the IETF) define the function, and establish contracts for carrying out the service.

The Secretariat — Meeting organization (negotiating and signing contracts with hotels, etc), Internet-Drafts administration, and IESG administration (minutes, teleconferences, IETF web site, IESG document management, backups etc). This has evolved from a CNRI contribution — Foretec Seminars is a spinoff, which is operating on a financial arrangement based on IETF meeting fees.

RFC Editor — This is an independent publishing function, that works cooperatively with the IESG to publish documents. In particular, the RFC Editor has discretion to publish independently-submitted Internet-Drafts as Informational or Experimental, although all individual publication is done upon discussion with the IESG. This is both a technical (review) and editorial process. This has evolved from an ISI-contributed effort, to being funded through ISOC.

IANA function — management of the registration of the numbers and values associated with IETF-developed standards. Currently being provided under our direction (MoU in place) at ICANN.

The ISOC Relationship

The Internet Society (ISOC)— the ISOC website describes the IETF as one of its chartered activities. We often view/use ISOC as our corporate umbrella. ISOC can sign, and has signed, contracts that we cannot (e.g., RFC Editor). ISOC underwrites the areas of the IETF that are not otherwise funded — RFC Editor, insurance for IAB and IESG members and working group chairs, legal counsel when needed, IAB monthly teleconferences (as well as IAB-only lunches & dinners at the IETF meetings). ISOC, as our legal entity, holds the copyright on the RFC series.

Excerpts from elsewhere

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is a large open international community of network designers, operators, vendors, and researchers concerned with the evolution of the Internet architecture and the smooth operation of the Internet. It is open to any interested individual.

The Tao of the IETF ( says:

The Internet Engineering Task Force 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.

Its mission includes:

  • Identifying, and proposing solutions to, pressing operational and technical problems in the Internet;
  • Specifying the development or usage of protocols and the near-term architecture to solve such technical problems for the Internet;
  • Making recommendations tothe Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) regarding the standardization of protocols and protocol usage in the Internet;
  • Facilitating technology transfer from the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) to the wider Internet community; and
  • Providing a forum for the exchange of information within the Internet community between vendors, users, researchers, agency contractors, and network managers. ”

From “Defining the IETF” (RFC3233):

As described in BCP 11, Internet standardization is an organized activity of the ISOC, with the ISOC Board of Trustees being responsible for ratifying the procedures and rules of the Internet standards process. However, the IETF is not a formal subset of ISOC; for example, one does not have to join ISOC to be a member of the IETF.

The IETF Relationship Facts

Current organizations with which the IETF has relationships, or is believed to have relationships:

  • ISOC
  • CNRI/Foretec Seminars
  • IANA
  • ITU
  • W3C
  • ISO JTC1
  • 3GPP
  • 3GPP2
  • US Government

(Note that this is not addressing IAB-IESG relationships, or IETF-IRTF relationships).

Summary of IETF liaisons

As listed on the IETF web pages, March 2003:

ISO/IEC JTC1 SC2 Pete Resnick
ISO/IEC JTC1 SC6 Allison Mankin
ISO/IEC JTC1 SC29 Stephen Casner
ATM Forum Andy Malis
ITU-T Scott Bradner
Unicode Patrik Faltstrom
W3C Leslie Daigle
WIPO Patrik Faltstrom
3GPP Thomas Narten
3GPP2 Thomas Narten
RSSAC Rob Austein
Global Grid Forum Brian Carpenter
IEEE 802 Bernard Aboba
IEEE 802.3 Dan Romascanu (hubmib WG)
Liaison to ICANN Board of Directors: John Klensin
ICANN Technical Liaison Group: Geoff Huston, Mike St Johns

ISOC — Internet Society

Relationship: multivariate, with named liaison to IAB. The ISOC holds/pays for the RFC Editor contract, pays for insurances for IAB members, Area Directors, and Working Group chairs, as well as legal counsel should the IETF need it.

Purpose: the IETF is chartered by ISOC, and ISOC funds cover those activities that are not otherwise self-funding (i.e., Secretariat, meeting costs, etc).

CNRI/Foretec Seminars

Relationship: we believe we contract Foretec’s services. This is an increasingly-formalized relationship that was initially established with CNRI, and then spun out to Foretec.

Purpose: provides the Secretariat function — for the IESG, Internet-Drafts administration, and meeting arrangements/costs.

N.B.: This is an IETF-centric view of the universe.

IANA — Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (Function)

Relationship: we contract for the activity of assigning parameters for the protocols we develop. Current instantiation is governed by RFC 2860, which describes the understanding between the IETF and ICANN regarding what ICANN does for the IETF-IANA function.

Purpose: assignment and management of Internet protocol parameters

ICANN — Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers

Relationship: informal, and participation in Technical Liaison Group and via non-voting ICANN Board of Trustees liaison.

Purpose: give our technical input to ICANN’s operational role in management of assignments; see that there continues to be a workable mechanism for assigning names and numbers that allows the Internet to function

ITU — International Telecommunications Union

Relationship: Formal liaison described in RFC2436

Purpose: coordination between protocol development efforts.

W3C — World Wide Web Consortium

Relationship: “I don’t think we have anything really formal with W3C – probably just some email in somebody’s compressed archives.” — Brian Carpenter

Purpose: Coordination of standards development — where WWW and Internet meet/overlap.


Relationship: “ISO JTC1 liaisons (plural, with individual SCs). These were signed off years ago by Vint as ISOC President – I used to have paper copies, which I think I passed on to John when he took over.” — Brian Carpenter

Purpose: standards coordination.

3GPP — 3rd Generation Partnership Project

Relationship: Awareness, open access to documents. Draft defined in RFC3113.

Purpose: coordination of standards development and co-involvement.

3GPP2 — 3rd Generation Partnership Project Two

Relationship: Awareness, open access to documents. Draft defined in RFC3131.

Purpose: coordination of standards development and co-involvement.

US Government

Relationship: None. There is the perception of a relationship, built somewhat on historic funding relationships.

Purpose: <>

Scorecard for the uninitiated:

  • US NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration, part of the Department of Commerce) is the part of the USGovt that has been dealing with ICANN.
  • Not all parts of the USGovt are sympathetic with what NTIA has done
  • FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is completely separate from NTIA.