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Running Code is King at IETF 99 in Prague

Originally posted by Charles Eckel in the DevNet Open Source Community on 23 July 2017.

Where are the new kingmakers1? They are at the IETF Hackathon—at least they were 15-16 July, when the best and brightest Internet technologists from around the planet gathered in Prague for IETF 99. And their first order of business was the IETF Hackathon, aimed at invigorating the standards process, enhancing the speed and relevance of emerging standards, and growing the community of people working with and contributing to the IETF.

Prague is a beautiful city with fantastic architecture, picturesque bridges and canals, and terrific food and beer at very affordable prices. Despite these enticements, a record 199 Hackathon participants opted to spend the weekend in a crowded room collaborating with fellow subject-matter experts and developers working on the latest algorithms and ideas around Internet protocols, transports, and security. For nearly half of the participants, this was their first IETF Hackathon; for 45 participants, it was their first time at any IETF event. The Hackathon’s collaborative and constructive atmosphere is a great way to get started with the IETF, its community, and its work items. With more than 25 different projects from which to choose, newcomers and seasoned IETF veterans alike found areas of common interest and expertise on which to contribute.

Not Your Typical Hackathon

The IETF Hackathon is not a typical competition. Participants are motivated by a desire to improve the Internet, rather than prize money. The spirit is collaborative, rather than competitive. Participation is free, and attending the IETF meeting that follows is not required. Individuals volunteer to champion projects related to IETF work, and teams form around these champions.

For descriptions of this Hackathon’s projects, see the Hackathon wiki.2

One of the ways the Hackathon increases the pace and relevance of IETF work is via running code. Implementing evolving standards and producing running code validates the standards and highlights things that may be missing, wrong, or ambiguous in the draft versions of these standards. Better still is if the code is open source, in which case viewing and sharing the source code aids in understanding the standards, makes them easier to use, and promotes adoption.

The doors to the Hackathon opened at 8am Saturday so project champions could set up their tables and development environments. By 9am, the room was nearly full with eager participants exploring options and opportunities with champions.

At 9:30am, we had an official kickoff to welcome everyone, review logistics, and answer questions. Then the real work began. Teams dug in and worked past the official closing time of 9pm. We had fun throughout, took time to get to know each other, and in many cases, helped or were helped by people from other teams. Having people from various standards organizations, open source communities, and universities exchange contact info and ideas provides benefits that reach far beyond the course of the weekend. By 9:30pm, the last remaining participants grudgingly packed up for the night.

Although the doors officially reopened Sunday at 9am, the room was half full by 8:30am. Work continued until early afternoon, when teams prepared and delivered presentations summarizing what they achieved, lessons learned, and what would be introduced into IETF Working Groups (WG). Finally, presentations were delivered to a panel of judges from the IETF community.

Winners were selected based on the following:

  • Advance pace and relevance of IETF standards
    • Bring speed and collaborative spirit of open source software into the IETF
    • Flush out ideas, feed into WG session
    • Produce sample code/reference implementations, utilities
  • Attract developers, young people to IETF
    • Match young, skillful developers with IETF veterans
    • University engagement around Hackathon projects

The award categories and winners from this Hackathon were as follows:

  • Best New Work–HTTP error code 451
  • Best University Work–Interface to Network Security Functions (I2NSF) Framework
  • “NEAT”est Work–NEAT/TAPS
  • Best Interop Work–QUIC
  • Best Continuing Work–SCHC implementation and test SCTP
  • Best Name–Waiting for go-dots
  • Best Overall–SDN Apps for management of microwave radio link via IETF YANG Data Model

Other teams had fantastic achievements, as well. All project presentations are available on Github3.

This Hackathon, collaboration across standards efforts and open source communities emerged as a theme. A particularly good example of this was the work done by the team working on RIOT.

RIOT4,5 powers the Internet of Things (IoT) like Linux powers the Internet,” said Cenk Gündoğan, RIOT maintainer. “RIOT is a free, open source operating system developed by a grassroots community gathering companies, academia, and hobbyists, distributed all around the world. It supports most low-power IoT devices and microcontroller architectures (32-bit, 16-bit and 8-bit) and implements all relevant open standards supporting an Internet of Things that is connected, secure, durable, and privacy-friendly.”

Efforts and Benefits Continue

The Hackathon ended Sunday afternoon, when the general IETF meeting began. Fortunately, the kind of collaboration on running code that progresses IETF standards continued during the week. To support this, a portion of the IETF Lounge was designated as Hackathon Corner, where people conveniently met, collaborated, and coded.

New to this meeting was the Hacklab, a rack of servers and network gear, including a full DOCSIS network with six simulated home networks accessible via a cable modem and built-in WiFi.

Demos to the IETF Community

One of the perks of participating in the Hackathon is showing off what you did at the Thursday night social, Bits-N-Bites. This meeting, a record number of teams took advantage of this, and more would have if we’d had the space to accommodate them! Hackathon teams polished and enhanced their projects throughout the week, then put them on display for the largest-ever turn out at an IETF meeting. As usual, great local food and beverages also helped attract crowds.

Next Steps

The next IETF Hackathon is at IETF 100 in Singapore, 11-12 November. As always, participation is free and open to everyone. It’s an excellent opportunity to experience firsthand the work that the IETF does and the people who make it happen.

For more information on past, present, and future Hackathons, including how to register for the IETF 100 Hackathon, visit https://www.ietf.org/hackathon/. You are also encouraged to subscribe to hackathon@ietf.org to receive the latest event news and announcements.

Footnotes

  1. From The New Kingmakers: How Developers Conquered the World by

Stephen O’Grady (2013).

  1. https://www.ietf.org/registration/MeetingWiki/wiki/99hackathon.
  2. https://github.com/IETF-Hackathon/ietf99-project-presentations.
  3. https://github.com/RIOT-OS/RIOT.
  4. https://riot-os.org/.

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