An Introduction to the IETF


Date: September 7, 2005

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The Internet Society is proud to be the organisational home of the Internet’s premier Internet standards-making body: the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Without the technical achievements of the IETF and its participants, the Internet would never have become the success that it is today.

The complete range of IETF standards processes involve several groups, including ISOC, the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG), the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), the Internet Research Task Force (IRTF), the Request for Comments (RFC) Editor and the IETF itself. ISOC is the home of the IETF Administrative Support Activity. ISOC also acts as the IETF’s educational channel to communicate and promote standards internationally.

As a standardization body, the IETF focuses on the development of protocols used in IP-based networks. Its unique process is based on “rough consensus and running code.” The IETF is different from most standardization bodies in that it is a totally open community with no membership requirements. It is an international community of network designers, operators, vendors, and researchers concerned with the evolution of Internet architecture and smooth operation of the Internet. As an open forum, anyone can join the activities of the IETF.

The IETF consists of a number of working groups (WGs) classified into several areas. Currently, there are seven areas: Applications, General, Internet, Operations and Management, Routing, Security, and Transport. Three IETF meetings are held annually.

Decisions are made based not on formal voting but on rough consensus. Many of the IETF’s processes and decisions are managed through mailing list discussions that allow for broad participation in IETF activities by people everywhere.

The IETF area directors together with the IETF chair make up the IESG. The IESG administers the Internet standards process according to community-defined rules and procedures, and is responsible for actions associated with the progression of technical specifications along the standards track, including initial approval of new working groups and final approval of specifications as Internet standards.

As described above, the IAB’s responsibilities include architectural oversight of IETF activities, Internet Standards Process oversight and appeal. The full IAB Charter is documented in RFC 2850. The IETF Nominations Committee nominates candidates for the IESG and IAB. The IAB confirms the IETF chair and the nominations of IESG candidates. ISOC’s Board of Trustees confirms the nominated IAB members.

The IANA is responsible for assigning Internet protocol parameters and works with the IETF on the basis of a memorandum of understanding (RFC 2860). Many protocol specifications include numbers, keywords, and other parameters that must be uniquely assigned. Examples include version numbers, protocol numbers, port numbers, and management information base numbers.

The IRTF consists of a number of Research Groups working on topics related to Internet protocols, applications, architecture, and technology. The IRTF chair is appointed by the IAB. In addition to managing the Research Groups, the IRTF may from time to time hold topical workshops focusing on research areas of importance to the evolution of the Internet or may hold more general workshops to discuss research priorities from an Internet perspective. An example of an IRTF Research Group is the Anti-Spam Research Group, which addresses new or improved anti-spam tools and techniques as well as administrative tools and techniques.

The specification documents of the Internet protocol suite, as defined by the IETF and the IESG, are published as RFCs. The RFC editor prepares and publishes the RFCs and is responsible for final editorial review of the standards in their definitive form. The RFC editor is an organisation that is financially supported by and under contract to ISOC and overseen by the IAB.

IETF standards are specifications that are stable and well understood; are technically competent; have multiple, independent, and interoperable implementations with substantial operational experience; enjoy significant public support; and are recognisably useful within some or all parts of the Internet. IETF standards are freely available on the Internet, without cost, to everyone.


ISOC provides a major source of funding and support for the IETF and its processes. Notably, ISOC funds 100 percent of the RFC Editor function today, and is providing additional support for the IETF by housing its Administrative Support Activity (IASA), which is responsible for all of the IETF’s operational support. Funding for these efforts is provided by ISOC Organisation Members as well as ISOC’s Platinum Sponsors for Internet standards programmes: APNIC, ARIN, RIPE NCC, and Microsoft.

Other Support

ISOC’s contributions also extend to policy and public relations support on behalf of the IETF as well as legal and insurance coverage. ISOC is the IETF’s sole source of financial support apart from IETF meeting fees. Support from companies whose products and services so clearly depend on the standards developed by the IETF is essential.