Words from the IAB Chair – November 2016

By: Andrew Sullivan

Date: November 1, 2016

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Since we met in Berlin at IETF 96, two projects that had spread over several years and that involved the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) have come to happy conclusions. Each of them marks a new beginning for the IETF.

RFC Format Changes

As I hope everyone knows, the format for a Request for Comments (RFC) is undergoing a change. The format with which many of us are familiar was basically formatted to be output to a printer from another era of computing. And while it has a number of benefits, the limitations have been showing for several years.

The RFC Series is overseen by the RFC Series Oversight Committee, which is an IAB program. Changes to the series must be approved by the IAB. After many years of work, in August of this year the IAB approved a group of documents that make sweeping changes to the RFC series. It now will be possible to use UTF-8 characters, and not just the ASCII subset. So, authors will be able to spell their own names correctly, and internationalization examples will not need to obscure more than they reveal. The canonical format for the documents is a prepublication XML file, which can produce reflowable text that is as easy to read on a phone as it is on a laptop. PDF files appropriate for printing on modern printers will be easy to produce and will be more attractive than before. Diagrams, rather than just ASCII art, also will be possible. Expect to see more of these changes as the new tools become available.

Not all the available features will appear in every RFC stream right away. The different stream managers will no doubt move at different speeds. It seems likely that the IAB stream will embrace some of the new features early, in light of the IAB’s relationship to the RFC Editor.

Heather Flanagan, the RFC Series Editor, led this work and endured what were doubtless many frustrating periods as the IETF community came to conclusions about what it wanted from the series. I am happy she persisted and is taking the series into the future with a format that will enable its continued usefulness for everyone.

IANA Stewardship

If you have spoken to me since I became IAB chair, you surely have heard my observations of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) stewardship transition. It might even be the case that not every one of those observations was a model of patience and equanimity.

On 1 October 2016, the contract between the United States Department of Commerce National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, expired. When I became chair, I believed that “the IANA transition” would be done in no more than one year. I was wrong. But it is over now, and the Internet continues to function as the collaborative, distributed network of networks that it is.

To the people in our community, who understand that IANA is a basically clerical although important job, the degree of political interest in it was somewhat surprising. But the attention we attracted because of this change brought home an important fact about our IETF and IAB activities: people rely on the Internet. They do not take our word for it that things are safe in our hands. Instead, we need to convince the wider world—regularly—that we really have the best interests of the Internet in mind. Otherwise, we will continue to find ourselves the subject of unwelcome attention from people who do not share our level of technical understanding. This outward-facing job will remain an important part of the IAB’s role in the future, even though the IANA stewardship issue itself is no longer a focus of the IAB.

At the same time, it is safe to say that for my colleagues on the IAB and me, it will be nice to return some of our attention to pressing architectural issues. They were the reason for our interest in the IAB in the first place. To my colleagues on the IAB, as well as to the many people in the IETF and Internet communities who helped complete the IANA stewardship transition, I express my deepest thanks.

Another Transition

Now that the IAB has completed those large tasks, we are turning our attention to other issues. Of course, this is also the moment for work on another transition: the Nominating Committee (NomCom) is selecting IAB members to be seated at the first meeting of 2017. The deadline for feedback is 24 November. For more information about the 2016 NomCom and to send feedback, visit The NomCom can’t do its important work without your comments.