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Network Working Group P. Hoffman Request for Comments: 4677 VPN Consortium FYI: 17 S. Harris Obsoletes: 3160 University of Michigan Category: Informational September 2006

               The Tao of IETF: A Novice's Guide to
                the Internet Engineering Task Force

Status of This Memo

 This memo provides information for the Internet community.  It does
 not specify an Internet standard of any kind.  Distribution of this
 memo is unlimited.

Copyright Notice

 Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2006).


 This document describes the inner workings of IETF meetings and
 Working Groups, discusses organizations related to the IETF, and
 introduces the standards process.  It is not a formal IETF process
 document but instead an informational overview.

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 1] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

Table of Contents

 1. Introduction ....................................................4
 2. Acknowledgements ................................................5
 3. What Is the IETF? ...............................................5
    3.1. Humble Beginnings ..........................................6
    3.2. The Hierarchy ..............................................7
         3.2.1. ISOC (Internet Society) .............................7
         3.2.2. IESG (Internet Engineering Steering Group) ..........8
         3.2.3. IAB (Internet Architecture Board) ..................10
         3.2.4. IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) .........11
         3.2.5. RFC Editor .........................................11
         3.2.6. IETF Secretariat ...................................12
    3.3. IETF Mailing Lists ........................................12
 4. IETF Meetings ..................................................13
    4.1. Registration ..............................................14
    4.2. Take the Plunge and Stay All Week! ........................15
    4.3. Newcomer Training .........................................16
    4.4. Dress Code ................................................16
    4.5. Seeing Spots Before Your Eyes .............................16
    4.6. Terminal Room .............................................17
    4.7. Meals and Other Delights ..................................17
    4.8. Social Event ..............................................18
    4.9. Agenda ....................................................18
    4.10. EDU to the Rescue ........................................19
    4.11. Where Do I Fit In? .......................................19
         4.11.1. IS Managers .......................................19
         4.11.2. Network Operators and ISPs ........................19
         4.11.3. Networking Hardware and Software Vendors ..........20
         4.11.4. Academics .........................................20
         4.11.5. Computer Trade Press ..............................20
    4.12. Proceedings ..............................................21
    4.13. Other General Things .....................................21
 5. Working Groups .................................................22
    5.1. Working Group Chairs ......................................23
    5.2. Getting Things Done in a Working Group ....................24
    5.3. Preparing for Working Group Meetings ......................25
    5.4. Working Group Mailing Lists ...............................26
    5.5. Interim Working Group Meetings ............................27
 6. BOFs ...........................................................27
 7. New to the IETF and Coming to a Meeting? STOP HERE!
    (Temporarily) ..................................................28
 8. RFCs and Internet Drafts .......................................29
    8.1. Getting an RFC Published ..................................29
    8.2. Letting Go Gracefully .....................................30
    8.3. Internet Drafts ...........................................31
         8.3.1. Recommended Reading for Writers ....................32
         8.3.2. Filenames and Other Matters ........................33

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 2] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

    8.4. Standards-Track RFCs ......................................34
         8.4.1. Telling It Like It Is -- Using MUST and SHOULD
                and MAY ............................................35
         8.4.2. Normative References in Standards ..................36
         8.4.3. IANA Considerations ................................37
         8.4.4. Security Considerations ............................37
         8.4.5. Patents in IETF Standards ..........................37
    8.5. Informational and Experimental RFCs .......................38
 9. How to Contribute to the IETF ..................................39
    9.1. What You Can Do ...........................................39
    9.2. What Your Company Can Do ..................................40
 10. IETF and the Outside World ....................................40
    10.1. IETF and Other Standards Groups ..........................40
    10.2. Press Coverage of the IETF ...............................41
 11. Security Considerations .......................................42
 Appendix A. Related Information ...................................43
    A.1. Why "the Tao"? ............................................43
    A.2. Useful Email Addresses ....................................43
    A.3. Useful Documents and Files ................................44
    A.4. Acronyms and Abbreviations Used in the Tao ................44
 Appendix B. IETF Guiding Principles ...............................45
    B.1. General ...................................................45
    B.2. Management and Leadership .................................45
    B.3. Process ...................................................46
    B.4. Working Groups ............................................46
    B.5. Documents .................................................47
 Informative References ............................................48

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 3] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

1. Introduction

 Since its early years, attendance at Internet Engineering Task Force
 (IETF) face-to-face meetings has grown phenomenally.  Many of the
 attendees are new to the IETF at each meeting, and many of those go
 on to become regular attendees.  When the meetings were smaller, it
 was relatively easy for a newcomer to get into the swing of things.
 Today, however, a newcomer meets many more new people, some
 previously known only as the authors of documents or thought-
 provoking email messages.
 This document describes many aspects of the IETF, with the goal of
 explaining to newcomers how the IETF works.  This will give them a
 warm, fuzzy feeling and enable them to make the meeting and the
 Working Group discussions more productive for everyone.
 Of course, it's true that many IETF participants don't go to the
 face-to-face meetings at all.  Instead, they're active on the mailing
 list of various IETF Working Groups.  Since the inner workings of
 Working Groups can be hard for newcomers to understand, this document
 provides the mundane bits of information that newcomers will need in
 order to become active participants.
 The IETF is always in a state of change.  Although the principles in
 this document are expected to remain largely the same over time,
 practical details may well have changed by the time you read it; for
 example, a web-based tool may have replaced an email address for
 requesting some sort of action.
 Many types of IETF documentation are mentioned in the Tao, from BCPs
 to RFCs and FYIs and STDs.  BCPs make recommendations for Best
 Current Practices in the Internet; RFCs are the IETF's main technical
 documentation series, politely known as "Requests for Comments"; FYIs
 provide topical and technical overviews that are introductory or
 appeal to a broad audience; and STDs are RFCs identified as
 "standards".  See Section 8 for more information.
 The acronyms and abbreviations used in this document are usually
 expanded in place and are explained fully in Appendix A.
 This document is intended to obsolete FYI 17, RFC 3160.  See Section
 3.2.5 for information on what it means for one RFC to obsolete

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 4] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

2. Acknowledgements

 The original version of this document, published in 1994, was written
 by Gary Malkin.  His knowledge of the IETF, insights, and unmatched
 writing style set the standard for this later revision, and his
 contributions to the current document are also much appreciated.
 Paul Hoffman wrote significant portions of this revision and provided
 encouragement, expertise, and much-needed guidance.  Other
 contributors include Brian Carpenter, Scott Bradner, Michael Patton,
 Donald E. Eastlake III, Tony Hansen, Pekka Savola, Lisa Dusseault,
 the IETF Secretariat, members of the User Services Working Group, and
 members of the PESCI design team.

3. What Is the IETF?

 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; see [BCP95], "A
 Mission Statement for the IETF", for more detail.
 Its mission includes the following:
 o  Identifying, and proposing solutions to, pressing operational and
    technical problems in the Internet
 o  Specifying the development or usage of protocols and the near-term
    architecture to solve such technical problems for the Internet
 o  Making recommendations to the Internet Engineering Steering Group
    (IESG) regarding the standardization of protocols and protocol
    usage in the Internet
 o  Facilitating technology transfer from the Internet Research Task
    Force (IRTF) to the wider Internet community
 o  Providing a forum for the exchange of information within the
    Internet community between vendors, users, researchers, agency
    contractors, and network managers
 The IETF meeting is not a conference, although there are technical
 presentations.  The IETF is not a traditional standards organization,
 although many specifications are produced that become standards.  The
 IETF is made up of volunteers, many of whom meet three times a year
 to fulfill the IETF mission.

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 There is no membership in the IETF.  Anyone may register for and
 attend any meeting.  The closest thing there is to being an IETF
 member is being on the IETF or Working Group mailing lists (see
 Section 3.3).  This is where the best information about current IETF
 activities and focus can be found.
 Of course, no organization can be as successful as the IETF is
 without having some sort of structure.  In the IETF's case, that
 structure is provided by other organizations, as described in
 [BCP11], "The Organizations Involved in the IETF Standards Process".
 If you participate in the IETF and read only one BCP, this is the one
 you should read.
 In many ways, the IETF runs on the beliefs of its members.  One of
 the "founding beliefs" is embodied in an early quote about the IETF
 from David Clark: "We reject kings, presidents and voting.  We
 believe in rough consensus and running code".  Another early quote
 that has become a commonly-held belief in the IETF comes from Jon
 Postel: "Be conservative in what you send and liberal in what you
 The IETF is really about its members.  Because of the unrestrictive
 membership policies, IETF members come from all over the world and
 from many different parts of the Internet industry.  See Section 4.11
 for information about the ways that many people fit into the IETF.
 One more thing that is important for newcomers: the IETF in no way
 "runs the Internet", despite what some people mistakenly might say.
 The IETF makes standards that are often adopted by Internet users,
 but it does not control, or even patrol, the Internet.  If your
 interest in the IETF is because you want to be part of the overseers,
 you may be badly disappointed by the IETF.

3.1. Humble Beginnings

 The first IETF meeting was held in January 1986 at Linkabit in San
 Diego, with 21 attendees.  The 4th IETF, held at SRI in Menlo Park in
 October 1986, was the first that non-government vendors attended.
 The concept of Working Groups was introduced at the 5th IETF meeting
 at the NASA Ames Research Center in California in February 1987.  The
 7th IETF, held at MITRE in McLean, Virginia, in July 1987, was the
 first meeting with more than 100 attendees.

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 The 14th IETF meeting was held at Stanford University in July 1989.
 It marked a major change in the structure of the IETF universe.  The
 IAB (then Internet Activities Board, now Internet Architecture
 Board), which until that time oversaw many "task forces", changed its
 structure to leave only two: the IETF and the IRTF.  The IRTF is
 tasked to consider long-term research problems in the Internet.  The
 IETF also changed at that time.
 After the Internet Society (ISOC) was formed in January 1992, the IAB
 proposed to ISOC that the IAB's activities should take place under
 the auspices of the Internet Society.  During INET92 in Kobe, Japan,
 the ISOC Trustees approved a new charter for the IAB to reflect the
 proposed relationship.
 The IETF met in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, in July 1993.  This was
 the first IETF meeting held in Europe, and the US/non-US attendee
 split was nearly 50/50.  About one in three IETF meetings are now
 held in Europe or Asia, and the number of non-US attendees continues
 to be high -- about 50%, even at meetings held in the United States.

3.2. The Hierarchy

3.2.1. ISOC (Internet Society)

 The Internet Society is an international, non-profit, membership
 organization that fosters the expansion of the Internet.  One of the
 ways that ISOC does this is through financial and legal support of
 the other "I" groups described here, particularly the IETF.  ISOC
 provides insurance coverage for many of the people in the IETF
 process and acts as a public relations channel for the times that one
 of the "I" groups wants to say something to the press.  The ISOC is
 one of the major unsung (and under-supported) heroes of the Internet.
 Starting in spring 2005, the ISOC also became home base for the
 IETF's directly employed administrative staff.  This is described in
 more detail in [BCP101], "Structure of the IETF Administrative
 Support Activity (IASA)".  The staff initially includes only an
 Administrative Director (IAD) who works full-time overseeing IETF
 meeting planning, operational aspects of support services (the
 secretariat, IANA (the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority), and the
 RFC Editor, which are described later in this section), and the
 budget.  He or she (currently it's a he) leads the IETF
 Administrative Support Activity (IASA), which takes care of tasks
 such as collecting meeting fees and paying invoices, and also
 supports the tools for the work of IETF working groups, the IESG, the
 IAB, and the IRTF (more about these later in this section).

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 As well as staff, the IASA comprises volunteers and ex officio
 members from the ISOC and IETF leadership.  The IASA and the IAD are
 directed by the IETF Administrative Oversight Committee (IAOC), which
 is selected by the IETF community.  Here's how all this looks:
                        Internet Society
 Neither the IAD nor the IAOC have any influence over IETF standards
 development, which we turn to now.

3.2.2. IESG (Internet Engineering Steering Group)

 The IESG is responsible for technical management of IETF activities
 and the Internet standards process.  It administers the process
 according to the rules and procedures that have been ratified by the
 ISOC Trustees.  However, the IESG doesn't do much direct leadership,
 such as the kind you will find in many other standards organizations.
 As its name suggests, its role is to set directions rather than to
 give orders.  The IESG ratifies or corrects the output from the
 IETF's Working Groups (WGs), gets WGs started and finished, and makes
 sure that non-WG drafts that are about to become RFCs are correct.
 The IESG consists of the Area Directors (ADs), who are selected by
 the Nominations Committee (which is usually called "the NomCom") and
 are appointed for two years.  The process for choosing the members of
 the IESG is detailed in [BCP10], "IAB and IESG Selection,
 Confirmation, and Recall Process: Operation of the Nominating and
 Recall Committees".
 The current areas and abbreviations are shown below.
 Area                    Description
 Applications (APP)      Protocols seen by user programs, such as
                         email and the web
 General (GEN)           Catch-all for WGs that don't fit in other
                         areas (which is very few)
 Internet (INT)          Different ways of moving IP packets and
                         DNS information

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 Operations and          Operational aspects, network monitoring,
 Management (OPS)        and configuration
 Real-time               Delay-sensitive interpersonal
 Applications and        communications
 Infrastructure (RAI)
 Routing (RTG)           Getting packets to their destinations
 Security (SEC)          Authentication and privacy
 Transport (TSV)         Special services for special packets
 Because the IESG has a great deal of influence on whether Internet
 Drafts become RFCs, many people look at the ADs as somewhat godlike
 creatures.  IETF participants sometimes reverently ask Area Directors
 for their opinion on a particular subject.  However, most ADs are
 nearly indistinguishable from mere mortals and rarely speak from
 mountaintops.  In fact, when asked for specific technical comments,
 the ADs may often defer to members at large whom they feel have more
 knowledge than they do in that area.
 The ADs for a particular area are expected to know more about the
 combined work of the WGs in that area than anyone else.  On the other
 hand, the entire IESG reviews each Internet Draft that is proposed to
 become an RFC.  Any AD may record a "DISCUSS" ballot position against
 a draft if he or she has serious concerns.  If these concerns cannot
 be resolved by discussion, an override procedure is defined such that
 at least two IESG members must express concerns before a draft can be
 blocked from moving forward.  These procedures help ensure that an
 AD's "pet project" doesn't make it onto the standards track if it
 will have a negative effect on the rest of the IETF protocols and
 that an AD's "pet peeve" cannot indefinitely block something.
 This is not to say that the IESG never wields power.  When the IESG
 sees a Working Group veering from its charter, or when a WG asks the
 IESG to make the WG's badly designed protocol a standard, the IESG
 will act.  In fact, because of its high workload, the IESG usually
 moves in a reactive fashion.  It eventually approves most WG requests
 for Internet Drafts to become RFCs, and usually only steps in when
 something has gone very wrong.  Another way to think about this is
 that the ADs are selected to think, not to just run the process.  The
 quality of the IETF standards comes both from the review they get in
 the Working Groups and the scrutiny that the WG review gets from the

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 The IETF is run by rough consensus, and it is the IESG that judges
 whether a WG has come up with a result that has community consensus.
 (See Section 5.2 for more information on WG consensus.)  Because of
 this, one of the main reasons that the IESG might block something
 that was produced in a WG is that the result did not really gain
 consensus in the IETF as a whole, that is, among all of the Working
 Groups in all areas.  For instance, the result of one WG might clash
 with a technology developed in a different Working Group.  An
 important job of the IESG is to watch over the output of all the WGs
 to help prevent IETF protocols that are at odds with each other.
 This is why ADs are supposed to review the drafts coming out of areas
 other than their own.

3.2.3. IAB (Internet Architecture Board)

 The IAB is responsible for keeping an eye on the "big picture" of the
 Internet, and it focuses on long-range planning and coordination
 among the various areas of IETF activity.  The IAB stays informed
 about important long-term issues in the Internet, and it brings these
 topics to the attention of people it thinks should know about them.
 The IAB web site is at
 IAB members pay special attention to emerging activities in the IETF.
 When a new IETF Working Group is proposed, the IAB reviews its
 charter for architectural consistency and integrity.  Even before the
 group is chartered, the IAB members are more than willing to discuss
 new ideas with the people proposing them.
 The IAB also sponsors and organizes the Internet Research Task Force
 and convenes invitational workshops that provide in-depth reviews of
 specific Internet architectural issues.  Typically, the workshop
 reports make recommendations to the IETF community and to the IESG.
 The IAB also:
 o  Approves NomCom's IESG nominations
 o  Acts as the appeals board for appeals against IESG actions
 o  Appoints and oversees the RFC Editor
 o  Approves the appointment of the IANA
 o  Acts as an advisory body to ISOC
 o  Oversees IETF liaisons with other standards bodies

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 Like the IESG, the IAB members are selected for multi-year positions
 by the NomCom and are approved by the ISOC Board of Trustees.

3.2.4. IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority)

 The core registrar for the IETF's activities is the IANA.  Many
 Internet protocols require that someone keep track of protocol items
 that were added after the protocol came out.  Typical examples of the
 kinds of registries needed are for TCP port numbers and MIME types.
 The IAB has designated the IANA organization to perform these tasks,
 and the IANA's activities are financially supported by ICANN, the
 Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
 Ten years ago, no one would have expected to see the IANA mentioned
 on the front page of a newspaper.  IANA's role had always been very
 low key.  The fact that IANA was also the keeper of the root of the
 domain name system forced it to become a much more public entity, one
 that was badly maligned by a variety of people who never looked at
 what its role was.  Nowadays, the IETF is generally no longer
 involved in the IANA's domain name and IP address assignment
 functions, which are overseen by ICANN.
 Even though being a registrar may not sound interesting, many IETF
 participants will testify to how important IANA has been for the
 Internet.  Having a stable, long-term repository run by careful and
 conservative operators makes it much easier for people to experiment
 without worrying about messing things up.  IANA's founder, Jon
 Postel, was heavily relied upon to keep things in order while the
 Internet kept growing by leaps and bounds, and he did a fine job of
 it until his untimely death in 1998.

3.2.5. RFC Editor

 The RFC Editor edits, formats, and publishes Internet Drafts as RFCs,
 working in conjunction with the IESG.  An important secondary role is
 to provide one definitive repository for all RFCs (see  Once an RFC is published, it is never
 revised.  If the standard it describes changes, the standard will be
 re-published in another RFC that "obsoletes" the first.
 One of the most popular misconceptions in the IETF community is that
 the role of the RFC Editor is performed by IANA.  In fact, the RFC
 Editor is a separate job, although both the RFC Editor and IANA
 involved the same people for many years.  The IAB approves the
 organization that will act as RFC Editor and the RFC Editor's general
 policy.  The RFC Editor is funded by IASA and can be contacted by
 email at

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 11] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

3.2.6. IETF Secretariat

 There are, in fact, a few people who are paid to maintain the IETF.
 The IETF Secretariat provides day-to-day logistical support, which
 mainly means coordinating face-to-face meetings and running the
 IETF-specific mailing lists (not the WG mailing lists).  The
 Secretariat is also responsible for keeping the official Internet
 Drafts directory up to date and orderly, maintaining the IETF web
 site, and helping the IESG do its work.  It provides various tools
 for use by the community and the IESG.  The IETF Secretariat is under
 contract to IASA, which in turn is financially supported by the fees
 of the face-to-face meetings.

3.3. IETF Mailing Lists

 Anyone who plans to attend an IETF meeting should join the IETF
 announcement mailing list,  This is
 where all of the meeting information, RFC announcements, and IESG
 Protocol Actions and Last Calls are posted.  People who would like to
 "get technical" may also join the IETF general discussion list,  This is where discussions of cosmic significance are
 held (Working Groups have their own mailing lists for discussions
 related to their work).  Another mailing list, mailto:i-d-, announces each new version of every Internet Draft
 as it is published.
 Subscriptions to these and other IETF-run mailing lists are handled
 by a program called "mailman".  Mailman can be somewhat finicky about
 the format of subscription messages, and sometimes interacts poorly
 with email programs that make all email messages into HTML files.
 Mailman will treat you well, however, if you format your messages
 just the way it likes.
 To join the IETF announcement list, for example, send email to  Enter the word 'subscribe'
 (without the quotes) in the Subject line of the message and in the
 message body.  To join the IETF discussion list, send email to
 <> and enter the word 'subscribe' as
 explained above.  If you decide to withdraw from either list, use the
 word 'unsubscribe'.  Your messages to mailman should have nothing
 other than the commands 'subscribe' or 'unsubscribe' in them.  Both
 lists are archived on the IETF web site,

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 Do not, ever, under any circumstances, for any reason, send a request
 to join a list to the list itself!  The thousands of people on the
 list don't need, or want, to know when a new person joins.
 Similarly, when changing email addresses or leaving a list, send your
 request only to the "-request" address, not to the main list.  This
 means you!!
 The IETF discussion list is unmoderated.  This means that all can
 express their opinions about issues affecting the Internet.  However,
 it is not a place for companies or individuals to solicit or
 advertise, as noted in [BCP45], "IETF Discussion List Charter".  It
 is a good idea to read the whole RFC (it's short!) before posting to
 the IETF discussion list.  Actually, the list does have two
 "sergeants at arms" who keep an eye open for inappropriate postings,
 and there is a process for banning persistent offenders from the
 list, but fortunately this is extremely rare.
 Only the Secretariat and certain IETF office holders can approve
 messages sent to the announcement list, although those messages can
 come from a variety of people.
 Even though the IETF mailing lists "represent" the IETF membership at
 large, it is important to note that attending an IETF meeting does
 not mean you'll be automatically added to either mailing list.

4. IETF Meetings

 The computer industry is rife with conferences, seminars,
 expositions, and all manner of other kinds of meetings.  IETF face-
 to-face meetings are nothing like these.  The meetings, held three
 times a year, are week-long "gatherings of the tribes" whose primary
 goal is to reinvigorate the WGs to get their tasks done, and whose
 secondary goal is to promote a fair amount of mixing between the WGs
 and the areas.  The cost of the meetings is paid by the people
 attending and by the corporate host for each meeting (if any),
 although IASA kicks in additional funds for things such as the audio
 broadcast of some Working Group sessions.
 For many people, IETF meetings are a breath of fresh air when
 compared to the standard computer industry conferences.  There is no
 exposition hall, few tutorials, and no big-name industry pundits.
 Instead, there is lots of work, as well as a fair amount of time for
 socializing.  IETF meetings are of little interest to sales and
 marketing folks, but of high interest to engineers and developers.
 Most IETF meetings are held in North America, because that's where
 most of the participants are from; however, meetings are held on
 other continents about once every year.  The past few meetings have

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 13] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 had about 1,300 attendees.  There have been more than 65 IETF
 meetings so far, and a list of upcoming meetings is available on the
 IETF web pages,
 Newcomers to IETF face-to-face meetings are often in a bit of shock.
 They expect them to be like other standards bodies, or like computer
 conferences.  Fortunately, the shock wears off after a day or two,
 and many new attendees get quite animated about how much fun they are
 having.  One particularly jarring feature of recent IETF meetings is
 the use of wireless Internet connections throughout the meeting
 space.  It is common to see people in a WG meeting apparently reading
 email or perusing the web during presentations they find
 uninteresting.  Remember, however, that they may also be consulting
 the drafts under discussion, looking up relevant material online, or
 following another meeting using instant messaging.

4.1. Registration

 To attend an IETF meeting, you have to register and you have to pay
 the registration fee.  The meeting site and advance registration are
 announced about two months ahead of the meeting -- earlier if
 possible.  An announcement goes out via email to the IETF-announce
 mailing list, and information is posted on the IETF web site,, that same day.
 To pre-register, you must submit your registration on the web.  You
 may pre-register and pre-pay, pre-register and return to the web site
 later to pay with a credit card, pre-register and pay on-site at the
 meeting, or register and pay on-site.  To get a lower registration
 fee, you must pay by the early registration deadline (about one week
 before the meeting).  The registration fee covers all of the week's
 meetings, the Sunday evening reception (cash bar), daily continental
 breakfasts, and afternoon coffee and snack breaks.
 Credit card payments on the web are encrypted and secure, or, if you
 prefer, you can use Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) to send your payment
 information to the Registrar (
 Registration is open throughout the week of the meeting.  However,
 the Secretariat highly recommends that attendees arrive for early
 registration, usually beginning at noon on Sunday and continuing
 throughout the Sunday evening reception.  The reception is a popular
 event where you can get a small bite to eat and socialize with other
 early arrivals.
 Registered attendees (and there aren't any other kind) receive a
 registration packet.  It contains much useful information, including
 a general orientation sheet, the most recent agenda, and a name tag.

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 Attendees who pre-paid will also find their receipt in their packet.
 It's worth noting that neither attendee names and addresses nor IETF
 mailing lists are ever offered for sale.
 In your registration packet is a sheet titled "Note Well".  You
 should indeed read it carefully because it lays out the rules for
 IETF intellectual property rights.
 If you need to leave messages for other attendees, you can do so at
 the cork boards that are often near the registration desk.  These
 cork boards will also have last-minute meeting changes and room
 You can also turn in lost-and-found items to the registration desk.
 At the end of the meeting, anything left over from the lost and found
 will usually be turned over to the hotel or brought back to the
 Secretariat's office.
 Incidentally, the IETF registration desk is often a convenient place
 to arrange to meet people.  If someone says "meet me at
 registration", they almost always mean the IETF registration desk,
 not the hotel registration desk.

4.2. Take the Plunge and Stay All Week!

 IETF meetings last from Monday morning through Friday lunchtime.
 Associated meetings often take place on the preceding or following
 weekends.  It is best to plan to be present the whole week, to
 benefit from cross-fertilization between Working Groups and from
 corridor discussions.  As noted below, the agenda is fluid, and there
 have been many instances of participants missing important sessions
 due to last-minute scheduling changes after their travel plans were
 fixed.  Being present the whole week is the only way to avoid this
 If you cannot find meetings all week to interest you, you can still
 make the most of the IETF meeting by working between sessions.  Most
 IETF attendees carry laptop computers, and it is common to see many
 of them in the terminal room or in the hallways working during
 meeting sessions.  There is often good wireless Internet coverage in
 many places of the meeting venue (restaurants, coffee shops, and so
 on), so catching up on email when not in meetings is a fairly common
 task for IETFers.

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4.3. Newcomer Training

 Newcomers are encouraged to attend the Newcomer Training, which is
 especially designed for first-time attendees.  The orientation is
 organized and conducted by the IETF EDU team and is intended to
 provide useful introductory information.  The session covers what's
 in the attendee packets, what all the dots on name tags mean, the
 structure of the IETF, and many other essential and enlightening
 topics for new IETFers.
 Immediately following the Newcomers' Training is the IETF Standards
 Process Orientation.  This session demystifies much of the standards
 process by explaining what stages a document has to pass through on
 its way to becoming a standard, and what has to be done to advance to
 the next stage.
 There is usually ample time at the end for questions.  The
 Secretariat provides hard copies of the slides of the "IETF Structure
 and Internet Standards Process" presentation -- these very useful
 slides are also available online at under "Educational
 The orientation is normally held on Sunday afternoon, along with
 tutorials of interest to newcomers and old-timers alike.  Check the
 agenda for exact times and locations.

4.4. Dress Code

 Since attendees must wear their name tags, they must also wear shirts
 or blouses.  Pants or skirts are also highly recommended.  Seriously
 though, many newcomers are often embarrassed when they show up Monday
 morning in suits, to discover that everybody else is wearing T-
 shirts, jeans (shorts, if weather permits) and sandals.  There are
 those in the IETF who refuse to wear anything other than suits.
 Fortunately, they are well known (for other reasons) so they are
 forgiven this particular idiosyncrasy.  The general rule is "dress
 for the weather" (unless you plan to work so hard that you won't go
 outside, in which case, "dress for comfort" is the rule!).

4.5. Seeing Spots Before Your Eyes

 Some of the people at the IETF will have a little colored dot on
 their name tag.  A few people have more than one.  These dots
 identify people who are silly enough to volunteer to do a lot of
 extra work.  The colors have the meanings shown here.

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 Color     Meaning
 Blue      Working Group/BOF chair
 Green     Host group
 Red       IAB member
 Yellow    IESG member
 Orange    Nominating Committee member
 (Members of the press wear orange-tinted badges.)
 Local hosts are the people who can answer questions about the
 terminal room, restaurants, and points of interest in the area.
 It is important that newcomers to the IETF not be afraid to strike up
 conversations with people who wear these dots.  If the IAB and IESG
 members and Working Group and BOF chairs didn't want to talk to
 anybody, they wouldn't be wearing the dots in the first place.

4.6. Terminal Room

 One of the most important (depending on your point of view) things
 the host does is provide Internet access for the meeting attendees.
 In general, wired and wireless connectivity is excellent.  This is
 entirely due to the Olympian efforts of the local hosts and their
 ability to beg, borrow, and steal.  The people and companies that
 donate their equipment, services, and time are to be heartily
 congratulated and thanked.
 Although preparation far in advance of the meeting is encouraged,
 there may be some unavoidable "last minute" things that can be
 accomplished in the terminal room.  It may also be useful to people
 who need to make trip reports or status reports while things are
 still fresh in their minds.
 You need to be wearing your badge in order to get into the terminal
 room.  The terminal room provides lots of power strips, lots of
 Ethernet ports for laptops, wireless (for the people who don't need
 Ethernet but want power), usually a printer for public use, and
 sometimes workstations.  What it doesn't provide are terminals; the
 name is historical.  The help desk in the terminal room is a good
 place to ask questions about network failures, although they might
 point you off to different networking staff.

4.7. Meals and Other Delights

 Marshall Rose once remarked that the IETF was a place to go for "many
 fine lunches and dinners".  Although it is true that some people eat
 very well at the IETF, they find the food on their own; lunches and

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 dinners are not included in the registration fee.  The Secretariat
 does provide appetizers at the Sunday evening reception (not meant to
 be a replacement for dinner), continental breakfast every morning,
 and (best of all) cookies, brownies, and other yummies during
 afternoon breaks.
 If you prefer to get out of the hotel for meals, the local host
 usually provides a list of places to eat within easy reach of the
 meeting site.

4.8. Social Event

 Another of the most important things organized and managed by the
 host is the IETF social event.  Sometimes, the social event is a
 computer- or high-tech-related event.  At one Boston IETF, for
 example, the social was dinner at the Computer Museum.  Other times,
 the social might be a dinner cruise or a trip to an art gallery.
 Note, however, that not all IETF meetings have social events.
 Newcomers to the IETF are encouraged to attend the social event.  All
 are encouraged to wear their name tags and leave their laptops
 behind.  The social event is designed to give people a chance to meet
 on a social, rather than technical, level.

4.9. Agenda

 The agenda for the IETF meetings is a very fluid thing.  It is
 typically sent to the IETF announcement list a few times prior to the
 meeting, and it is also available on the web.  The final agenda is
 included in the registration packets.  Of course, "final" in the IETF
 doesn't mean the same thing as it does elsewhere in the world.  The
 final agenda is simply the version that went to the printer.  The
 Secretariat will post agenda changes on the bulletin board near the
 IETF registration desk (not the hotel registration desk).  These late
 changes are not capricious: they are made "just in time" as session
 chairs and speakers become aware of unanticipated clashes.  The IETF
 is too dynamic for agendas to be tied down weeks in advance.
 Assignments for breakout rooms (where the Working Groups and BOFs
 meet) and a map showing the room locations are also shown on the
 agenda.  Room assignments can change as the agenda changes.  Some
 Working Groups meet multiple times during a meeting, and every
 attempt is made to have a Working Group meet in the same room for
 each session.

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4.10. EDU to the Rescue

 If certain aspects of the IETF still mystify you (even after you
 finish reading the Tao), you'll want to drop in on the on-site
 training offered by the Education (EDU) team.  These informal classes
 are designed for newcomers and seasoned IETFers alike.  In addition
 to the Newcomer Training, the EDU team offers workshops for document
 editors and Working Group chairs, plus an in-depth security tutorial
 that's indispensable for both novices and longtime IETF attendees.
 EDU sessions are generally held on Sunday afternoons.  You'll find
 more about the EDU team at

4.11. Where Do I Fit In?

 The IETF is different things to different people.  There are many
 people who have been very active in the IETF who have never attended
 an IETF meeting.  You should not feel obligated to come to an IETF
 meeting just to get a feel for the IETF.  The following guidelines
 (based on stereotypes of people in various industries) might help you
 decide whether you actually want to come and, if so, what might be
 the best use of your time at your first meeting.

4.11.1. IS Managers

 As discussed throughout this document, an IETF meeting is nothing
 like any trade show you have attended.  IETF meetings are singularly
 bad places to go if your intention is to find out what will be hot in
 the Internet industry next year.  You can safely assume that going to
 Working Group meetings will confuse you more than it will help you
 understand what is happening, or will be happening, in the industry.
 This is not to say that no one from the industry should go to IETF
 meetings.  As an IS manager, you might want to consider sending
 specific people who are responsible for technologies that are under
 development in the IETF.  As these people read the current Internet
 Drafts and the traffic on the relevant Working Group lists, they will
 get a sense of whether or not their presence would be worthwhile for
 your company or for the Working Groups.

4.11.2. Network Operators and ISPs

 Running a network is hard enough without having to grapple with new
 protocols or new versions of the protocols with which you are already
 dealing.  If you work for the type of network that is always using
 the very latest hardware and software, and you are following the
 relevant Working Groups in your copious free time, you could
 certainly find participating in the IETF valuable.  A fair amount of
 IETF work also covers many other parts of operations of ISPs and

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 large enterprises, and the input of operators is quite valuable to
 keep this work vibrant and relevant.  Many of the best operations
 documents from the IETF come from real-world operators, not vendors
 and academics.

4.11.3. Networking Hardware and Software Vendors

 The image of the IETF being mostly ivory tower academics may have
 been true in the past, but the jobs of typical attendees are now in
 industry.  In most areas of the IETF, employees of vendors are the
 ones writing the protocols and leading the Working Groups, so it's
 completely appropriate for vendors to attend.  If you create Internet
 hardware or software, and no one from your company has ever attended
 an IETF meeting, it behooves you to come to a meeting if for no other
 reason than to tell the others how relevant the meeting was or was
 not to your business.
 This is not to say that companies should close up shop during IETF
 meeting weeks so everyone can go to the meeting.  Marketing folks,
 even technical marketing folks, are usually safe in staying away from
 the IETF as long as some of the technical people from the company are
 at the meeting.  Similarly, it isn't required, or likely useful, for
 everyone from a technical department to go, particularly if they are
 not all reading the Internet Drafts and following the Working Group
 mailing lists.  Many companies have just a few designated meeting
 attendees who are chosen for their ability to do complete and useful
 trip reports.  In addition, many companies have internal coordination
 efforts and a standards strategy.  If a company depends on the
 Internet for some or all of its business, the strategy should
 probably cover the IETF.

4.11.4. Academics

 IETF meetings are often excellent places for computer science folks
 to find out what is happening in the way of soon-to-be-deployed
 protocols.  Professors and grad students (and sometimes overachieving
 undergrads) who are doing research in networking or communications
 can get a wealth of information by following Working Groups in their
 specific fields of interest.  Wandering into different Working Group
 meetings can have the same effect as going to symposia and seminars
 in your department.  Researchers are also, of course, likely to be
 interested in IRTF activities.

4.11.5. Computer Trade Press

 If you're a member of the press and are considering attending IETF,
 we've prepared a special section of the Tao just for you -- please
 see Section 10.2.

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4.12. Proceedings

 IETF proceedings are compiled in the two months following each
 meeting and are available on the web and on CD.  Be sure to look
 through a copy -- the proceedings are filled with information about
 IETF that you're not likely to find anywhere else.  For example,
 you'll find snapshots of most WG charters at the time of the meeting,
 giving you a better understanding of the evolution of any given
 The proceedings sometimes start with an informative (and highly
 entertaining) message.  Each volume contains the final (hindsight)
 agenda, an IETF overview, area and Working Group reports, and slides
 from the protocol and technical presentations.  The Working Group
 reports and presentations are sometimes incomplete, if the materials
 haven't been turned in to the Secretariat in time for publication.
 An attendee list is also included, which contains names and
 affiliations as provided on the registration form.  For information
 about obtaining copies of the proceedings, see the web listing at

4.13. Other General Things

 The IETF Secretariat, and IETFers in general, are very approachable.
 Never be afraid to approach someone and introduce yourself.  Also,
 don't be afraid to ask questions, especially when it comes to jargon
 and acronyms.
 Hallway conversations are very important.  A lot of very good work
 gets done by people who talk together between meetings and over
 lunches and dinners.  Every minute of the IETF can be considered work
 time (much to some people's dismay).
 A "bar BOF" is an unofficial get-together, usually in the late
 evening, during which a lot of work gets done over drinks.  Bar BOFs
 spring up in many different places around an IETF meeting, such as
 restaurants, coffee shops, and (if we are so lucky) pools.
 It's unwise to get between a hungry IETFer (and there isn't any other
 kind) and coffee break brownies and cookies, no matter how
 interesting a hallway conversation is.
 IETFers are fiercely independent.  It's safe to question opinions and
 offer alternatives, but don't expect an IETFer to follow orders.

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 The IETF meetings, and the plenary session in particular, are not
 places for vendors to try to sell their wares.  People can certainly
 answer questions about their company and its products, but bear in
 mind that the IETF is not a trade show.  This does not preclude
 people from recouping costs for IETF-related T-shirts, buttons, and
 pocket protectors.
 There is always a "materials distribution table" near the
 registration desk.  This desk is used to make appropriate information
 available to the attendees (e.g., copies of something discussed in a
 Working Group session, descriptions of online IETF-related
 information).  Please check with the Secretariat before placing
 materials on the desk; the Secretariat has the right to remove
 material that he or she feels is not appropriate.
 If you rely on your laptop during the meeting, it is a good idea to
 bring an extra battery.  It is not always easy to find a spare outlet
 in some meeting rooms, and using the wireless access can draw down
 your battery faster than you might expect.  If you are sitting near a
 power-strip in a meeting room, expect to be asked to plug and unplug
 for others around you.  Many people bring an extension cord with
 spare outlets, which is a good way to make friends with your neighbor
 in a meeting.  If you need an outlet adapter, you should try to buy
 it in advance because the one you need is usually easier to find in
 your home country.

5. Working Groups

 The vast majority of the IETF's work is done in many Working Groups;
 at the time of this writing, there are about 115 different WGs.  (The
 term "Working Group" is often seen capitalized, but probably not for
 any good reason.)  [BCP25], "IETF Working Group Guidelines and
 Procedures", is an excellent resource for anyone participating in WG
 A WG is really just a mailing list with a bit of adult supervision.
 You "join" the WG by subscribing to the mailing list; all mailing
 lists are open to anyone.  Anyone can post to a WG mailing list,
 although most lists require non-subscribers to have their postings
 moderated.  Each Working Group has one or two chairs.
 More important, each WG has a charter that the WG is supposed to
 follow.  The charter states the scope of discussion for the Working
 Group, as well as its goals.  The WG's mailing list and face-to-face
 meetings are supposed to focus on just what is in the charter and not
 to wander off on other "interesting" topics.  Of course, looking a
 bit outside the scope of the WG is occasionally useful, but the large
 majority of the discussion should be on the topics listed in the

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 charter.  In fact, some WG charters actually specify what the WG will
 not do, particularly if there were some attractive but nebulous
 topics brought up during the drafting of the charter.  The list of
 all WG charters makes interesting reading for folks who want to know
 what the different Working Groups are supposed to be doing.

5.1. Working Group Chairs

 The role of the WG chairs is described in both [BCP11] and [BCP25].
 The IETF EDU team also offers special training for WG chairs on
 Sunday afternoons preceding IETF.
 As volunteer cat-herders, a chair's first job is to determine the WG
 consensus goals and milestones, keeping the charter up to date.
 Next, often with the help of WG secretaries or document editors, the
 chair must manage WG discussion, both on the list and by scheduling
 meetings when appropriate.  Sometimes discussions get stuck on
 contentious points and the chair may need to steer people toward
 productive interaction and then declare when rough consensus has been
 met and the discussion is over.  Sometimes chairs also manage
 interactions with non-WG participants or the IESG, especially when a
 WG document approaches publication.  Chairs have responsibility for
 the technical and non-technical quality of WG output.  As you can
 imagine given the mix of secretarial, interpersonal, and technical
 demands, some Working Group chairs are much better at their jobs than
 When a WG has fulfilled its charter, it is supposed to cease
 operations.  (Most WG mailing lists continue on after a WG is closed,
 still discussing the same topics as the Working Group did.)  In the
 IETF, it is a mark of success that the WG closes up because it
 fulfilled its charter.  This is one of the aspects of the IETF that
 newcomers who have experience with other standards bodies have a hard
 time understanding.  However, some WG chairs never manage to get
 their WG to finish, or keep adding new tasks to the charter so that
 the Working Group drags on for many years.  The output of these aging
 WGs is often not nearly as useful as the earlier products, and the
 messy results are sometimes attributed to what's called "degenerative
 Working Group syndrome".
 There is an official distinction between WG drafts and independent
 drafts, but in practice, sometimes there is not much procedural
 difference.  For example, many WG mailing lists also discuss
 independent drafts (at the discretion of the WG chair).  Procedures
 for Internet Drafts are covered in much more detail later in this

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 WG chairs are strongly advised to go to the WG leadership training
 that usually happens on the Sunday preceding the IETF meeting.  There
 is also usually a WG chairs lunch mid-week during the meeting where
 chair-specific topics are presented and discussed.  If you're
 interested in what they hear there, take a look at the slides at

5.2. Getting Things Done in a Working Group

 One fact that confuses many novices is that the face-to-face WG
 meetings are much less important in the IETF than they are in most
 other organizations.  Any decision made at a face-to-face meeting
 must also gain consensus on the WG mailing list.  There are numerous
 examples of important decisions made in WG meetings that are later
 overturned on the mailing list, often because someone who couldn't
 attend the meeting pointed out a serious flaw in the logic used to
 come to the decision.  Finally, WG meetings aren't "drafting
 sessions", as they are in some other standards bodies: in the IETF,
 drafting is done elsewhere.
 Another aspect of Working Groups that confounds many people is the
 fact that there is no formal voting.  The general rule on disputed
 topics is that the Working Group has to come to "rough consensus",
 meaning that a very large majority of those who care must agree.  The
 exact method of determining rough consensus varies from Working Group
 to Working Group.  Sometimes consensus is determined by "humming" --
 if you agree with a proposal, you hum when prompted by the chair; if
 you disagree, you keep your silence.  Newcomers find it quite
 peculiar, but it works.  It is up to the chair to decide when the
 Working Group has reached rough consensus.
 The lack of formal voting has caused some very long delays for some
 proposals, but most IETF participants who have witnessed rough
 consensus after acrimonious debates feel that the delays often result
 in better protocols.  (And, if you think about it, how could you have
 "voting" in a group that anyone can join, and when it's impossible to
 count the participants?)  Rough consensus has been defined in many
 ways; a simple version is that it means that strongly held objections
 must be debated until most people are satisfied that these objections
 are wrong.

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 Some Working Groups have complex documents or a complex set of
 documents (or even both).  Shaking all the bugs out of one or more
 complex documents is a daunting task.  In order to help relieve this
 problem, some Working Groups use "issue trackers", which are online
 lists of the open issues with the documents, the status of the issue,
 proposed fixes, and so on.  Using an issue tracker not only helps the
 WG not to forget to do something important, it helps when someone
 asks a question later about why something was done in a particular
 Another method that some Working Groups adopt is to have a Working
 Group "secretary" to handle the juggling of the documents and the
 changes.  The secretary can run the issue tracker if there is one, or
 can simply be in charge of watching that all of the decisions that
 are made on the mailing list are reflected in newer versions of the
 One thing you might find helpful, and possibly even entertaining,
 during Working Group sessions is to follow the running commentary on
 the Jabber room associated with that Working Group.  The running
 commentary is often used as the basis for the minutes of the meeting,
 but it can also include jokes, sighs, and other extraneous chatter.
 Jabber is a free, streaming XML technology mainly used for instant
 messaging.  You can find pointers to Jabber clients for many
 platforms at  The Jabber chatrooms have the
 name of the Working Group followed by "".  Those
 rooms are, in fact, available year-round, not just during IETF
 meetings, and some are used by active Working Group participants
 during protocol development.

5.3. Preparing for Working Group Meetings

 The most important thing that everyone (newcomers and seasoned
 experts) should do before coming to a face-to-face meeting is to read
 the Internet Drafts and RFCs ahead of time.  WG meetings are
 explicitly not for education: they are for developing the group's
 documents.  Even if you do not plan to say anything in the meeting,
 you should read the group's documents before attending so you can
 understand what is being said.
 It's up to the WG chair to set the meeting agenda, usually a few
 weeks in advance.  If you want something discussed at the meeting, be
 sure to let the chair know about it.  The agendas for all the WG
 meetings are available in advance (see, where 'xx' is the
 meeting number), but many WG chairs are lax (if not totally
 negligent) about turning them in.

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 The Secretariat only schedules WG meetings a few weeks in advance,
 and the schedule often changes as little as a week before the first
 day.  If you are only coming for one WG meeting, you may have a hard
 time booking your flight with such little notice, particularly if the
 Working Group's meeting changes schedule.  Be sure to keep track of
 the current agenda so you can schedule flights and hotels.  But, when
 it comes down to it, you probably shouldn't be coming for just one WG
 meeting.  It's likely that your knowledge could be valuable in a few
 WGs, assuming that you've read the drafts and RFCs for those groups.
 If you are on the agenda at a face-to-face meeting, you should
 probably come with a few slides prepared.  But don't come with a
 tutorial; people are supposed to read the drafts in advance.
 Projectors for laptop-based presentations are available in all the
 meeting rooms.
 And here's a tip for your slides in WG or plenary presentations:
 don't put your company's logo on every one, even though that is a
 common practice outside the IETF.  The IETF frowns on this kind of
 corporate advertising (except for the meeting sponsor in the plenary
 presentation), and most presenters don't even put their logo on their
 opening slide.  The IETF is about technical content, not company
 boosterism.  Slides are often plain black and white for legibility,
 with color used only when it really adds clarity.  Again, the content
 is the most important part of the slides, not how it's presented.

5.4. Working Group Mailing Lists

 As we mentioned earlier, the IETF announcement and discussion mailing
 lists are the central mailing lists for IETF activities.  However,
 there are many other mailing lists related to IETF work.  For
 example, every Working Group has its own discussion list.  In
 addition, there are some long-term technical debates that have been
 moved off of the IETF list onto lists created specifically for those
 topics.  It is highly recommended that you follow the discussions on
 the mailing lists of the Working Groups that you wish to attend.  The
 more work that is done on the mailing lists, the less work that will
 need to be done at the meeting, leaving time for cross pollination
 (i.e., attending Working Groups outside one's primary area of
 interest in order to broaden one's perspective).
 The mailing lists also provide a forum for those who wish to follow,
 or contribute to, the Working Groups' efforts, but can't attend the
 IETF meetings.  That's why IETF procedures require all decisions to
 be confirmed "on the list" and you will often hear a WG chair say,
 "Let's take it to the list" to close a discussion.

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 Many IETF discussion lists use either mailman or another list
 manager, Majordomo.  They usually have a "-request" address that
 handles the administrative details of joining and leaving the list.
 (See Section 3.3 for more information on mailman.)  It is generally
 frowned upon when such administrivia appears on the discussion
 mailing list.
 Most IETF discussion lists are archived.  That is, all of the
 messages sent to the list are automatically stored on a host for
 anonymous HTTP or FTP access.  Many such archives are listed online
 at or they are in a web-based
 archive.  If you don't find the list you're looking for, send a
 message to the list's "-request" address (not to the list itself!).
 The Working Group charter listings at are a useful source;
 note that the page has links to old, concluded WGs.
 Some WG lists apply size limits on messages, particularly to avoid
 large documents or presentations landing in everyone's mailbox.  It
 is well worth remembering that participants do not all have broadband
 connections (and even those with broadband connections sometimes get
 their mail on slow connections when they travel), so shorter messages
 are greatly appreciated.  Documents can be posted as Internet Drafts;
 presentation material can be posted to a web site controlled by the
 sender or sent personally to people who ask for it.  Some WGs set up
 special sites to hold these large documents so that senders can post
 there first, then just send to the list the URL of the document.

5.5. Interim Working Group Meetings

 Working Groups sometimes hold interim meetings between IETFs.
 Interim meetings aren't a substitute for IETF meetings, however -- a
 group can't decide to skip a meeting in a location they're not fond
 of and meet in Cancun (or even someplace mundane) three weeks later,
 for example.  Interim meetings require AD approval and need to be
 announced at least one month in advance.  Location and timing need to
 allow fair access for all participants.  Like regular IETF meetings,
 someone needs to take notes and send them to, and the group needs to take attendance.
 Decisions tentatively made during an interim WG meeting still must be
 ratified on the mailing list.

6. BOFs

 In order to form a Working Group, you need a charter and someone who
 is able to be chair.  In order to get those things, you need to get
 people interested so that they can help focus the charter and
 convince an Area Director that the project is worthwhile.  A face-

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 to-face meeting is useful for this.  In fact, very few WGs get
 started by an Area Director; most start after a face-to-face BOF
 because attendees have expressed interest in the topic.
 A Birds of a Feather (BOF) meeting has to be approved by the Area
 Director in the relevant area before it can be scheduled.  If you
 think you really need a new WG, approach an AD informally with your
 proposal and see what he or she thinks.  The next step is to request
 a meeting slot at the next face-to-face meeting.  Of course, you
 don't need to wait for that meeting to get some work done, such as
 setting up a mailing list and starting to discuss a charter.
 BOF meetings have a very different tone than do WG meetings.  The
 purpose of a BOF is to make sure that a good charter with good
 milestones can be created and that there are enough people willing to
 do the work needed in order to create standards.  Some BOFs have
 Internet Drafts already in process, whereas others start from
 An advantage of having a draft before the BOF is to help focus the
 discussion.  On the other hand, having a draft might tend to limit
 what the other folks in the BOF want to do in the charter.  It's
 important to remember that most BOFs are held in order to get support
 for an eventual Working Group, not to get support for a particular
 Many BOFs don't turn into WGs for a variety of reasons.  A common
 problem is that not enough people can agree on a focus for the work.
 Another typical reason is that the work wouldn't end up being a
 standard -- if, for example, the document authors don't really want
 to relinquish change control to a WG.  (We'll discuss change control
 later in this document.)  Only two meetings of a BOF can be scheduled
 on a particular subject; either a WG has to form or the topic should
 be dropped.

7. New to the IETF and Coming to a Meeting? STOP HERE! (Temporarily)

 If you're new to the IETF and this is the only reference you plan to
 read before coming to the meeting, stop here -- at least temporarily.
 Then, on your flight home, read the rest of the Tao.  By that time
 you'll be ready to get actively involved in the Working Groups that
 interested you at the meeting, and the Tao will get you started on
 your way.
 If you're planning to participate in the IETF remotely, through
 reading email lists and the proceedings, read on!

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 28] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

8. RFCs and Internet Drafts

 If you're a new IETF participant and are looking for a particular RFC
 or Internet Draft, go to the RFC Editor's web pages, http://www.rfc-  That site also has links to other RFC
 collections, many with search capabilities.  If you know the number
 of the RFC you're looking for, go to the IETF RFC pages,  For Internet Drafts, the best resource
 is the IETF web site,, where you can
 search by title and keyword.

8.1. Getting an RFC Published

 One of the most common questions seasoned IETFers hear from newcomers
 is, "How do I get an IETF standard published?"  A much better
 question is, "Should I write an IETF standard?" since the answer is
 not always "yes."  If you do decide to try to write a document that
 becomes an IETF standard, be warned that the overall process may be
 arduous, even if the individual steps are fairly straightforward.
 Lots of people get through the process unscathed, though, and there's
 plenty of written guidance that helps authors emerge with their ego
 more or less intact.
 Every IETF standard is published as an RFC (a "Request for Comments,"
 but everyone just calls them RFCs), and every RFC starts out as an
 Internet Draft (often called an "I-D").  The basic steps for getting
 something published as an IETF standard are as follows:
 1.  Publish the document as an Internet Draft.
 2.  Receive comments on the draft.
 3.  Edit your draft based on the comments.
 4.  Repeat steps 1 through 3 a few times.
 5.  Ask an Area Director to take the draft to the IESG (if it's an
     individual submission).  If the draft is an official Working
     Group product, the WG chair asks the AD to take it to the IESG.
 6.  Make any changes deemed necessary by the IESG (this might include
     giving up on becoming a standard).
 7.  Wait for the document to be published by the RFC Editor.
 A much more complete explanation of these steps is contained in
 [BCP9], "The Internet Standards Process".  Those who write drafts
 that they hope will become IETF standards must read BCP 9 so that

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 29] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 they can follow the path of their document through the process.  BCP
 9 (and various other documents that update it) goes into great detail
 on a topic that is very often misunderstood, even by seasoned IETF
 participants: different types of RFCs go through different processes
 and have different rankings.  There are six kinds of RFCs:
 o  Proposed standards
 o  Draft standards
 o  Internet standards (sometimes called "full standards")
 o  Informational documents
 o  Experimental protocols
 o  Historic documents
 Only the first three (proposed, draft, and full) are standards within
 the IETF.  A good summary of this can be found in the aptly titled
 [RFC1796], "Not All RFCs Are Standards".
 There are also three sub-series of RFCs, known as FYIs, BCPs, and
 STDs.  The For Your Information RFC sub-series was created to
 document overviews and topics that are introductory or that appeal to
 a broad audience; however, that series has not been added to in a
 long time.  Best Current Practice documents describe the application
 of various technologies in the Internet.  The STD RFC sub-series was
 created to identify RFCs that do in fact specify Internet standards.
 Some STDs are actually sets of more than one RFC, and the "standard"
 designation applies to the whole set of documents.

8.2. Letting Go Gracefully

 The biggest reason some people do not want their documents put on the
 IETF standards track is that they must give up change control of the
 protocol.  That is, as soon as you propose that your protocol become
 an IETF standard, you must fully relinquish control of the protocol.
 If there is general agreement, parts of the protocol can be
 completely changed, whole sections can be ripped out, new things can
 be added, and the name can be changed.
 Some authors find it very hard to give up control of their pet
 protocol.  If you are one of those people, don't even think about
 trying to get your protocol to become an IETF standard.  On the other
 hand, if your goal is the best standard possible with the widest
 implementation, then you might find the IETF process to your liking.

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 30] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 Incidentally, the change control on Internet standards doesn't end
 when the protocol is put on the standards track.  The protocol itself
 can be changed later for a number of reasons, the most common of
 which is that implementors discover a problem as they implement the
 standard.  These later changes are also under the control of the
 IETF, not the editors of the standards document.
 IETF standards exist so that people will use them to write Internet
 programs that interoperate.  They don't exist to document the
 (possibly wonderful) ideas of their authors, nor do they exist so
 that a company can say, "We have an IETF standard".  If a standards-
 track RFC only has one implementation (whereas two are required for
 it to advance on the standards track), it was probably a mistake to
 put it on the standards track in the first place.

8.3. Internet Drafts

 First things first.  Every document that ends up in the RFC
 repository starts life as an Internet Draft.  Internet Drafts are
 tentative documents -- they're meant for readers to comment on, so
 authors can mull over those comments and decide which ones to
 incorporate in the draft.  In order to remind folks of their
 tentativeness, Internet Drafts are automatically removed from the
 online directories after six months.  They are most definitely not
 standards or even specifications.  As [BCP9] says:
 "An Internet Draft is NOT a means of 'publishing' a specification;
 specifications are published through the RFC mechanism....  Internet
 Drafts have no formal status, and are subject to change or removal at
 any time.  Under no circumstances should an Internet Draft be
 referenced by any paper, report, or Request-for-Proposal, nor should
 a vendor claim compliance with an Internet Draft".
 You can always tell a person who doesn't understand the IETF (or is
 intentionally trying to fool people) when he or she brags about
 having published an Internet Draft; it takes no significant effort.
 When you submit an Internet Draft, you give some publication rights
 to the IETF.  This is so that your Internet Draft is freely available
 to everyone who wants to read and comment on it.  The rights you do
 and don't give to the IETF are described in [BCP78], "IETF Rights in
 There is a very useful checking tool at  Using this tool
 before you turn in an Internet Draft will help prevent the draft from
 being rejected due to errors in form and formatting.

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 31] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 An I-D should have approximately the same format as an RFC.  Contrary
 to many people's beliefs, an I-D does not need to look exactly like
 an RFC, but if you can use the same formatting procedures used by the
 RFC Editor when you create your I-Ds, it will simplify the RFC
 Editor's work when your draft is published as an RFC.  [RFC2223],
 "Instructions to RFC Authors", describes the nroff formatting used by
 the RFC Editor.  There is also a tool called "xml2rfc", available
 from, that takes XML-formatted text and
 turns it into a valid Internet Draft.
 An Internet Draft can be either a Working Group draft or an
 individual submission.  Working Group drafts are usually reviewed by
 the Working Group before being accepted as a WG item, although the
 chairs have the final say.
 If you're interested in checking the status of a particular draft, or
 can't remember its exact name, or want to find out which drafts a WG
 is working on, two handy tools are available.  The "Internet Drafts
 Database Interface", at, lets you search for
 a draft by author, Working Group, date, or filename.  The "I-D
 Tracker", at, is
 especially useful for authors who want to track the progress of their
 draft as it makes its way through the publication process.
 There are some informal rules for Internet Draft naming that have
 evolved over the years.  Internet Drafts that revise existing RFCs
 often have draft names with "bis" in them, meaning "again" or
 "twice"; for example, a draft might be called "draft-someone-

8.3.1. Recommended Reading for Writers

 Before you create the first draft of your Internet Draft, you should
 read four documents:
 o  More important than just explaining formatting, [RFC2223] also
    explains what needs to be in an Internet Draft before it can
    become an RFC.  This document describes all the sections and
    notices that will need to be in your document, and it's good to
    have them there from the beginning so that readers aren't
    surprised when you put them in later versions.
 o  [BCP22], "Guide for Internet Standards Writers", provides tips
    that will help you write a standard that leads to
    interoperability.  For instance, it explains how to choose the
    right number of protocol options, how to respond to out-of-spec
    behavior, and how to show state diagrams.

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 32] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 o  The online "Guidelines to Authors of Internet Drafts",, has up-to-date
    information about the process for turning in Internet Drafts, as
    well as the most current boilerplate information that has to be
    included in each Internet Draft.
 o  When you think you are finished with the draft process and are
    ready to request that the draft become an RFC, you should
    definitely read "Checklist for Internet Drafts (I-Ds) Submitted
    for RFC Publication",, a
    list of common issues that have been known to stop documents in
    the IESG.  In fact, you should probably read that document well
    before you are finished, so that you don't have to make a bunch of
    last-minute changes.
 Also, you should visit the IETF Tools web pages,, where you'll find pointers to other tools that
 will automate some of your work for the IETF.

8.3.2. Filenames and Other Matters

 When you're ready to turn in your Internet Draft, send it to the
 Internet Drafts administrator at
 There is a real person at the other end of this mail address, whose
 job is to make sure you've included the minimum items you need for
 the Internet Draft to be published.  When you submit the first
 version of the draft, you also tell the draft administrator your
 proposed filename for the draft.  If the draft is an official Working
 Group product, the name will start with "draft-ietf-" followed by the
 designation of the WG, followed by a descriptive word or two,
 followed by "00.txt".
 For example, a draft in the S/MIME WG about creating keys might be
 named "draft-ietf-smime-keying-00.txt".  If it's not the product of a
 Working Group, the name will start with "draft-" and the last name of
 one of the authors followed by a descriptive word or two, followed by
 "00.txt".  For example, a draft that someone named Smith wrote might
 be named "draft-smith-keying-00.txt".  If a draft is an individual
 submission but relates to a particular Working Group, authors
 sometimes follow their name with the name of the Working Group, such
 as "draft-smith-smime-keying-00.txt".  You are welcome to suggest
 names; however, it is up to the Internet Drafts administrator (and,
 if it is an official WG draft, the WG chair) to come up with the
 filename.  If you follow the naming guidelines given at, chances are quite good
 that your suggested filename will be fine.

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 33] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 After the first edition of a draft, the number in the filename is
 incremented; for instance, the second edition of the S/MIME draft
 named above would be "draft-ietf-smime-keying-01.txt".  Note that
 there are cases where the filename changes after one or more
 versions, such as when a personal effort is pulled into a Working
 Group; when a draft has its filename changed, the number reverts to
 -00.  Be sure to let the Internet Drafts administrator know the
 previous name of the draft when such a name change occurs so that the
 databases can be kept accurate.

8.4. Standards-Track RFCs

 The procedure for creating and advancing a standard is described in
 [BCP9].  After an Internet Draft has been sufficiently discussed and
 there is rough consensus that what it says would be a useful
 standard, it is presented to the IESG for consideration.  If the
 draft is an official WG draft, the WG chair sends it to the
 appropriate Area Director after it has gone through Working Group
 last call.  If the draft is an individual submission, the draft's
 author or editor submits it to the appropriate Area Director.  BCP 9
 also describes the appeals process for people who feel that a Working
 Group chair, an AD, or the IESG has made the wrong decision in
 considering the creation or advancement of a standard.
 After the I-D is submitted to the IESG, the IESG announces an IETF-
 wide last call.  This helps get the attention of people who weren't
 following the progress of the draft, and it can sometimes cause
 further changes to the draft.  It is also a time when people in the
 WG who feel that they weren't heard can make their comments to
 everyone.  The IETF last call is two weeks for drafts coming from WGs
 and four weeks for individual submissions.
 If the IESG approves the draft to become an Internet standard, they
 ask the RFC Editor to publish it as a Proposed standard.  After it
 has been a Proposed standard for at least six months, the RFC's
 author (or the appropriate WG chair) can ask for it to become a Draft
 standard.  Before that happens, however, someone needs to convince
 the appropriate Area Director that there are at least two
 independent, interoperable implementations of each part of the
 standard.  This is a good test of the usefulness of the standard as a
 whole, as well as an excellent way to check if the standard was
 really readable.
 A few things typically happen at this point.  First, it's common to
 find that some of the specifications in the standard need to be
 reworded because one implementor thought they meant one thing whereas
 another implementor thought they meant something else.  Another
 common occurrence is that none of the implementations actually tried

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 34] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 to implement a few of the features of the standard; these features
 get removed not just because no one tested them but also because they
 weren't needed.
 Don't be surprised if a particular standard doesn't progress from
 Proposed to Draft.  In fact, most of the standards in common use are
 Proposed standards and never move forward.  This may be because no
 one took the time to try to get them to Draft, or some of the
 normative references in the standard are still at Proposed standard,
 or it may be that everyone found more important things to do.
 A few years after a document has been a Draft standard, it can become
 an Internet standard, also known as "full standard" (it can happen in
 as little as four months, but this is rare).  This doesn't happen
 often, and it is usually reserved for protocols that are absolutely
 required for the Internet to function.  The IESG goes over the
 document with a fine-tooth comb and looks for evidence of widespread
 deployment before making a Draft standard an Internet standard.

8.4.1. Telling It Like It Is – Using MUST and SHOULD and MAY

 Writing specifications that get implemented the way you want is a bit
 of an art.  You can keep the specification very short, with just a
 list of requirements, but that tends to cause implementors to take
 too much leeway.  If you instead make the specification very wordy
 with lots of suggestions, implementors tend to miss the requirements
 (and often disagree with your suggestions anyway).  An optimal
 specification is somewhere in between.
 One way to make it more likely that developers will create
 interoperable implementations of standards is to be clear about
 what's being mandated in a specification.  Early RFCs used all kinds
 of expressions to explain what was needed, so implementors didn't
 always know which parts were suggestions and which were requirements.
 As a result, standards writers in the IETF generally agreed to limit
 their wording to a few specific words with a few specific meanings.
 [STD3], "Requirements for Internet Hosts -- Application and Support",
 written way back in 1989, had a short list of words that had appeared
 to be useful, namely, "must", "should", and "may".  These definitions
 were updated and further refined in [BCP14], "Key words for use in
 RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels", which is widely referenced in
 current Internet standards.  BCP 14 also specifically defines "must
 not" and "should not", and it lists a few synonyms for the words

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 35] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 In a standard, in order to make it clear that you're using the
 definitions from BCP 14, you should do two things.  First, refer to
 BCP 14 (although most people refer to it as RFC 2119, because that's
 what BCP 14 tells you to do), so that the reader knows how you're
 defining your words.  Second, you should point out which instances of
 the words you are using come from BCP 14.  The accepted practice for
 this is to capitalize the words.  That is why you see "MUST" and
 "SHOULD" capitalized in IETF standards.
 BCP 14 is a short document, and it should be read by everyone who is
 reading or writing IETF standards.  Although the definitions of
 "must" and "must not" are fairly clear, the definitions of "should"
 and "should not" cause a great deal of discussion in many WGs.  When
 reviewing an Internet Draft, the question is often raised, "Should
 that sentence have a MUST or a SHOULD in it?"  This is, indeed, a
 very good question, because specifications shouldn't have gratuitous
 MUSTs, but also should not have SHOULDs where a MUST is needed for
 interoperability.  This goes to the crux of the question of over-
 specifying and under-specifying requirements in standards.

8.4.2. Normative References in Standards

 One aspect of writing IETF standards that trips up many novices (and
 quite a few long-time IETF folks) is the rule about how to make
 "normative references" to non-IETF documents or to other RFCs in a
 standard.  A normative reference is a reference to a document that
 must be followed in order to implement the standard.  A non-normative
 reference (sometimes called an "informative reference") is one that
 is helpful to an implementor but is not needed.
 An IETF standard may make a normative reference to any other
 standards-track RFC that is at the same standards level or higher, or
 to any "open standard" that has been developed outside the IETF.  The
 "same level or higher" rule means that before a standard can move
 from Proposed to Draft, all of the RFCs for which there is a
 normative reference must also be at Draft or Internet standard.  This
 rule gives implementors assurance that everything in a Draft standard
 or Internet standard is quite stable, even the things referenced
 outside the standard.  This can also delay the publication of the
 Draft or Internet standard by many months (sometimes even years)
 while the other documents catch up.
 There is no hard-and-fast rule about what is an "open standard", but
 generally this means a stable standard that anyone can get a copy of
 (although they might have to pay for it) and that was made by a
 generally recognized standards group.  If the external standard
 changes, you have to reference the particular instantiation of that
 standard in your specification, as with a designation of the date of

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 36] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 the standard.  Some external standards bodies don't make old
 standards available, which is a problem for IETF standards that need
 to be used in the future.  When in doubt, a draft author should ask
 the WG chair or appropriate Area Director if a particular external
 standard can be used in an IETF standard.

8.4.3. IANA Considerations

 More and more IETF standards require the registration of various
 protocol parameters, such as named options in the protocol.  As we
 noted in Section 3.2.4, the main registry for all IETF standards has
 long been IANA.  Because of the large and diverse kinds of registries
 that standards require, IANA needs to have specific information about
 how to register parameters, what not to register, who (if anyone)
 will decide what is to be registered, and so on.
 Anyone writing an Internet standard that may need a new IANA registry
 or new values in a current IANA registry needs to read [BCP26],
 "Guidelines for Writing an IANA Considerations Section in RFCs",
 which describes how RFC authors should properly ask for IANA to start
 or take over a registry.  IANA also maintains registries that were
 started long before BCP 26 was produced.

8.4.4. Security Considerations

 One thing that's required in every RFC and Internet Draft is a
 "Security Considerations" section.  This section should describe any
 known vulnerabilities of the protocol, possible threats, and
 mechanisms or strategies to address them.  Don't gloss over this
 section -- in particular, don't say, "Here's our protocol, if you
 want security, just use IPsec".  This won't do at all, because it
 doesn't answer the question of how IPsec interacts with your
 protocol, and vice versa.  Be sure to check with your Working Group
 chair if you're not sure how to handle this section in your draft.
 See [BCP72], "Guidelines for Writing RFC Text on Security
 Considerations", for more information on writing good security
 considerations sections.

8.4.5. Patents in IETF Standards

 The problems of intellectual property have cropped up more and more
 often in the past few years, particularly with respect to patents.
 The goal of the IETF is to have its standards widely used and
 validated in the marketplace.  If creating a product that uses a
 standard requires getting a license for a patent, people are less
 likely to implement the standard.  Not surprisingly, then, the
 general rule has been "use good non-patented technology where

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 37] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 Of course, this isn't always possible.  Sometimes patents appear
 after a standard has been established.  Sometimes there's a patent on
 something that is so valuable that there isn't a non-patented
 equivalent.  Sometimes the patent holder is generous and promises to
 give all implementors of a standard a royalty-free license to the
 patent, thereby making it almost as easy to implement as it would
 have been if no patent existed.
 The IETF's methods for dealing with patents in standards are a
 subject of much debate.  The official rules for all intellectual
 property rights (IRP) in IETF documents (not just patents) are
 covered in [BCP78] and [BCP79], "Intellectual Property Rights in IETF
 Technology".  Everyone who participates in IETF Working Groups will
 probably find these documents interesting because they lay out the
 rules that everyone agrees to follow.
 Patent holders who freely allow their patents to be used by people
 implementing IETF standards often get a great deal of goodwill from
 the folks in the IETF.  Such generosity is more common than you might
 think.  For example, RFC 1822 is a license from IBM for one of its
 security patents, and the security community has responded very
 favorably to IBM for this (whereas a number of other companies have
 made themselves pariahs for their intractability on their security
 If you are writing an Internet Draft and you know of a patent that
 applies to the technology you're writing about, don't list the patent
 in the document.  Instead, consult the IETF IPR Disclosure Page
 linked off the main IETF web site to determine how to proceed.
 Intellectual property rights aren't mentioned in RFCs because RFCs
 never change after they are published, but knowledge of IPR can
 change at any time.  Therefore, an IPR list in an RFC could be
 incomplete and mislead the reader.  [BCP9] provides specific text
 that should be added to RFCs where the author knows of IPR issues.

8.5. Informational and Experimental RFCs

 As we noted earlier, not all RFCs are standards.  In fact, plenty of
 important RFCs are not on the standards track at all.  Currently,
 there are two designations for RFCs that are not meant to be
 standards: Informational, like the Tao, and Experimental.  (There is
 actually a third designation, Historic, but that is reserved for
 documents that were on the standards track and have been removed due
 to lack of current use, or that more recent thinking indicates the
 technology is actually harmful to the Internet.)

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 38] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 The role of Informational RFCs is often debated in the IETF.  Many
 people like having them, particularly for specifications that were
 created outside the IETF but are referenced by IETF documents.  They
 are also useful for specifications that are the precursors for work
 being done by IETF Working Groups.  On the other hand, some people
 refer to Informational RFCs as "standards" even though the RFCs are
 not standards, usually to fool the gullible public about something
 that the person is selling or supporting.  When this happens, the
 debate about Informational RFCs is renewed.
 Experimental RFCs are for specifications that may be interesting, but
 for which it is unclear if there will be much interest in
 implementing them, or whether they will work once deployed.  That is,
 a specification might solve a problem, but if it is not clear that
 many people think that the problem is important, or think that they
 will bother fixing the problem with the specification, the
 specification might be labeled an Experimental RFC.  If, later, the
 specification becomes popular (or proves that it works well), it can
 be re-issued as a standards-track RFC.  Experimental RFCs are also
 used to get people to experiment with a technology that looks like it
 might be standards-track material, but for which there are still
 unanswered questions.
 The IESG has created guidelines on how it chooses between
 Informational and Experimental status:  If you are creating a
 document that you think might become an Experimental RFC, knowing the
 current thinking will help you justify your proposed choice.

9. How to Contribute to the IETF

9.1. What You Can Do

  • Read* – Review the Internet Drafts in your area of expertise and

comment on them in the Working Groups. Participate in the discussion

 in a friendly, helpful fashion, with the goal being the best Internet
 standards possible.  Listen much more than you speak.  If you
 disagree, debate the technical issues: never attack the people.
  • Implement* – Write programs that use the current Internet

standards. The standards aren't worth much unless they are available

 to Internet users.  Implement even the "minor" standards, since they
 will become less minor if they appear in more software.  Report any
 problems you find with the standards to the appropriate Working Group
 so that the standard can be clarified in later revisions.  One of the
 oft-quoted tenets of the IETF is "running code wins", so you can help
 support the standards you want to become more widespread by creating
 more running code.

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 39] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

  • Write* – Edit or co-author Internet Drafts in your area of

expertise. Do this for the benefit of the Internet community, not to

 get your name (or, even worse, your company's name) on a document.
 Draft authors are subject to all kinds of technical (and sometimes
 personal) criticism; receive it with equanimity and use it to improve
 your draft in order to produce the best and most interoperable

9.2. What Your Company Can Do

  • Share* – Avoid proprietary standards. If you are an implementor,

exhibit a strong preference for IETF standards. If the IETF

 standards aren't as good as the proprietary standards, work to make
 the IETF standards better.  If you're a purchaser, avoid products
 that use proprietary standards that compete with the open standards
 of the IETF and tell the companies you buy from that you are doing
  • Open Up* – If your company controls a patent that is used in an

IETF standard, convince the company to make the patent available at

 no cost to everyone who is implementing the standard.  In the past
 few years, patents have caused a lot of serious problems for Internet
 standards because they prevent some companies from being able to
 freely implement the standards.  Fortunately, many companies have
 generously offered unlimited licenses for particular patents in order
 to help the IETF standards flourish.  These companies are usually
 rewarded with positive publicity for the fact that they are not as
 greedy or short-sighted as other patent-holders.
  • Join* – Become a member of ISOC. More important, urge any company

that has benefited from the Internet to become a corporate member of

 ISOC, since this has the greatest financial benefit for the group.
 It will, of course, also benefit the Internet as a whole.

10. IETF and the Outside World

10.1. IETF and Other Standards Groups

 As much as many IETF participants would like to think otherwise, the
 IETF does not exist in a standards vacuum.  There are many (perhaps
 too many) other standards organizations whose decisions affect the
 Internet.  There are also a fair number of standards bodies that
 ignored the Internet for a long time and now want to get a piece of
 the action.
 In general, the IETF tries to have cordial relationships with other
 significant standards bodies.  This isn't always easy, since many
 other bodies have very different structures than the IETF does, and

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 40] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 the IETF is mostly run by volunteers who would probably prefer to
 write standards rather than meet with representatives from other
 bodies.  Even so, some other standards bodies make a great effort to
 interact well with the IETF despite the obvious cultural differences.
 At the time of this writing, the IETF has some liaisons with large
 standards bodies, including the ITU (International Telecommunication
 Union), the W3C, the Unicode Consortium, and ISO/IEC JTC1 (Joint
 Technical Committee of the International Organization for
 Standardization and International Electrotechnical Commission).  As
 stated in the IAB Charter [BCP39], "Liaisons are kept as informal as
 possible and must be of demonstrable value in improving the quality
 of IETF specifications".  In practice, the IETF prefers liaisons to
 take place directly at Working Group level, with formal relationships
 and liaison documents in a backup role.
 Some of these liaison tasks fall to the IESG, whereas others fall to
 the IAB.  Detail-oriented readers will learn much about the formal
 methods for dealing with other standards bodies in [BCP102], "IAB
 Processes for Management of IETF Liaison Relationships", and
 [BCP103], "Procedures for Handling Liaison Statements to and from the
 IETF".  The best place to check to see whether the IETF has any
 formal liaison at all is the list of IETF liaisons,  The list shows that there are
 many different liaisons to ISO/IEC JTC1 subcommittees.

10.2. Press Coverage of the IETF

 Given that the IETF is one of the best-known bodies that is helping
 move the Internet forward, it's natural for the computer press (and
 even the trade press) to want to cover its actions.  In recent years,
 a small number of magazines have assigned reporters and editors to
 cover the IETF in depth over a long period of time.  These reporters
 have ample scars from articles that they got wrong, incorrect
 statements about the status of Internet Drafts, quotes from people
 who are unrelated to the IETF work, and so on.
 Major press errors fall into two categories: saying that the IETF is
 considering something when in fact there is just an Internet Draft in
 a Working Group, and saying that the IETF approved something when all
 that happened was that an Informational RFC was published.  In both
 cases, the press is not fully to blame for the problem, since they
 are usually alerted to the story by a company trying to get publicity
 for a protocol that they developed or at least support.  Of course, a
 bit of research by the reporters would probably get them in contact
 with someone who could straighten them out, such as a WG chair or an
 Area Director.  The default press contact for the IETF is the IAD,
 who can be reached at

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 41] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 The fact that those reporters who've gotten it wrong once still come
 back to IETF meetings shows that it is possible to get it right
 eventually.  However, IETF meetings are definitely not for reporters
 who are naive about the IETF process (although if you are a reporter
 the fact that you are reading this document is a very good sign!).
 Furthermore, if you think that you'll get a hot story from attending
 an IETF meeting, you are likely to be disappointed.
 Considering all this, it's not surprising that some IETFers would
 prefer to have the press stay as far away from meetings as possible.
 Having a bit of press publicity for protocols that are almost near
 completion and will become significant in the industry in the next
 year can be a good thing.  However, it is the rare reporter who can
 resist over-hyping a nascent protocol as the next savior for the
 Internet.  Such stories do much more harm than good, both for the
 readers of the article and for the IETF.
 The main reason why a reporter might want to attend an IETF meeting
 is not to cover hot technologies (since that can be done in the
 comfort of your office by reading the mailing lists) but to meet
 people face-to-face.  Unfortunately, the most interesting people are
 the ones who are also the busiest during the IETF meeting, and some
 folks have a tendency to run away when they see a press badge.
 However, IETF meetings are excellent places to meet and speak with
 document authors and Working Group chairs; this can be quite valuable
 for reporters who are covering the progress of protocols.
 Reporters who want to find out about "what the IETF is doing" on a
 particular topic would be well-advised to talk to more than one
 person who is active on that topic in the IETF, and should probably
 try to talk to the WG chair in any case.  It's impossible to
 determine what will happen with a draft by looking at the draft or
 talking to the draft's author.  Fortunately, all WGs have archives
 that a reporter can look through for recent indications about what
 the progress of a draft is; unfortunately, few reporters have the
 time or inclination to do this kind of research.  Because the IETF
 doesn't have a press liaison, magazines or newspapers that run a
 story with errors won't hear directly from the IETF and therefore
 often won't know what they did wrong, so they might easily do it
 again later.

11. Security Considerations

 Section 8.4.4 explains why each RFC is required to have a Security
 Considerations section and gives some idea of what it should and
 should not contain.  Other than that information, this document does
 not touch on Internet security.

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 42] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

Appendix A. Related Information

A.1. Why "the Tao"?

 Pronounced "dow", Tao is the basic principle behind the teachings of
 Lao-tse, a Chinese master.  Its familiar symbol is the black-and-
 white yin-yang circle.  Taoism conceives the universe as a single
 organism, and human beings as interdependent parts of a cosmic whole.
 Tao is sometimes translated "the way", but according to Taoist
 philosophy the true meaning of the word cannot be expressed in words.

A.2. Useful Email Addresses

 Some useful email addresses are listed here.  These addresses may
 change from time to time, and it's a good idea to check the IETF web
 pages for the correct address before sending your mail.
 Address                    Description
 -----------------------------------------------------------------            Requests for agenda slots at IETF
                            meetings       Requests for things to be done when you
                            don't know exactly where to send the
                            request         General questions about the IETF    Questions about registration, meeting
                            locations, and fees      Requests to join/leave IETF lists    Questions for the Secretariat          Questions or comments about the IETF
                            web site   Internet Draft submissions and queries       Where to send Working Group minutes and
                            slides for the IETF Proceedings              Internet Assigned Numbers Authority  RFC Editor

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 43] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006        Incoming liaison statements from other
 Online upload pages are planned for the future to facilitate
 submission of Internet Drafts, Proceedings, and Liaison statements.

A.3. Useful Documents and Files

 The IETF web site,, is the best source for
 information about meetings, Working Groups, Internet Drafts, RFCs,
 IETF email addresses, and much more.  Click on "Additional
 Information" to find a variety of helpful links.  Internet Drafts and
 other documents are also available in the "ietf" directory on
 anonymous FTP sites worldwide.  For a listing of these sites, see
 Check the IESG web pages,, to find up-
 to-date information about drafts processed, RFCs published, and
 documents in Last Call, as well as the monthly IETF status reports.

A.4. Acronyms and Abbreviations Used in the Tao

 Some of the acronyms and abbreviations from this document are listed
 Term          Meaning
 AD            Area Director
 BCP           Best Current Practice
 BOF           Birds of a Feather
 FAQ           Frequently Asked Question(s)
 FYI           For Your Information (RFC)
 IAB           Internet Architecture Board
 IAD           IETF Administrative Director
 IANA          Internet Assigned Numbers Authority
 IAOC          IETF Administrative Oversight Committee
 IASA          IETF Administrative Support Activity
 ICANN         Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and
 I-D           Internet Draft
 IESG          Internet Engineering Steering Group,
 IETF          Internet Engineering Task Force,
 INET          Internet Society Conference,
 IPR           Intellectual property rights
 IRTF          Internet Research Task Force,

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 44] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 ISO           International Organization for Standardization,
 ISO-IEC/JTC1  Joint Technical Committee of the International
                      Organization for Standardization and
                      International Electrotechnical Commission,
 ISOC          Internet Society,
 ITU           International Telecommunication Union,
 RFC           Request for Comments
 STD           Standard (RFC)
 W3C           World Wide Web Consortium,
 WG            Working Group

Appendix B. IETF Guiding Principles

 If you've gotten this far in the Tao, you've learned a lot about how
 the IETF works.  What you'll find in this appendix summarizes much of
 what you've read and adds a few new points to ponder.  Be sure to
 read through all the principles; taken as a whole, they'll give you a
 new slant on what makes the IETF work.

B.1. General

 P1.   The IETF works by an open process and by rough consensus.  This
       applies to all aspects of the operation of the IETF, including
       creation of IETF documents and decisions on the processes that
       are used.  But the IETF also observes experiments and running
       code with interest, and this should also apply to the
       operational processes of the organization.
 P2.   The IETF works in areas where it has, or can find, technical
 P3.   The IETF depends on a volunteer core of active participants.
 P4.   Membership of the IETF or of its WGs is not fee-based or
       organizationally defined, but is based upon self-identification
       and active participation by individuals.

B.2. Management and Leadership

 P5.   The IETF recognizes leadership positions and grants power of
       decision to the leaders, but decisions are subject to appeal.
 P6.   Delegation of power and responsibility are essential to the
       effective working of the IETF.  As many individuals as possible
       will be encouraged to take on leadership of IETF tasks.

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 45] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 P7.   Dissent, complaint, and appeal are a consequence of the IETF's
       nature and should be regarded as normal events, but ultimately
       it is a fact of life that certain decisions cannot be
       effectively appealed.
 P8.   Leadership positions are for fixed terms (although we have no
       formal limitation on the number of terms that may be served).
 P9.   It is important to develop future leaders within the active
 P10.  A community process is used to select the leadership.
 P11.  Leaders are empowered to make the judgment that rough
       consensus has been demonstrated.  Without formal membership,
       there are no formal rules for consensus.

B.3. Process

 P12.  Although the IETF needs clear and publicly documented process
       rules for the normal cases, there should be enough flexibility
       to allow unusual cases to be handled according to common sense.
       We apply personal judgment and only codify when we're certain.
       (But we do codify who can make personal judgments.)
 P13.  Technical development work should be carried out by tightly
       chartered and focused Working Groups.
 P14.  Parts of the process that have proved impractical should be
       removed or made optional.

B.4. Working Groups

 P15.  Working Groups (WGs) should be primarily responsible for the
       quality of their output, and therefore for obtaining early
       review; WG chairs as WG leaders, backed up by the IETF
       leadership, should act as a quality backstop.
 P16.  WGs should be primarily responsible for assessing the negative
       impact of their work on the Internet as a whole, and therefore
       for obtaining cross-area review; the IETF leadership should act
       as a cross-area backstop.
 P17.  Early review of documents is more effective in dealing with
       major problems than late review.

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 46] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 P18.  Area Directors (ADs) are responsible for guiding the formation
       and chartering of WGs, for giving them direction as necessary,
       and for terminating them.
 P19.  WG chairs are responsible for ensuring that WGs execute their
       charters, meet their milestones, and produce deliverables that
       are ready for publication.
 P20.  ADs are responsible for arranging backstop review and final
       document approval.

B.5. Documents

 P21.  IETF documents often start as personal drafts, may become WG
       drafts, and are approved for permanent publication by a
       leadership body independent of the WG or individuals that
       produced them.
 P22.  IETF documents belong to the community, not to their authors.
       But authorship is recognized and valued, as are lesser
       contributions than full authorship.
 P23.  Technical quality and correctness are the primary criteria for
       reaching consensus about documents.
 P24.  IETF specifications may be published as Informational,
       Experimental, Standards Track, or Best Current Practice.
 P25.  IETF Standards Track specifications are not considered to be
       satisfactory standards until interoperable independent
       implementations have been demonstrated.  (This is the
       embodiment of the "running code" slogan.)  But, on legal
       advice, the IETF does not take responsibility for
       interoperability tests and does not certify interoperability.
 P26.  IETF processes are currently published as Best Current Practice
 P27.  Useful information that is neither a specification nor a
       process may be published as Informational.
 P28.  Obsolete or deprecated specifications and processes may be
       downgraded to Historic.
 P29.  The standards track should distinguish specifications that have
       been demonstrated to interoperate.

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 47] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 P30.  Standards Track and Best Current Practice documents must be
       subject to IETF wide rough consensus (Last Call process).  WG
       rough consensus is normally sufficient for other documents.
 P31.  Substantive changes made after a document leaves a WG must be
       referred back to the WG.
 P32.  The IETF determines requirements for publication and archiving
       of its documents.

Informative References

 [BCP9]     Bradner, S., "The Internet Standards Process -- Revision
            3", BCP 9, RFC 2026, October 1996.
 [BCP10]    Galvin, J., "IAB and IESG Selection, Confirmation, and
            Recall Process: Operation of the Nominating and Recall
            Committees", BCP 10, RFC 3777, June 2004.
 [BCP11]    Hovey, R. and S. Bradner, "The Organizations Involved in
            the IETF Standards Process", BCP 11, RFC 2028, October
 [BCP14]    Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
            Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.
 [BCP22]    Bradner, S., "Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate
            Requirement Levels", BCP 14, RFC 2119, March 1997.
 [BCP25]    Bradner, S., "IETF Working Group Guidelines and
            Procedures", BCP 25, RFC 2418, September 1998.
 [BCP26]    Narten, T. and H. Alvestrand, "Guidelines for Writing an
            IANA Considerations Section in RFCs", BCP 26, RFC 2434,
            October 1998.
 [BCP39]    Internet Architecture Board and B. Carpenter, "Charter of
            the Internet Architecture Board (IAB)", BCP 39, RFC 2850,
            May 2000.
 [BCP45]    Harris, S., "IETF Discussion List Charter", BCP 45, RFC
            3005, November 2000.
 [BCP72]    Rescorla, E. and B. Korver, "Guidelines for Writing RFC
            Text on Security Considerations", BCP 72, RFC 3552, July

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 48] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

 [BCP78]    Bradner, S., "IETF Rights in Contributions", BCP 78, RFC
            3978, March 2005.
 [BCP79]    Bradner, S., "Intellectual Property Rights in IETF
            Technology", BCP 79, RFC 3979, March 2005.
 [BCP95]    Alvestrand, H., "A Mission Statement for the IETF", BCP
            95, RFC 3935, October 2004.
 [BCP101]   Austein, R. and B. Wijnen, "Structure of the IETF
            Administrative Support Activity (IASA)", BCP 101, RFC
            4071, April 2005.
 [BCP102]   Daigle, L. and Internet Architecture Board, "IAB Processes
            for Management of IETF Liaison Relationships", BCP 102,
            RFC 4052, April 2005.
 [BCP103]   Trowbridge, S., Bradner, S., and F. Baker, "Procedures for
            Handling Liaison Statements to and from the IETF", BCP
            103, RFC 4053, April 2005.
 [RFC1796]  Huitema, C., Postel, J., and S. Crocker, "Not All RFCs are
            Standards", RFC 1796, April 1995.
 [RFC2223]  Postel, J. and J. Reynolds, "Instructions to RFC Authors",
            RFC 2223, October 1997.
 [STD3]     Braden, R., "Requirements for Internet Hosts - Application
            and Support", STD 3, RFC 1123, October 1989.

Authors' Addresses

 Paul Hoffman
 VPN Consortium
 127 Segre Place
 Santa Cruz, CA  95060
 Susan Harris
 1722 Chandler Road
 Ann Arbor, MI  48104

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 49] RFC 4677 The Tao of IETF September 2006

Full Copyright Statement

 Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2006).
 This document is subject to the rights, licenses and restrictions
 contained in BCP 78, and except as set forth therein, the authors
 retain all their rights.
 This document and the information contained herein are provided on an

Intellectual Property

 The IETF takes no position regarding the validity or scope of any
 Intellectual Property Rights or other rights that might be claimed to
 pertain to the implementation or use of the technology described in
 this document or the extent to which any license under such rights
 might or might not be available; nor does it represent that it has
 made any independent effort to identify any such rights.  Information
 on the procedures with respect to rights in RFC documents can be
 found in BCP 78 and BCP 79.
 Copies of IPR disclosures made to the IETF Secretariat and any
 assurances of licenses to be made available, or the result of an
 attempt made to obtain a general license or permission for the use of
 such proprietary rights by implementers or users of this
 specification can be obtained from the IETF on-line IPR repository at
 The IETF invites any interested party to bring to its attention any
 copyrights, patents or patent applications, or other proprietary
 rights that may cover technology that may be required to implement
 this standard.  Please address the information to the IETF at


 Funding for the RFC Editor function is provided by the IETF
 Administrative Support Activity (IASA).

Hoffman & Harris Informational [Page 50]

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