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Network Working Group D. Sitzler Request For Comments: 1302 Merit FYI: 12 P. Smith

                                                           A. Marine
                                                       February 1992
       Building a Network Information Services Infrastructure

Status of This Memo

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


 This FYI RFC document is intended for existing Internet Network
 Information Center (NIC) personnel, people interested in establishing
 a new NIC, Internet Network Operations Centers (NOCs), and funding
 agencies interested in contributing to user support facilities.  The
 document strives to:
  1. Define a basic set of essential services that Network

Information Centers (NICs) will provide to Internet users,

       including new mechanisms that will facilitate the timely
       dissemination of information to the Internet community and
       encourage cooperation among NICs.
  1. Describe existing NIC services as an aid to Internet users

and as a model for organizations establishing new NICs.


 This document reflects the work of the Network Information Services
 Infrastructure (NISI) working group in the User Services area of the
 IETF.  Because the working group participants represent a cross-
 section of existing Internet NICs, the opinions expressed herein are
 representative of groups currently providing information services
 within the Internet community.

Sitzler, Smith, & Marine [Page 1] RFC 1302 NISI February 1992

Table of Contents

 1. PURPOSE........................................................  2
 2. DEVELOPMENT GUIDELINES.........................................  3
 3. DEFINITION OF A NIC AND A NOC..................................  3
 4. HISTORY........................................................  3
 5. ESSENTIAL NIC FUNCTIONS........................................  5
 5.1 Provide Information Resources.................................  5
 5.2 Support End-Users.............................................  6
 5.3 Collect and Maintain NIC Referral Information.................  7
 5.4 Support the NIC Infrastructure................................  7
 6. EXAMPLES OF PRESENT NIC SERVICES...............................  8
 6.1 Direct User Support...........................................  8
 6.1.1 Referrals...................................................  8
 6.1.2 User-to-User Communication..................................  8
 6.1.3 Application Support.........................................  9
 6.1.4 Technical Support...........................................  9
 6.1.5 Emergency Services..........................................  9
 6.2 User Training Services........................................  9
 6.3 Marketing and Public Relations Services.......................  9
 6.3.1 Newsletters.................................................  9
 6.3.2 Other Publications..........................................  9
 6.3.3 PR Activities...............................................  9
 6.4 Information Repository Services...............................  9
 6.5 Administrative Services....................................... 10
 8. DATABASE ACCURACY ISSUES....................................... 11
 9. SECURITY CONSIDERATIONS........................................ 12
 10. AUTHORS' ADDRESSES............................................ 13


 The purpose of this document is to define the role of NICs in the
 Internet and establish guidelines for new and existing NICs regarding
 the user services they provide.  This document is also a move toward
 standardizing NIC services, which will aid in the development of an
 overall information infrastructure that will allow NICs to easily and
 routinely cooperate in assisting users.
 NICs for networks that are part of the Internet may be called upon to
 serve users of the greater Internet as well as those of their own
 networks.  This responsibility brings with it the added challenge of
 coordinating services with other NICs to better serve the general
 Internet community.  Toward that end, this document also proposes
 some easily implemented changes to facilitate the exchange of
 information and services between NICs.

Sitzler, Smith, & Marine [Page 2] RFC 1302 NISI February 1992


 The NISI working group observed several guidelines when developing
 this FYI RFC.
   1.  While recognizing that the new infrastructure should be built
   on existing services, programs, and technology, the working group
   did not want to limit its thinking to the present, preferring to
   consider new approaches and to think toward the future.  The goal
   is to move in the direction of an information services
   infrastructure for the National Research and Education Network
   2.  The working group recognizes that a user support system must
   accommodate a diverse user population, from novice to network
   3.  The working group recognizes that not all NICs are interested
   in providing service at the Internet level nor in providing service
   directly to end users.  Some NICs have special areas of interest
   and serve a more limited community.  Many campus NICs, for example,
   restrict the scope of their efforts to campus computing activities.
   Therefore, an Internet NIC must have policies, procedures, and
   delivery mechanisms in place to serve not only end-users, but to
   aid other information providers and user support agencies.


 A Network Information Center is an organization whose goal is to
 provide informational, administrative, and procedural support,
 primarily to users of its network and, secondarily, to users of the
 greater Internet and to other service agencies.
 A Network Operations Center (NOC) is an organization whose goal is to
 oversee and maintain the daily operations of a network.  Although
 sometimes one organization may fulfill the duties of both a NIC and a
 NOC, this document assumes NIC functions to be separate from NOC
 functions and addresses NIC functions only.  Obviously, however, a
 NIC must work closely with its NOC to ensure users get the best
 service possible.


 When the original Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET)
 was formed, SRI was assigned the essential administrative task of
 registering every host on the network and maintaining the Official
 Host Table.  This host table was needed to interconnect the hosts
 into a network.  SRI also became the repository for the RFCs, most of

Sitzler, Smith, & Marine [Page 3] RFC 1302 NISI February 1992

 which were only available in paper copies because a file transfer
 protocol had yet to be specified.  Because of its role as a central
 information repository in these ways, SRI became the natural place
 for users to call with questions, and the first NIC was born.
 In 1984, the original network split into two networks: the ARPANET
 and the MILNET.  The ARPANET was laid to rest in 1990, and the
 original NIC became the Defense Data Network NIC (DDN-NIC).  This NIC
 was sometimes referred to as the "SRI-NIC" or sometimes simply as
 "the NIC".  Today this NIC is maintained by Government Systems, Inc.,
 and provides information services to the MILNET portion of the DDN,
 as well as performing several administrative duties that serve the
 entire Internet community.  SRI continues to provide general Internet
 information services and maintains an FTP repository.
 The days of having just one or two networks are long gone.  Today,
 the Internet is an international collection of thousands of networks
 interconnected with the TCP/IP protocols.  Users of any one of these
 networks can use the network services provided by TCP/IP to reach any
 of the other networks.
 There are other major wide area networks, such as BITNET and DECnet
 networks, that are not based on the TCP/IP protocols and are thus not
 considered part of the Internet itself.  However, users can
 communicate between these networks and the Internet via electronic
 mail, so Internet NICs often answer questions regarding these
 NICs exist for many of the networks that make up today's Internet.
 For example, in addition to the MILNET, in the United States there
 are the National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET), the Energy
 Science Network (ESnet), and the NASA Science Internet (NSI).  All of
 these networks provide NICs.
 BITNET is a non-TCP/IP network that is accessible to the Internet via
 electronic mail.  Its administrative organization, the Corporation
 for Research and Educational Networking (CREN), supports NIC services
 for BITNET users.
 Many networks in countries other than the United States also provide
 NIC services.  For example, such services exist for NORDUnet, which
 connects national networks in the Nordic countries, and JANet, the
 Joint Academic Network in the United Kingdom.  The BITNET
 counterparts in Europe and Canada are the European Academic and
 Research Network (EARN) and NetNorth, respectively.

Sitzler, Smith, & Marine [Page 4] RFC 1302 NISI February 1992


 Network Information Centers exist to provide services that make using
 the network easier and more attractive to users.
 To help meet this goal, four essential NIC functions have been
 identified as those that every Internet NIC should perform.  These
 are the basic functions that define the minimum level of Internet
 information service.  Each Internet NIC should:
  1. Provide information resources.
  2. Support end-users through direct contact.
  3. Collect and maintain NIC referral information.
  4. Support the NIC infrastructure.
 The level of each service and the exact mechanisms for providing
 these services depend on the needs of the particular network user
 community.  Funding, staffing, and implementation issues related to
 these functions are left up to individual NIC organizations.
 Presently, only the first two functions, providing information
 resources and directly supporting end-users, are routinely performed
 by Internet NICs.  The variety of ways in which these services are
 provided is described more fully in the section on, "Examples of
 Present NIC Services".
 The last two functions, collecting information about other NICs and
 supporting the NIC infrastructure, are new roles that have evolved as
 the Internet community and the number of NICs have grown.
 Each of these four essential functions is discussed in some depth in
 this section.

5.1 Provide Information Resources

 Information resources refers to both online and hard-copy resources,
 such as online files, marketing information, and newsletters.  NICs
 help users gain access to relevant information in several ways.
  1. Obtain information online from other sites and store

it at the local NIC where users may access it.

  1. Refer users to information stored at other locations

around the Internet. This option requires that each

     NIC maintain up-to-date information regarding such

Sitzler, Smith, & Marine [Page 5] RFC 1302 NISI February 1992

     Internet resources.
  1. Create information, such as newsletters, marketing

information, tutorial files or documents, and make

     it available to users.  In this case, the "creating
     NIC" is solely responsible for the content and
     accuracy of the information provided.
 In all of the cases above, users need a way to verify the
 authenticity and currentness of the information.  Accordingly, each
 NIC should provide the following information for everything it makes
 available to its users and the Internet community: 1) a time stamp,
 2) a revision number, and 3) the name of the NIC that produced the
 document.  The NIC should also maintain contact information regarding
 the source of a file, but does not necessarily have to include such a
 contact in the online file.

5.2 Support End-Users

 A NIC serves as the principle source of network information for its
 end users.  NICs field a variety of user inquiries, such as requests
 for how to get connected to the Internet, how to locate and access a
 particular application on the network, how to determine an e-mail
 address, and how to solve operational problems.  Each NIC must take a
 best effort approach to responding to these inquiries and take
 responsibility for a user inquiry until it is resolved in some way.
 Resolution may be answering the question, referring the user to the
 appropriate information source, or coordinating with a NOC to resolve
 a user connectivity problem.
 To facilitate this role of information provider, the following
 delivery mechanisms are used:
  1. Telephone "hotline" support. All NICs need to be

available to answer phone inquiries during the

     business day.
  1. Electronic mail. An electronic mail address acts as

an electronic help desk. For consistency, the

     electronic mail address should be of the form
     NIC@domain (e.g., NIC@DDN.MIL).  Such a common
     addressing convention will move toward
     standardization of these "electronic help desks" and
     will increase the chance that users will know where
     to ask for help.  In addition, a user inquiry to a
     NIC e-mail address should either produce a human
     response or an up-to-date machine response that
     performs a triage function by advising the user

Sitzler, Smith, & Marine [Page 6] RFC 1302 NISI February 1992

     where to go for particular categories of problems.
     For example, a message to NIC@NSF.NET could return a
     message alerting the user to the NNSC@NNSC.NSF.NET
     and the NSFNET-INFO@MERIT.EDU mailboxes, both of
     which provide information for NSFNET.
  1. Electronic information transfer. NICs should

provide information in electronic form, and make it

     available across the Internet through mechanisms
     such as anonymous file transfer, electronic mail,
     and remote databases.

5.3 Collect and Maintain NIC Referral Information

 With the recent dramatic increase in the number of networks, users,
 and applications accessible via the Internet, it is impossible for
 any one NIC to maintain comprehensive, up-to-date information of all
 the services and information available.  Because such information is
 distributed among many NICs, it is essential for each NIC to be aware
 of other NICs and their areas of expertise.  Such shared information
 among NICs ensures that Internet users will be referred promptly to
 the correct information resource.
 In an effort to gather data about NICs and their resources,
 information will be solicited from each NIC and placed in a database
 called "nic-profiles".  This database will be available to all NICs.
 Such shared information among NICs ensures that Internet users will
 be referred promptly to the correct information resource.  For
 information regarding joining or using the nic-profiles database,
 send a message to

5.4 Support the NIC Infrastructure

 It is essential that each NIC take an active part in supporting the
 NIC/Internet infrastructure.  Two means of providing such support are
 suggested here.
  1. Attend the IETF User Services Working Group (USWG).

NICs are encouraged to participate in the USWG, an

     ongoing working group of the IETF, which is
     chartered to identify, discuss, and recommend
     solutions to user service issues.  The group meets
     regularly at the IETF meetings.  (Information about
     IETF meeting schedules, etc., is available for
     anonymous FTP from  The directory is
     ietf.)  The USWG has spawned a variety of working
     groups dealing with specific user service topics.
     To join the USWG mailing list send an e-mail request

Sitzler, Smith, & Marine [Page 7] RFC 1302 NISI February 1992

  1. Participate in nic-forum. An electronic mailing

list, "nic-forum", will provide NIC personnel with a

     means of soliciting information from other NICs,
     offering solutions to common problems, and posting
     information of general interest.  A NIC can register
     in the nic-forum, as well as provide information for
     the nic-profiles database, by sending a message to


 There are a variety of ways through which existing NICs fulfill the
 basic requirements previously indicated under "Essential NIC
 Today's Internet NICs provide network users with a wide array of
 value-added services.  The types and levels of services vary for any
 particular NIC depending on a number of issues such as funding,
 audience served, available resources, and mission of the network
 An overview of some of the services offered today by Internet NICs is
 listed below.  This overview provides examples of the essential
 services recommended earlier, and also gives a flavor of the many
 avenues through which value-added user services are provided.  This
 section provides examples, not recommendations.

6.1 Direct User Support

 The main objective of a Network Information Center is to provide
 support for network users.  Most NICs provide both telephone and
 electronic mail hotlines for convenient user access.  Existing NICs
 also often serve as intermediaries between users and the technical
 experts who provide specific information.  Because NICs interact
 directly with end-users, they can frequently evaluate their services,
 and modify them to accommodate changing user needs.

6.1.1 Referrals. Today's NICs are aware of other Internet resources

    and keep such referral information as up-to-date as possible.

6.1.2 User-to-User Communication. NICs can facilitate interactions

    between network users.  Often this is done through conferencing
    or electronic mail.  For example, a NIC can set up a computer
    conference dealing with a specific discipline or perhaps a
    specific topic so that users can share ideas and information
    with each other.  Some NICs establish special interest groups and

Sitzler, Smith, & Marine [Page 8] RFC 1302 NISI February 1992

    hold in-person meetings to promote the exchange of information
    between their users.

6.1.3 Application Support. NICs often provide user support for

    specific host applications in addition to providing information
    and support about the network to which the host is attached.

6.1.4 Technical Support. Technical experts are available at NIC

    locations or elsewhere to trouble shoot user problems.  The range
    and variety of technical expertise varies with the organization.

6.1.5 Emergency Services. Most NICs provide immediate notification to

    users of impending events that may affect their network usage.
    This is often done through electronic mail bulletins which state
    the particular event, its impact, and its duration.

6.2 User Training Services

 NICs sponsor seminars, classes, and training workshops intended to
 assist users in understanding the network environment.  These
 training events range from general "what is the Internet" to
 workshops on specific topics such as how to use a super-computer

6.3 Marketing and Public Relations Services

6.3.1 Newsletters. Some Internet NICs publish newsletters which are

    used to inform subscribers about network developments and tools,
    and as marketing documents to try to get more organizations to
    attach to the network.

6.3.2 Other Publications. Many NICs also produce a variety of

    general purpose brochures and "how-to" documents which are
    distributed to potential network users.

6.3.3 PR Activities. NICs may be involved in a variety of public

    relations activities from writing and distributing press releases
    about new network developments to holding press conferences to
    announce significant technological events.

6.4 Information Repository Services

 An important activity of NICs is producing and/or collecting
 information of interest to their users.  Most NICs provide
 hardware to store such information online and distribute the
 information to their users both electronically and in hard-copy

Sitzler, Smith, & Marine [Page 9] RFC 1302 NISI February 1992

6.5 Administrative Services

 Many NICs perform registration services, such as registering user
 information in a white pages database, keeping a record of hosts on
 their networks, or keeping a record of contacts for hosts, networks,
 or domains.


 Information is delivered to network users via a wide variety of
 mechanisms.  The most common methods are electronic mail and file
 transfer protocol (FTP); however, information is also relayed via the
 telephone, FAX machines, U.S. mail, and in-person seminars, as well
 as via electronic bulletin boards and remote database access.  NICs
 are always looking for ways of making information broadly accessible
 so that the maximum number of network users can use it effectively.
 The following table lists the various information delivery methods
 used in the Internet today, and notes the kind of information
 distributed using each method.

Table 1: AVAILABLE INFORMATION AND DELIVERY MECHANISMS Delivery Mechanism Type of Information Available —————————————————————— FTP Network maps, functional specs, draft RFCs, newsletters, protocols, any information in a file: ASCII, binary, etc. electronic mail General information, newsletters, announcements, security alerts, network status information bulletin board General information, announcements, source code hard copy Newsletters, user guides, resource guides, press releases, promotional information Sitzler, Smith, & Marine [Page 10] RFC 1302 NISI February 1992 presentations/seminars Network applications, technology trends, technical overviews, general information about Internet environment, TCP/IP overviews Telnet Remote systems, applications person-to-person Answers to specific questions, contact information, referrals electronic conference Other users, discipline-specific information information services General information, promotional information, local interest information directory services Phone book information (white pages, and eventually yellow pages) library services Bibliographies, full text, references phone Specific requests, contacts, referrals, connecting assistance U.S. mail Newsletters, user guides FAX Variety of printed material Finger, whois User data


 As has been mentioned elsewhere in this paper, NICs often are the
 sites of databases of various types of information, which are
 maintained for various reasons.  It is recommended that NICs
 emphasize the importance of keeping such data as accurate as
 possible.  In addition, it is important to allow people some control
 over personal information about them that may reside in a NIC
 database, especially if the information will be available publicly.
 It is recommended that, as part of the process of collecting
 information for a database, a NIC should disclose the following
 information to those supplying data:

Sitzler, Smith, & Marine [Page 11] RFC 1302 NISI February 1992

  1. Why the information is being collected and how it will be used.
  2. What the consequences are of not providing the asked for data or

of revoking data in a database.

  1. Which information asked for is mandatory and which is optional.
  2. Which information will be made public.
  3. How the data can be updated and who may provide updates.
  4. How and how often the NIC will solicit for data updates.
 A NIC should actively seek updates to its data at least once a year.
 The date publicly available data was last updated should be part of
 the public information available about that data.  In general, users
 should know when personal information about them is available in a
 public database, and have the opportunity to change it or revoke it.


 Because NICs interact directly with network users, they will have to
 deal with network and host security issues at times.  NICs should be
 aware of those agencies and groups on the Internet that have the
 responsibility of handling security incidents so that users can be
 properly referred when necessary, and so the NICs themselves have
 resources to call on should a major incident occur.  NICs should be
 aware of security issues and security information resources, such as
 network mailing lists and the Site Security Handbook (FYI 8, RFC
 1244), and advocate the importance of security considerations to
 their users.  NICs should have explicit procedures in place to follow
 in the event of a security incident.  Such procedures will probably
 include the means of interacting with both response centers and NOCs,
 as well as with users.

Sitzler, Smith, & Marine [Page 12] RFC 1302 NISI February 1992


 Dana D. Sitzler
 Merit Network, Inc
 1075 Beal Avenue
 Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2112
 Phone:  (313) 936-2648
 Patricia G. Smith
 Merit Network, Inc
 1075 Beal Avenue
 Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2112
 Phone:  (313) 936-3000
 April N. Marine
 SRI International
 Network Information Systems Center
 333 Ravenswood Avenue, EJ294
 Menlo Park, CA 94025-3493
 Phone:  (415) 859-5318

Sitzler, Smith, & Marine [Page 13]

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