The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), is a global community of technologists that play a pivotal role in developing technical standards that guide how the internet operates. auDA held a webinar with two long-time IETF participants, Bron Gondwana and Mark Nottingham, where we discussed the standardisation process, its importance to the internet’s function and how to get involved in the IETF ahead of the IETF 199 meeting in Brisbane in 2024. Here are our top five takeaways from the discussion:
1. The IETF has been developing internet standards for more than 50 years
The IETF is a premier standards development organisation for the internet, dedicated to improving the functioning of the internet. Its primary mission is to develop technical standards that enable internet users, network operators and equipment vendors to ensure the internet remains interoperable with seamless communication.
When the internet began emerging, there were many different systems that emerged with it. At that time, the IETF was established to guide the development of individual systems so they would be interoperable.
2. Standardisation is crucial to an interconnected internet
Whether for video conferencing, web browsing, or many other online tasks, computers and servers around the globe require constant, consistent communication with each other. The number and diversity of parties involved in the various levels of internet communication and connection is huge – but this communication can’t happen if different systems don’t talk to each other.
Standardisation of systems ensures different systems can communicate. Unlike humans who can understand variations in language, computers need exact standards to communicate effectively. Standards also need to be precise – any slight deviation from a standard can lead to a communication failure. This reinforces the critical role of the IETF in today’s digital world.
3. Request for Comments (RFCs) are the main output of the IETF
Requests for Comment, or RFCs, are the documents used to define standards and protocols for the internet. The IETF has produced nearly 10,000 RFCs over the years. Each RFC undergoes a rigorous publishing process where a “running code” (a practical implementation test) and a “rough consensus” among IETF participants must be achieved before it is published.
A rough consensus is a decision-making process where most participants agree or do not vehemently object to a proposal. To help support this process, the unique concept of "humming" is sometimes introduced, where participants audibly indicate their support or lack thereof for different options. While total consensus is difficult to achieve, disagreements are addressed and understood before publication.
4. Participation in IETF is open to all
The IETF is a large organisation with multiple working groups involved in different areas of internet technology. It operates on an open and inclusive basis, allowing individuals from diverse affiliations worldwide to participate equally in the development and implementation of standards. Anyone can participate by signing up to a working group mailing list or by registering for an IETF meeting.
IETF participants are considered volunteers and participate as individuals. Longer term commitments to the organisation are encouraged from volunteers to help facilitate the advancement of meaningful progress.
5. If you are looking to get involved in the IETF, now is the perfect time
In March 2024, the IETF119 meeting will be held in Brisbane, Australia for first time. The meeting will focus on observing and learning about the IETF’s operational workings and multi-stakeholder processes. It will be a great entry point for those looking to get involved. Many of the meetups and activities at IETF119 have been specifically designed for newcomers.
In advance of IETF 199, the IETF recommends:
- Checking out its video recording resources from previous IETF sessions
- Identifying mailing lists and working groups of interest (of which there are many) and getting involved in discussions to introduce yourself and understand your areas of technical interest
- Attending the IETF Hackathon and IETF Codesprint which will take place on the weekend prior to the IETF 119 meeting