IETF, ISOC and other Internet organizations / fora
A discussion about The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), formed in 1986, is incomplete without mentioning Internet Society (ISOC). ISOC is a non-profit organization founded in 1992 to provide leadership in Internet-related standards, education, and policy. ISOC is dedicated to ensuring the open development, evolution and use of the Internet and its architecture for the benefit of people throughout the world.
YES, you read it right. IETF (1986) was formed before ISOC (1992). Infact, ISOC was formed by a number of people with long-term involvement in the IETF. As a result, one of ISOC’s principal rationales was to provide an institutional home, organization structure, legal umbrella and financial support for the IETF, and to promote Internet Standardization process in general. This rationale still exists today.
When you think of Layer 1-7 (actually 2-7), OSI model, TCP/IP, internetworking protocols, Video calling/Streaming, Web browsing, SSH, Routing protocols etc., picture IETF. All of us working in IT industry - Network Engineers, System Admins, Protocol Developers/Testers etc. have heard of terms TCP/IP protocols suite and RFCs to which commercial as well as open source products and software must comply. But who designs and develops these networking protocols (like DNS, HTTP, TLS, SNMP, TCP, UDP, IPv6 etc.) and Internet standards / RFC documents. Well, IETF is the body whose mandate is to do exactly this. One important point worth mentioning is that IETF does its work at layers 2-7 of the ISO OSI (Open System Interconnection) model, leaving aside Layer 1 (Physical layer).
IETF is an organized activity of the ISOC. The mission of the IETF is to make the Internet work better by producing high quality, relevant technical documents (e.g. RFCs or Request for Comments) that influence the way people design, use, and manage the Internet. Specifically, IETF develops Internet standards for TCP/IP protocols like DNS, HTTP, TLS, SNMP, TCP, UDP etc. Most participants in the IETF are engineers with knowledge of networking protocols and software. Many of them know a lot about networking hardware too. IETF being a technical forum tries to avoid policy and business questions, as much as possible. The policy and business aspects of Internet are left to be discussed under the umbrella of ISOC, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), IGF (Internet Governance Forum) and RIRs (Regional Internet Registries) like APNIC, RIPE NCC etc.
It is to be specifically noted that the Internet protocol standards produced by IETF are not binding in nature for networking software, protocol and Operating System vendors and manufacturers. However, due to their high quality, for the sake of maintaining interoperability on Internet, and finally absence of any other competing Internet standardization forum, IETF protocol standards adoptions is a natural choice for everyone using Internet.
ISOC and IETF are only 2 of various I-star organizations (others being ICANN, IGF, IRTF, IAB etc.) that manage the worldwide Internet and its unique identifiers; develop, manage and discuss Internet policy and technology issues, Internet architecture, upcoming research on Internet etc. I will discuss more about these I-star organizations in a separate blog.
Here are some resources a newcomer can go through in order to start learning about IETF:
How IETF does its work - Areas, IESG, Working Groups, mailing lists and more
The IETF’s Internet standards development work is organized into 7 Areas - Applications and Real-Time (art), General (gen), Internet (int), Operations and Management (ops), Routing (rtg), Security (sec) and Transport (tsv). Each area has 1 or more Area Directors (ADs), who along with IETF Chair, together comprise the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG). The IESG chair (i.e. IETF chair) is the director of the General Area, which consists of a few IETF Working Groups and other activities focused on supporting, updating and maintaining the IETF standards development process. The ADs in IESG are selected by the IETF Nominations Committee (NomCom) and are appointed for two years. Each of 7 IETF areas is comprised of Working Groups (WGs) that relate to that area's focus. The area structure is defined by the IESG, and the IESG can add areas, redefine areas, merge areas, change the number of ADs assigned to an area, or close down areas. The IESG is responsible for technical management of IETF activities, the Internet standards process, and for the actions associated with entry into and movement along the Internet “standards track,” including final approval of specifications as Internet Standards and publication as an RFC. Memos in the Requests for Comments (RFC) document series contain technical and organizational notes about the Internet. They cover many aspects of computer networking, including protocols, procedures, programs, and concepts, as well as meeting notes, opinions, and sometimes humor.
Within each IETF area there are multiple Working Groups (WG). Each WG has one or more chairs who manage the work, and a written charter defining what the work is and when it is due. There are currently around 130 WGs. A list of all active IETF Working Groups (WGs) can be found here. The WGs produce Internet Drafts (I-Ds) which often lead to the publication of an Internet standard as an RFC. People interested in particular technical issues join the mailing list of a WG and occasionally attend one or more of the three IETF meetings held every year. However, much of the daily work of the IETF is conducted on electronic mailing lists. IETF Working Groups (WGs) are the primary mechanism for development of IETF specifications and guidelines, many of which are intended to be standards or recommendations. Working Groups are typically created to address a specific problem or to produce one or more specific deliverables (a guideline, standards specification, etc.). Working Groups are generally expected to be short-lived in nature. Upon completion of goals and achievement of its objectives, the Working Group is terminated.
Worldwide ISOC chapters
Internet Society Chapters are communities of like-minded people who work together to run a variety of programmes and activities related to Internet, such as educational events, community and public policy programmes and networking events. Chapters are formed by individual members of the Internet Society who share an interest and belief in ISOC’s principles and mission, and who are committed to furthering ISOC’s goals and objectives within a particular geographic area. ISOC chapters have their presence throughout world.
India currently has following ISOC chapters:
Mumbai (under formation)
How Indians can participate effectively in IETF and its work (and where are we lacking)?
As rightly noted in Anupam Agarwal’s blog, we Indians are good in compliance to standards, processes but when it comes to creating one, the story turns south. The Indian participation in forum like IETF is quite abysmal and to increase this participation, Indian IT Ministry (MeitY), the country’s nodal ministry for Internet Governance has undertaken many initiatives in the recent years like funding IETF capacity building and research projects like Indian Internet Research & Engineering Forum (IIREF), Indian IETF Capacity Building (IICB) Program etc. In addition, MeitY has also funded National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI) to implement the India Internet Governance Forum (IIGF) to build capacity and participate in Internet Governance organizations / fora like ICANN, IETF, APNIC, IGF etc.
Technical and academic community from India can do various things right away to increase participation / engagement in IETF and its work:
Join one of ISOC chapters in India as noted above, and start participating in various chapter meetings and events like Intercommunity (see below)
Follow (and comment in) mailing lists for IETF Working Groups of interest
Attend / Participate in IETF related technical events/meetups within India like RFC’s we love, pre-IETF events (see below) organized from time to time
Participate in MeitY initiated multistakeholder roundtable consultations on IETF capacity building as a part of India Internet Governance Project
Apply for various fellowships (see below) to participate in global IETF meetings organized thrice an year
Some fellowships are also available to fund Internet technical community members so that they can participate in IETF meetings, and there have been quite a few Indian fellows (including myself) at IETF meetings. Indians can utilize the following IETF fellowships - ISOC, IIREF and IICB. An interesting recap of experiences of Indian fellows at IETF meetings is captured at IIESOC blog.
Upcoming opportunities for Indians (and of-course everyone else) to participate in IETF Internet standardization and ISOC activities
The historic IETF-100 meeting is being organized at Singapore in APAC region. Indian Internet, academic and technical community should definitely participate in large numbers at this meeting
The first day of this event will involve a series of technical talks and updates from experienced IETFers (international speakers), related to IETF protocols and work. The second day of event will be a Hackathon on selected IETF protocols.
This event is special since it marks ISOC’s 25th anniversary celebrations, and live presentation of the 2017 Internet Hall of Fame induction ceremony.
Delhi has been chosen as an interactive node @InterCommunity2017 for celebrating the 25 years of Internet Society. The 25th Anniversary Celebration on 19 September, 2017 will be held at Vivanta Taj Ambassador, Khan Market, New Delhi from 9am to 12:00 followed by lunch. The celebrations in New Delhi would go live globally from 10:10 am to 11:30am.
it is an event where we pick RFCs that we like and/or have implemented and discuss the various aspects of it. The audience consists of network operator, protocolimplementers and academics. Register here.
More IETF Resources on social media:
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