Fifty Years of RFCs
Internet Architecture Board (IAB) H. Flanagan, Ed.
Request for Comments: 8700 RFC Editor
Updates: 2555, 5540 December 2019
Fifty Years of RFCs
This RFC marks the fiftieth anniversary for the RFC Series. It
includes both retrospective material from individuals involved at key
inflection points as well as a review of the current state of
affairs. It concludes with thoughts on possibilities for the next
fifty years for the Series. This document updates the perspectives
offered in RFCs 2555 and 5540.
Status of This Memo
This document is not an Internet Standards Track specification; it is
published for informational purposes.
This document is a product of the Internet Architecture Board (IAB)
and represents information that the IAB has deemed valuable to
provide for permanent record. It represents the consensus of the
Internet Architecture Board (IAB). Documents approved for
publication by the IAB are not candidates for any level of Internet
Standard; see Section 2 of RFC 7841.
Information about the current status of this document, any errata,
and how to provide feedback on it may be obtained at
Copyright (c) 2019 IETF Trust and the persons identified as the
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Table of Contents
2. Key Moments in RFC History
3.1. The Origins of RFCs - by Stephen D. Crocker
3.2. The RFC Management and Editing Team - by Vint Cerf
3.3. Formalizing the RFC Editor Model - by Leslie Daigle
3.4. The Continuation, or Creation, of a Stream - by Nevil
3.5. A View from inside the RFC Editor - by Sandy Ginoza
4. The Next Fifty Years of RFCs
4.2. Evolution of the RFC Format
4.3. Stream Structure
6. IANA Considerations
7. Security Considerations
8. Informative References
IAB Members at the Time of Approval
The RFC Series began in April 1969 with the publication of "Host
Software" by Steve Crocker. The early RFCs were, in fact, requests
for comments on ideas and proposals; the goal was to start
conversations rather than to create an archival record of a standard
or best practice. This goal changed over time, as the formality of
the publication process evolved and the community consuming the
material grew. Today, over 8500 RFCs have been published, ranging
across best practice guidance, experimental protocols, informational
material, and, of course, Internet standards. Material is accepted
for publication through the IETF, the IAB, the IRTF, and the
Independent Submissions streams, each of which have clear processes
on how drafts are submitted and potentially approved for publication
as an RFC. Ultimately, the goal of the RFC Series is to provide a
canonical source for the material published by the RFC Editor and to
support the preservation of that material in perpetuity.
The RFC Editor as a role came a few years after the first RFC was
published. The actual date the term "RFC Editor" was first used is
unknown, but it was formalized by [RFC0902] in July 1984; Jon Postel,
the first RFC Editor, defined the role by his actions and later by
defining the initial processes surrounding the publication of RFCs.
What is certain is that the goal of the RFC Editor is to produce
documents that are readable, clear, consistent, and reasonably
uniform, and that the archival record of what has been published is
Change does come to the Series, albeit slowly. First, we saw the
distribution method change from postal mail to FTP and then to email.
RFCs could not be distributed electronically in the beginning, as the
means to do that distribution would not be defined until years after
the first RFC was "published". Not all early RFCs were even created
electronically; some were written out by hand or on a typewriter.
Eventually, the process for creating RFCs became more structured;
authors were provided guidance on how to write an RFC. The editorial
effort went from Steve Crocker to a more official model with a
designated editor, Jon Postel, and later to a team of five to seven
individuals. The actual editing and publishing work split from the
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