What you should know about the Internet Standards process. - Page 2

 By Pete Loshin | Posted Sep 20, 1999
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EUC with HCI: Why It Matters

Part 2: RFCs and Internet Drafts

RFCs and Internet-Drafts

Some readers may wonder why Internet-Drafts (I-Ds) are not included in the list above with all the rest, but I-Ds are quite distinct from RFCs. For one thing, anyone can write and submit an I-D; RFCs are published (from I-Ds) only after an I-D has been through a sequence of edits and comments. For another thing, I-Ds expire six months from the time they are published. They are considered works in progress, and each one is supposed to state explicitly that the document must not be cited by other works. Where the RFC series is archival, I-Ds are ephemeral working documents that expire if no one is interested enough in them to move them forward through the standards process.

This is a critical distinction. Networking product vendors often claim that their product, protocol, service, or technology has been given some kind of certification by the IETF because they have submitted an I-D. Nothing could be further from the truth (though even publication as an RFC may mean little if it is published as an Informational RFC).

I-Ds become RFCs only after stringent review by the appropriate body (as we'll see in Part 4). Some more differences:

  • RFCs are numbered, I-Ds are not (they are given filenames, by which they are usually referenced). RFC numbers never change. RFC 822 will always be the specification for Internet message format, written in 1982. If substantial errors are found in an RFC, a new RFC may have to be written, submitted, and approved; you can't just go back and make edits to an RFC.
  • RFCs are given a "state" or maturity level (where they are on the standards track, or some other indicator) as well as a "status" that indicates a protocol's status as far as requirements level. We'll come back to these topics in the next section. I-Ds, on the other hand, are just I-Ds. The authors may make suggestions about what kind of RFC the draft should eventually become, but if nothing happens after six months, the I-D just expires and is supposed to simply vanish.
  • RFCs are usually the product of IETF working groups, though I-Ds can come from anywhere and anyone.

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