What you should know about the Internet Standards process.

An introduction to Internet Standards.

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

What you should know about the Internet Standards process.

An introduction to Internet Standards.

In This Article:
Internet Documents
RFCs and Internet Drafts
RFCs states and status
Turning I-Ds into Standards
Finding RFCs

By Pete Loshin

All about Internet Standards

Some of the solutions that researchers and developers have come up with since 1969 to do interoperable internetworking have been quite clever, some of them have been pretty simple. All of them that are considered to be Internet standards are published in a series of documents called Request for Comments or RFCs. Though these are the most "famous" Internet documents, they are far from the only ones.

The first and possibly most important thing to remember about Internet standards is that while all Internet standards are documented in RFCs, not all RFCs document Internet standards. Only a relative few RFCs document actual Internet standards; many of the rest document specifications that are on the standards track, meaning they are at some point in the process that takes a specification and turns it into a standard. Non-standard, non-standards track RFCs may be published for information purposes only, or may document experimental protocols, or may simply be termed historical documents because their contents are now deemed obsolete (this is the RFC "state" which we'll come back to later).

Internet Documents

There are several important published document series related to Internet standards and practices. They include:

These are Requests for Comments, and are an archival document series. RFCs never change. They are intended to be always available, though RFC status can change over time as a specification moves from being a proposed standard to a draft standard to an Internet standard to an historical RFC.
The STD (for "standard") series of documents represents Internet standards. A particular STD may consist of one or more RFCs that define how a particular thing must be done to be considered an Internet standard. An STD may consist of a single document, which is the same as some single RFC. However, the STD number stays the same if that RFC is deprecated and replaced by a newer RFC, but the document to which the STD points changes to the newer RFC.
This series consists of "for your information" documents. According to RFC 1150, "F.Y.I. Introduction to the F.Y.I. Notes", the series is designed to give Internet users information about Internet topics, including answers to frequently asked questions and explanations of why things are the way they are on the Internet.
The Best Current Practices series are defined in RFC 1818, "Best Current Practices", which says that BCP documents describe current practices for the Internet community. They provide a conduit through which the IETF can distribute information that has the "IETF stamp of approval" on it but that does not have to go through the arduous process of becoming a standard. BCPs may also cover meta-issues, such as describing the process by which standards are created (see below or RFC 2026 for more on the Internet standards process).
There are a bunch of different documents that, over time, have been treated with more or less respect. This includes RTRs (RARE Technical Reports), IENs (Internet Engineering Notes), and others. We won't be covering these, as they rarely come up in discussions of current issues. Also, while the STD, FYI, and BCP document series contain RFCs, these other documents are not necessarily RFCs.

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