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Happy 40th Birthday, Internet RFCs

timothy posted about 5 years ago | from the more-pigeons-what-say-ye dept.

The Internet 58

WayHomer was one of several readers to point out the 40th birthday of an important tool in the formation of the Internet, and a look back at it by the author of the first of many. "Stephen Crocker in the New York Times writes, 'Today is an important date in the history of the Internet: the 40th anniversary of what is known as the Request for Comments (RFC).' 'RFC1 — Host Software' was published 40 years ago today, establishing a framework for documenting how networking technologies and the Internet itself work. Distribution of this memo is unlimited."

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58 comments

RFC 3514 saved the Internet (5, Funny)

CRCulver (715279) | about 5 years ago | (#27491241)

It's great how we no longer have to fear malicious Internet traffic, now that the evil bit has been set on every such packet.

Re:RFC 3514 saved the Internet (3, Insightful)

Jurily (900488) | about 5 years ago | (#27491691)

It's great how we no longer have to fear malicious Internet traffic, now that the evil bit has been set on every such packet.

Since 99%+ of the traffic is either spam or torrent, we can safely set the evil bit on all traffic.

Re:RFC 3514 saved the Internet (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27492343)

How exactly is a torrent evil?

Re:RFC 3514 saved the Internet (1)

n0084ever (1042786) | about 5 years ago | (#27492687)

cuz all those orgs ( * AA ) tell us they are. they would never mislead us. yeah. right.

Re:RFC 3514 saved the Internet (1)

dm89 (1462073) | about 5 years ago | (#27497135)

You could also be using it to download a linux distro, and we all know that everytime you download linux you're downloading communism... which is evil.

Re:RFC 3514 saved the Internet (1)

pjt33 (739471) | about 5 years ago | (#27501403)

Because it uses network capacity which I could be using to send spam!

Re:RFC 3514 saved the Internet (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27493063)

Insightful?

Who mod parent up insightful?

Funny mods.

Love the cooperation (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27491407)


All the RFCs and standards guarantee smooth access to goatse.

John Postel (4, Interesting)

doas777 (1138627) | about 5 years ago | (#27491417)

I did a paper on John Postel a few years ago, for an IT class.
I hadn't heard much about him before, but now, he is a personal hero of mine.
It is a testament that his structure for documentation has lasted so long and remained pertinent a decade after his passing.

Re:John Postel (1)

jgrahn (181062) | about 5 years ago | (#27492543)

I did a paper on John Postel a few years ago, for an IT class. I hadn't heard much about him before, but now, he is a personal hero of mine.

And yet you cannot spell his name ...

By the way, is the author of the NYT article *the* Steve Crocker?

Re:John Postel (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27493377)

so what you're saying is, the whole Internet went Postel?

Great article (3, Insightful)

hedronist (233240) | about 5 years ago | (#27491443)

This article was a genuine joy to read. This is like reading about the invention of the airplane...written in the first person by one of the Wright brothers.

I particularly liked the description of his visit to Bangalore -- it goes to the heart of why we do open source.

Re:Great article (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27491555)

I particularly liked the description of his visit to Bangalore -- it goes to the heart of why we do open source.

For cheap whores?

Re:Great article (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27491745)

You know it, brotha

Re:Great article (4, Interesting)

COMON$ (806135) | about 5 years ago | (#27492067)

RFC? Radioactive free Coolaid?

Honestly, you would think these dont exist when you look at the state of things and how no one seems to regard them...This is not flame bait, how many of you sysadmins out there have had difficulty with people not following RFCs and their e-mail rejecting or being rejected, piss poor networks built, or just flat out disregard for them. The creators did a wonderful thing, makes my life easy, but it is almost like an idealistic goal that will never be reached because there are too many fake admins out there. Hell I'm lucky when I walk into a door at a job that anyone has even heard of the term RFC.

Re:Great article (2, Insightful)

ZachPruckowski (918562) | about 5 years ago | (#27492781)

True, RFCs are not universally supported, but it's at least a basis to say "this is what you should be doing" with some authority. Otherwise you've got all those minor incompatibility issues AND no way to tell who is right or wrong.

You down with RFC? (1)

Tetsujin (103070) | about 5 years ago | (#27496673)

RFC? Radioactive free Coolaid?

You, apparently, are not down with RFC...

KFC, I'd wager... but not RFC.

Re:Great article (4, Interesting)

jc42 (318812) | about 5 years ago | (#27492925)

I particularly liked the description of his visit to Bangalore -- it goes to the heart of why we do open source.

For those who didn't read TFA, this refers to "... as part of the visit I was introduced to a student who had built a fairly complex software system. Impressed, I asked where he had learned to do so much. He simply said, "I downloaded the R.F.C.'s and read them.""

There are a lot of stories like this. The one I like to tell is about a number of projects that I worked on, where part of my job was making our software work over the OSI protocols. What happened repeatedly was that the ISO specs weren't available for downloading, so we had to buy a printed copy. This inevitably entailed making out a purchase order, getting it approved by the Right People, sending it off, and waiting for the arrival of the package.

In the meantime, we'd work on what we could, which was the IP-based part of the code. This entailed going to an online archive and downloading the relevant FTPs, typically a matter of a few minutes, with no signatures required by anyone. By the time the ISO docs arrived a few weeks later, we'd have the IP version written, debugged, and stuck into the libraries for the use of other developers or customers. Then we could start working on the ISO code.

The result, of course, was that everyone would end up going with the IP-based stuff, since it appeared first and was the code that was thoroughly tested. It also helped a lot that the Internet had lots of forums (mostly email at first) where one could ask dumb questions and get actual answers from others who had already stumbled around and found the answers (and wanted to show off their superior knowledge). Such forums never developed for ISO, at least not anywhere we could generally find quickly.

In this case, the proper term isn't really "open source"; it's "open publication". This is what has made modern science the success that it is, and it's much of what put the Internet ahead of its competitors. Many people argued that several other networking schemes were better technically. This claim has been made for both DECnet and ISO, and they may be right. But it doesn't matter; IP/UDP/TCP/... was good enough, and its specs were published openly. This meant that anyone could quickly grab them and start coding; you did't need permission from anyone to read and use them.

Of course, "open source" is based on the same idea. If you make your information easily available to everyone, they can build on your ideas. This gives your ideas dominance over other "for sale" or "by permission only" ideas, even if someone else's hidden ideas happen to be slightly better.

I've always wondered whether DECnet was as good as its proponents claimed. But even when I worked as a contractor at DEC, I wasn't allowed access to the DECnet specs, so I guess I'll never know. I'm of mixed mind over ISO, which I learned a little about. Some parts are probably better than IP, and others aren't, but without widespread deployment we'll probably never really know how ISO would work with a billion users.

Re:Great article (1)

Alnitak73 (739151) | about 5 years ago | (#27500673)

Yup, at my last job I wrote a RADIUS server just from the RFCs. It's still in full production use now.

Re:Great article (1)

jc42 (318812) | about 5 years ago | (#27513423)

Sounds familiar. One job I had at DEC needed to use SLIP connections, and they also wanted to make PPP an option. I played around with their SLIP driver for a month or more, and couldn't make it work right. We called in several "experts", and they couldn't make it work either. So one day, I printed out the RFCs for both SLIP and PPP, and took them home for bedtime reading. The next morning I started coding a SLIP, and by noon, I had a demo of a version that passed all our tests and worked fine with all the remote sites that we had available at the time. People were really impressed. But frankly, it was easy, and I don't know how their packaged driver could have failed to badly. I couldn't get its source, though, so I was never able to find out.

A couple of weeks later, I also wrote a PPP driver directly from the RFC, but that was more complicated and took a whole day. I wasn't able to test it as thoroughly, though, because at the time we didn't have many remote test machines that could do PPP.

Anyway, this was a good example where writing a completely new driver took more than an order of magnitude less time than we'd already wasted trying to get the existing one to work. It did help that the official spec was available at the "cost" of a few minutes of downloading. Actually, what was really unusual about the RFCs was that they contained all the information that I needed to implement the protocols. It's really rare to find such good specs anywhere. The Internet's specs are generally much better than what you can get for just about anything else, at least in the computer biz. It's yet another example of the inverse relation between price and quality in much of the computer field.

RFC for RFCs sake... (2)

geekmux (1040042) | about 5 years ago | (#27491445)

Hrm, I wonder if anyone has thought about submitting an RFC for the RFC Birthday Protocol?

Back off man, it's already been submitted to the patent office...

RFC0? HELO computer, NE1 127.0.0.1? (4, Funny)

jimbudncl (1263912) | about 5 years ago | (#27491475)

What?? They started at 1? Sheesh, and they claim to be computer scientists.....

RFC0 (5, Funny)

TypoNAM (695420) | about 5 years ago | (#27491569)

RFC0 had only NULL content, therefore wasn't retrievable due to pointer dereferencing causing segfaults, oh the headaches...

Re:RFC0 (2, Funny)

dwye (1127395) | about 5 years ago | (#27494219)

> RFC0 had only NULL content, therefore wasn't retrievable
> due to pointer dereferencing causing segfaults

Nonsense. That would point to register zero on the DEC-10 that they would have used, at the time.

Segfaulting due to zero being an illegal pointer value is a recent innovation not supported by all implementations (HP-UX 8 or 9 on PA-RISC would let you do that to your heart's content, frex) nor required of any.

Re:RFC0? HELO computer, NE1 127.0.0.1? (4, Informative)

vlm (69642) | about 5 years ago | (#27491707)

The funniest part of your post was using a ip version 4 address in your header but referencing the early days.

Check out RFC 208 to see how addressing was actually done in the old days.

6 bits of IMP (essentially the network address)
2 bits of host

8 bits total.

http://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc208 [ietf.org]

Re:RFC0? HELO computer, NE1 127.0.0.1? (1)

jimbudncl (1263912) | about 5 years ago | (#27491889)

Only 8 bits?? I wonder why...

Programmer: "So what address should we use?"
Project Manager: "127."---NO CARRIER---
Programmer: "127? Ok, so I assume the field requirements are just 7 bits? Eh, just make it 8 and call it a day? ...Hello?"

Re:RFC0? HELO computer, NE1 127.0.0.1? (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | about 5 years ago | (#27492735)

According to IBM, there was a need for 6 computers worldwide, so 256 was really overkill.

Re:RFC0? HELO computer, NE1 127.0.0.1? (1)

SnarfQuest (469614) | about 5 years ago | (#27492717)

8 bits total.

Most of the computers must have been hidden behind a firewall..., otherwise they would have run out of address space before ipv6 came around.

Re:RFC0? HELO computer, NE1 127.0.0.1? (2, Interesting)

jc42 (318812) | about 5 years ago | (#27493431)

Check out RFC 208 to see how addressing was actually done in the old days.

6 bits of IMP (essentially the network address)
2 bits of host

Heh. I remember reading several versions of the debates leading up to an expansion of packet fields some years later. The stories generally describe it as a debate between the "conservatives" who thought a small host field would suffice, and the "radicals" who advocated a larger size for when the Net would be a lot bigger than the conservatives expected. Finally, the story goes, the radicals won out - and they went with a full 8-bit host number.

That's not the end of the story, of course, because it hasn't ended yet. For years now we've been debating the wisdom of going to IPv6, with a 128-bit host address. But so far it's the conservatives who have won, arguing that we're doing just fine with a 32-bit address, switching over would be a huge expense, the larger addresses just mean larger packets and thus slower data throughput, and all the other reasons we've read here and in other tech forums.

People do have a way of putting off upgrades until the old system is falling apart from the overload. Even then, they prefer all sorts of kludgy ad-hoc patches to the current system, rather than moving to a cleanly-designed higher-capacity system.

Re:RFC0? HELO computer, NE1 127.0.0.1? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27495489)

While you are definitely right, IPv6 is hardly a cleanly-designed system. It may have started out that way, but quickly devolved into a clusterfuck of design-by-committee.

Re:RFC0? HELO computer, NE1 127.0.0.1? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27492935)

According to the RFC1 comments, Max Packer has a 5 inch taint. I hope that this was taken into consideration but the RFC creator. Actually the RFC reads like meeting minutes, rather than an iterative document that is the result of many iterations of comments.

"Distribution of this memo is unlimited." (4, Insightful)

Ronald Dumsfeld (723277) | about 5 years ago | (#27491575)

That's pretty much the key to the whole thing; it may have started as to a group that perhaps reached into three figures, but they were on the right track.

Anybody can read the RFCs, and there are probably millions who have now (well, maybe not all of them). They are among the most non-intimidating technical/specification documents I've ever gone through.

There's one little collection [dns.net] I wish had been around when I first got network access. Sending emails was a mind-fuck when you had to piss about with bang paths.

Re:"Distribution of this memo is unlimited." (1)

markana (152984) | about 5 years ago | (#27495027)

But that's what pathalias and the Usenet Mapping Project was for...

those were the days...

Re:"Distribution of this memo is unlimited." (1)

sam0vi (985269) | about 5 years ago | (#27495369)

They are among the most non-intimidating technical/specification documents I've ever gone through.

I hear you man! Some ten years ago, i was able to chat on irc, just by using netcat and RFC1459 . It felt pretty cool, but PING time was horrible...

Re:"Distribution of this memo is unlimited." (1)

Vegeta99 (219501) | about 5 years ago | (#27496291)

Haha. I remember back in the day getting an ircd that didn't have services running just to screw around. Not knowing anything except BASIC and mIRC script (and not having any way of even /compiling/ a C program for Windows), I picked up a copy of the RFC and wrote channel, nick, and memo services all in mIRC script that kept all the info in a comma delimited text file all with hashed (not seeded, cmon, I was 12!) passwords. Ran pretty good, if I do say so myself!

Now, age 22, I'm a human development and family studies student who's gonna be practicing family law in about 3 years. I think someone took me out of the basement and put me into the sun too long, I've done been cooked!

Really do miss those days. Wish I had time to sit down and learn a real man's programming language, learning a second human one (Spanish) takes up enough time as it is!

Re:"Distribution of this memo is unlimited." (1)

Jedi Alec (258881) | about 5 years ago | (#27502785)

I wrote a complete irc client in perl based on 1459, with later additions from, iirc, 2811 and 2812. Not because it was useful, or because anyone actually needed the damn thing, but because I felt like it.

Nothing like going through the list of commands, testing input, and seeing the client behave exactly the way it *should* behave.

Saw my dad go through withdrawls (-1, Offtopic)

daveywest (937112) | about 5 years ago | (#27491589)

Back in the late 80's/early 90's my dad would fill up an extremely large comeback cup every day at a nearby quickie-mart. When he finally cut down, it took nearly a month for the withdrawals to subside.

He experienced all the same symptoms listed in the article: headaches, lack of energy, general irritability.

I see friends slam Monsters and Redd Bulls, and I wonder how their body is going to react when they try to quit.

Re:Saw my dad go through withdrawls (2, Funny)

VWJedi (972839) | about 5 years ago | (#27491779)

Withdrawals from RFCs? I don't think I could make it through the day without them!

Re:Saw my dad go through withdrawls (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27491851)

Damn tabs. Posted on the wrong story.

1438 (5, Funny)

hwyhobo (1420503) | about 5 years ago | (#27491621)

My favorite RFC of all time: 1438 [faqs.org]. The rule "once everyone has approved the document by falling asleep over it, the process ends and the document is discarded" has been a guiding light for corporate management nationwide.

Great example of why patents don't work. (3, Interesting)

JO_DIE_THE_STAR_F*** (1163877) | about 5 years ago | (#27491671)

From the article "It probably helped that in those days we avoided patents and other restrictions; without any financial incentive to control the protocols, it was much easier to reach agreement." Exactly why patents don't work in their current form.

Do newer apps even follow RFC's anymore? (2, Interesting)

vortoxin (213064) | about 5 years ago | (#27492009)

With everyone trying to create the newest and greatest thing to make money from, do people even follow or refer to RFC's for compliance?

Try to proxy and recreate most protocols or data sessions. Many will break on the other side of a proxy once it gets created according to RFC specifications. HTTP versus out of banding garbage over port 80 is one of the better examples of how developers never seem to follow RFC's anymore.

Re:Do newer apps even follow RFC's anymore? (1)

ClosedSource (238333) | about 5 years ago | (#27495435)

With everyone trying to create the newest and greatest thing to make money from, do people even follow or refer to RFC's for compliance?"

Do you mean the 'C' in RFC stands for compliance rather than comments?

All hail the genius of the RFC process* (4, Insightful)

idontgno (624372) | about 5 years ago | (#27492043)

As aptly summarized in 1992 by David Clark [wikipedia.org] at the 24th meeting of the IETF:

We reject: kings, presidents and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code.

*No, I'm not being ironic, sarcastic, or funny. Every now and again, something is worth of sincere and universal praise. This is one of them.

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Isn't RFC 31 older? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27493477)

Being of February 1968?

Re:Isn't RFC 31 older? (1)

Intron (870560) | about 5 years ago | (#27493753)

RFC2 [faqs.org] might be older, but the first page is missing.

Re:Isn't RFC 31 older? (1)

atomic-penguin (100835) | about 5 years ago | (#27496503)

One would guess the ideas were published in a journal or as a paper, before they were classified as RFCs. Being re-formatted into an RFC would not alter the publication date.

what? no one's mentioned rfc 1149 yet? (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | about 5 years ago | (#27493889)

rfc 1149:

A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers

aka tcp/ip over pigeons

http://www.faqs.org/rfcs/rfc1149.html [faqs.org]

Discussion

      Multiple types of service can be provided with a prioritized pecking
      order. An additional property is built-in worm detection and
      eradication. Because IP only guarantees best effort delivery, loss
      of a carrier can be tolerated. With time, the carriers are self-
      regenerating. While broadcasting is not specified, storms can cause
      data loss. There is persistent delivery retry, until the carrier
      drops. Audit trails are automatically generated, and can often be
      found on logs and cable trays.

RFC2324 (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27497119)

I'm still waiting for my RFC2324 network appliance... :(

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