Internet Standards and the Request For Comment (RFC) Process
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The Internet Standardization Process
The full process for creating and publishing an Internet standard is lengthy and beyond the scope of this Guide. It is interesting, however, so I will outline it here briefly. The full details of the standards process can be found in where else, an Internet RFC: 2026. J
Before a proposal will be considered for the Internet standardization process, it must be published as an Internet Draft (ID). The IETF publishes a set of guidelines that specify how IDs must be created and submitted. Most IDs are written by members of working groups within the IETF who are involved in specific projects. However, since the standards process is open, any member of the public can make an independent submission for review as a standard, by creating an ID for consideration by the IETF and IESG. Internet Drafts are usually revised many times based on feedback from others in various working groups within the IETF.
If an Internet Draft has been reviewed and is considered valuable, well-understood and stable (meaning that it is not being rapidly updated with new revisions) it may become a candidate for standardization. The IESG can place the Draft on the Internet standards track by changing its status to Proposed Standard. Documents of this status are considered mostly complete, but may still be revised based on further review, testing and experimentation with the technology.
Once the specification is sufficiently mature and widely accepted, it may be elevated from Proposed Standard to Draft Standard. A key requirement for such advancement is that the technology must be demonstrated to be functional on at least two independent and interoperable implementations. This proves that the standard is sufficiently clear and complete that at least two different groups have been able to implement it compatibly.
A document only reaches Draft Standard when the IETF community believes it is technically mature and the specification is complete. Changes are usually made to Draft Standards only to correct problems encountered in testing, or resolve new issues that arise.
The final station on the Internet standards track is Internet Standard. This designation is only applied to very mature specifications that are popular and that have been widely implemented. A document that reaches this status often describes a technology that is or will become universally-implemented, and is assigned an STD (standard) number.
The RFC development process can take months or even years, depending on how complex the technology is, how many changes are required to the documents, and whether or not the proposal is considered important or interesting. Many RFCs never make it officially to Internet Standard status; Draft Standard status is generally considered sufficiently stable that the technology is often just implemented by companies when that level is reached. Some RFCs never even make it to Draft Standard status and the technologies they describe are still used in products.
Once an RFC is published, it cannot be changed. This is a specific policy decision intended to avoid the confusion that would otherwise result due to there being multiple versions of the same RFC. The RFC publication process incorporates a number of steps at which RFC authors can revise their documents, and check for editorial omissions and errors.
This need for a new document whenever a change is made is also why proposals are typically published with a category designation of Standards Track rather than Proposed Standard, Draft Standard and Internet Standard. This eliminates the need to publish a new RFC that has no changes other than a different category designation, if a proposal advances down the standards track without requiring any real changes.
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