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Request For Comments (RFC)

There are a plethora of standards when dealing with computers. They exist for hardware, software, and how each of these should interact with each other. This article will deal with what are called "Request For Comments" (RFC). RFCs started in 1969 as an informal network of engineers and ARPANET architects to discuss problems and standardization for the Internet (back then it was just ARPANET). As the years went on, RFCs became more formal and eventually spawned two sub categories. These categories are "For Your Information" (FYI) and "Standards" (STD).

Often you may hear someone reference an RFC stating it as a standard. While an RFC is the beginning of a standard, it isn't truly one. In fact, you could regard them more as notes or even discussions. They can be written by anyone who wishes to comment on or attempt to standardize how something works on the Internet. The vast majority of them are technical and deal with protocols and definitions, some are meant to be humorous, while others are basically FAQs. There are even some that are just a condensed version of conversations.

The basic premise behind an RFC is that someone will write it, receive feedback, make changes, post the updated version, and start the cycle over again. The odd thing about them is that they may not necessarily update the old RFC, but write a new one. This can be very confusing and I find that generally the whole thing is slightly chaotic. As of this writing, there are 2,495 RFCs and a pretty good index can be found here.

Please note that there are quite a few dead links on the page for the complete listing of RFCs, but I like to use this source first as they also list the RFC titles as well as the authors and superceded information. If the link for a particular RFC is dead, you can try the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF).

So, how does an RFC become an RFC? There are two ways. The first is to submit it to the IETF, and the other is to submit it to an RFC editor via e-mail. RFCs sent to the latter may end up getting forwarded to the IETF anyway, so you might as well go to the source first. For more information on writing an RFC, please read RFC-2223 "Instructions to Authors".

The IETF is a loosely organized group that anyone may join and attend meetings for. If you would like to read more on IETF, you may read their RFC-1718 entitled "The Tao of the IETF".

Just to whet your appetite, here are a few RFCs from different areas:

Here are the RFCs that made it to STDs.

Ever wondered where the "standard" for e-mail messages came from?

RFC-822 "Standard for the format of ARPA Internet text messages".

How about the new and upcoming Internet Protocol Version 6 (IPv6)

RFC-2460 "Internet Protocol, Version 6 (IPv6)"

Information regarding Post Office Protocol version 3 (POP3) this is how you generally get your e-mail.

RFC-1460 "Post Office Protocol - Version 3"

As an example of how odd RFCs can be, here is an interesting one to check out:

RFC-2324 Hyper Text Coffee Pot Control Protocol (HTCPCP/1.0)



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