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Network Working Group                                      H. Alvestrand
Internet-Draft                                             Cisco Systems
Expires: August 8, 2004                                 February 8, 2004

                    A mission statement for the IETF

Status of this Memo

   This document is an Internet-Draft and is in full conformance with
   all provisions of Section 10 of RFC2026.

   Internet-Drafts are working documents of the Internet Engineering
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   This Internet-Draft will expire on August 8, 2004.

Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2004).  All Rights Reserved.


   This memo gives a mission statement for the IETF, tries to define the
   terms used in the statement sufficiently to make the mission
   statement understandable and useful, argues why the IETF needs a
   mission statement, and tries to capture some of the debate that led
   to this point.

   The appendix giving the debate is intended to be deleted when the RFC
   is published; it is only given here as a reference and a thank-you

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1. Mission statement

   The goal of the IETF is to make the Internet work.

   The mission of the IETF is to produce high quality, relevant
   technical and engineering documents that influence the way people
   design, use and manage the Internet in such a way as to make the
   Internet work better.
   These documents include protocol standards, best current practices
   and informational documents of various kinds.

   The IETF will pursue this mission in adherence to the following
   cardinal principles:

   Open process - that any interested participant can in fact
      participate in the work, know what is being decided, and make his
      or her voice heard on the issue.  Part of this principle is our
      commitment to making our documents, our WG mailing lists, our
      attendance lists and our meeting minutes publicly available on the

   Technical competence - that the issues on which the IETF produces its
      documents are issues where the IETF has the competence needed to
      speak to them, and that the IETF is willing to listen to
      technically competent input from any source.
      Technical competence also means that we expect IETF output to be
      designed to sound network engineering principles - this is also
      often referred to as "engineering quality".

   Volunteer Core - that our members and our leadership are people who
      come to the IETF because they want to work for the IETF's

   Rough consensus and running code - We make standards based on the
      combined engineering judgement of our participants and our real-
      world experience in implementing and deploying our specifications.

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2. Definition of terms

   Misson:  What an organization sets out to do.  This is in contrast to
      its goal (which is what it hopes to achieve by fulfilling its
      mission), and to its activities (which is what specific actions it
      takes to achieve its mission).

   The Internet: A large, heterogenous collection of interconnected
      systems that can be used for communication of many different types
      between any interested parties connected to it.  The term includes
      both the "core Internet" (ISP networks) and "edge Internet"
      (corporate and private networks).
      The IETF community wants the Internet to succeed because we
      believe that the existence of the Internet, and its influence on
      economics, communication and education, will help us to build a
      better human society.

   Standard: As used here, the term describes a specification of a
      protocol, system behaviour or procedure that has an unique
      identifier, and where the IETF has agreed that "if you want to do
      this thing, this is the description of how to do it".  It does not
      imply any attempt by the IETF to mandate its use, or any attempt
      to police its usage - only that "if you say that you are doing
      this according to this standard, do it this way".
      The benefit of a standard to the Internet is in interoperability -
      that multiple products implementing a standard are able to work
      together in order to deliver valuable functions to the Internet's

   Participants: The fundamental unit of the IETF organization and the
      IETF's work.  The IETF has found that the process works best when
      focused around people, rather than around organizations,
      companies, governments or interest groups.  That is not to say
      that these other entities are uninteresting - but they are not
      what constitutes the IETF.

   Quality: In this context, the ability to express ideas with enough
      clarity that they can be understood in the same way by all people
      building systems to conform to them, and the ability (and
      willingness) to describe the properties of the system well enough
      to understand important consequences of its design, and to ensure
      that those consequences are beneficial to the Internet as a whole.
      It also means that the specifications are designed with adherence
      to sound network engineering principles, so that use for its
      intended purpose is likely to be effective and not harmful to the
      Internet as a whole.

   Relevant: In this context, useful to some group of people who have to

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      make decisions that affect the Internet, including, but not
      limited to, hardware and software implementors, network builders,
      network operators and users of the Internet.  Note that it does
      not mean "correct" or "positive" - a report of an experiment that
      failed, or a specification that clearly says why you should not
      use it in a given situation, can be highly relevant - for deciding
      what NOT to do.
      A part of being relevant is being timely - very often, documents
      delivered a year after core decisions have been taken are far less
      useful than documents that are available to the decision-makers at
      decision time.

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3. The need for a mission statement

   The IETF has to make decisions.  And in some cases, people acting on
   behalf of the IETF have to make decisions without consulting the
   entire IETF first.

   There are many reasons for this, including the near-impossibility of
   getting an informed consensus opinion on a complex subject out of a
   community of several thousand people in reasonable time.

   Having a defined mission is one of the steps we can take in order to
   evaluate alternatives: Does this help or hinder the mission, or is it
   orthogonal to it? If there are limited resources, are there things
   that they could be invested in that help the mission better? (Another
   step is to choose leaders that we trust to exercise their good
   judgment and do the right thing.  But we're already trying to do

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4. Issues with scoping the IETF's mission

4.1 The scope of the Internet

   A very difficult issue in discussing the IETF's mission has been the
   scope of the term "for the Internet".  The Internet is used for many
   things, many of which the IETF community has neither interest nor
   competence in making standards for.

   The Internet isn't value-neutral, and neither is the IETF.  We want
   the Internet to be useful for communities that share our commitment
   to openness and fairness.  We embrace technical concepts such as
   decentralized control, edge-user empowerment and sharing of
   resources, because those concepts resonate with the core values of
   the IETF community.  These concepts have little to do with the
   technology that's possible, and much to do with the technology that
   we choose to create.

   At the same time, it is clear that many of the IETF-defined
   technologies are useful not only for the Internet, but also for
   networks that have no direct relation to the Internet itself.

   In attempting to resolve this question, perhaps the fairest balance
   is struck by this formulation: "protocols and practices for which
   secure and scalable implementations are expected to have wide
   deployment and interoperation on the Internet, or to form part of the
   infrastructure of the Internet."

   In addition to this constraint, we are also constrained by the
   principle of competence: Where we do not have, and cannot gather, the
   competence needed to make technically sound standards, we should not
   attempt to take the leadership.

4.2 The balance between research, invention and adoption

   The IETF has traditionally been a community for both experimentation
   with things that are not fully understood, standardization of
   protocols for which some understanding has been reached, and
   publication of (and refinement of) protocols originally specified
   outside the IETF process.

   All of these activities have in common that they produce documents -
   but the documents should be judged to very different criteria when
   the time to publish comes around, and it's not uncommon to see people
   confused about what documents are in which category.

   In deciding whether or not these activities should be done within the
   IETF, one should not chiefly look at the type of activity, but the

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   potential benefit to the Internet - an experiment that yields
   information about the fact that an approach is not viable might be as
   worthy of publication as a standard that is technically competent,
   but only useful in a few special cases.

   For research of an essentially unbounded nature, with unknown
   probability of success, it may be more relevant to charter a research
   group than a standards group.  For activities with a bounded scope -
   such as specifying several alternative protocols to the point where
   experiments can identify the better one for standardization - the
   IETF's working group mechanism may be an appropriate tool.

4.3 The balance between mission and procedures

   The mission is intended to state what the IETF is trying to achieve.
   There are many methods that can be chosen to achieve these outcomes -
   for instance, the appeals procedure is defined so that we can detect
   cases where our fundamental principles of technical competence and
   open process has been violated; it is not itself a fundamental value.

   Similarly, the question of what body in the IETF declares that a
   document is ready for publication is entirely outside the mission
   statement; we can imagine changing that without in any way impacting
   what the IETF mission is - even though it may significantly impact
   the ability to achieve that mission.

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5. Security considerations

   Considering security is one of the core principles of sound network
   engineering for the Internet.  Apart from that, it's not relevant to
   this memo.

Author's Address

   Harald Tveit Alvestrand
   Cisco Systems
   Weidemanns vei 27
   Trondheim  7043

   EMail: harald@alvestrand.no

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Appendix A. From the debate: Other mission statements proposed

   This appendix is intended to be removed when (if) this document is
   published as an RFC.  It is intended to aid the memory of those
   engaging in discussion about it, and avoid repetition of previous
   discussion and proposals of alternatives.  These other mission
   statements have formed a critical part of the process leading to the
   current proposal, and thanks should be extended to their formulators.

A.1 The Tao of IETF

   RFC 3160, the Tao of IETF (latest version) says (section 1):

   The Internet Engineering Task Force is a loosely self-organized group
   of people who contribute to the engineering and evolution of Internet
   technologies.  It is the principal body engaged in the development of
   new Internet standard specifications.  The IETF is unusual in that it
   exists as a collection of happenings, but is not a corporation and
   has no board of directors, no members, and no dues.

   Its mission includes:

      Identifying, and proposing solutions to, pressing operational and
      technical problems in the Internet;

      Specifying the development or usage of protocols and the near-term
      architecture to solve such technical problems for the Internet;

      Making recommendations to the Internet Engineering Steering Group
      (IESG) regarding the standardization of protocols and protocol
      usage in the Internet;

      Facilitating technology transfer from the Internet Research Task
      Force (IRTF) to the wider Internet community; and

      Providing a forum for the exchange of information within the
      Internet community between vendors, users, researchers, agency
      contractors, and network managers.

   The IETF meeting is not a conference, although there are technical
   presentations.  The IETF is not a traditional standards organization,
   although many specifications are produced that become standards.  The
   IETF is made up of volunteers, many of whom meet three times a year
   to fulfill the IETF mission.

   There is no membership in the IETF.  Anyone may register for and
   attend any meeting.  The closest thing there is to being an IETF
   member is being on the IETF or Working Group mailing lists (see

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   Section 1.3).  This is where the best information about current IETF
   activities and focus can be found.

   Of course, no organization can be as successful as the IETF is
   without having some sort of structure.  In the IETF's case, that
   structure is provided by other organizations, as described in BCP 11,
   "The Organizations Involved in the IETF Standards Process."  If you
   participate in the IETF and only read one BCP, this is the one you
   should read.

   Commentary: This is a long section.  It also is quite unclear in the
   scope of the term "IETF".  And it does not provide any hint of which
   goals are primary and which are secondary.  But it does describe
   quite accurately many aspects of the current IETF.

A.2 Harald Alvestrand from the London IESG

   The purpose of the IETF is to create high quality, relevant standards
   for the Internet

   Commentary: This was formulated at an IESG meeting held in
   conjunction with the IETF meeting.  There is more text explaining
   more background - see http://www.alvestrand.no/ietf/iesg/purpose.php

A.3 Ted Hardie to the IESG

   The IETF is a community of active participants dedicated to producing
   timely, high quality engineering work that describes protocols and
   practices for which secure and scalable implementations are expected
   to have wide deployment and interoperation on or to form part of the
   infrastructure of the Internet.

   Commentary: This came out of a meeting of a small group that was
   convened by the IETF Chair in September 2003 to do a brainstorm on
   what we could do to "make the IETF work better".

A.4 IESG November

   The IETF's mission has historically been embedded in a shared
   understanding that making engineering choices based on the long term
   interest of the Internet as a whole produces better long-term results
   for each participant than making choices based on short term
   considerations, because the value of those advantages is ultimately
   derived from the health of the whole.  The long term interest of the
   Internet includes the premise that "the Internet is for everyone".

   Two years ago, the IESG felt that making the mission of the IETF more
   explicit was needed.  The following terse statement has since been

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   promulgated, first by IESG members and then by others:

      "The purpose of the IETF is to create high quality, relevant, and
      timely standards for the Internet."

   Note that this clearly positions the IETF primarily as a standards
   development organization.  There are other activities in the IETF;
   but if the IETF does not do its core mission, all else will quickly
   fade.  This is intended to be an ordered list of characteristics.
   Timely standards of low quality or that are irrelevant will not serve
   the Internet's or the IETF's needs.

   This leaves open the very interesting and difficult questions of how
   to measure quality, relevance, and timeliness.  The IETF has
   identified interoperability, security, and scalability as essential,
   but without attaching measurements to those characteristics.

   It is important that this is "For the Internet,"  and does not
   include everything that happens to use IP.  IP is being used in a
   myriad of real-world applications, such as controlling street lights,
   but the IETF does not standardize those applications.

   Commentary: This was part of an "IETF social contract" proposed by
   the IESG to the IETF list on October 14, 2003.  It engendered quite a
   bit of discussion, with perhaps the most heated part being the
   definition of "For the Internet".

A.5 Fred Baker

   The Internet Engineering Task Force provides a forum for the
   discussion and development of white papers and specifications for the
   engineering issues of the Internet.

   This discussion builds on hard lessons learned in research and
   operational environments, and necessarily includes speakers from
   those communities.  Vendors offer wisdom on what can be built and
   made to work in their products, and may bring customer or market
   issues whose owners cannot or will not bring themselves.

   The intended goal is well characterized as 'community memory' -
   written observations and wisdom as well as protocols and operational
   procedures defined - to enable the datagram internet to scalably
   deliver relevant services in transit and edge networks."

   This was sent to the IETF list as part of a discussion on the IETF
   mission on Jan 29, 2004.

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A.6 Dean Anderson

   IETF is a technical protocol standards organization.  Its principal
   goals are:

      To create open, technical standards that will be useful to and
      adopted by the world internet communtity and the public at large.

      To identify current and emerging protocol requirements, and share
      best practices.

      To facliitate the participation of all affected and interested
      parties and develop consensus.

      To solicit the input of a diverse group of interests and
      participants in the formation of protocol standards.

      To provide a fair and open process whereby any party that believes
      it has been treated unfairly has the right to appeal.

      To work with suppliers, consortia, and other standards bodies to
      develop consensus and facilitate interoperability.

   Comment: Sent to the IETF list on February 4, 2004.  Had some
   discussion on the "appeal" point - whether "party" was persons or
   companies, and whether appeals belonged in a mission statement.

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Full Copyright Statement

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2004).  All Rights Reserved.

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