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Network Working Group                                  A. Doria (editor)
Internet-Draft                                                      ETRI
Expires: January 12, 2006                                  H. Alvestrand
                                                           Cisco Systems
                                                            B. Carpenter
                                          IBM Zurich Research Laboratory
                                                           July 11, 2005

              Experience with the General Area Review Team

Status of this Memo

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Copyright Notice

   Copyright (C) The Internet Society (2005).


   The General Area Review team has been doing Late Reviews of Internet
   Drafts since 2004.  This draft discusses the experience and the
   lessons learned in the first 18 months of this process.

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Table of Contents

   1.  Discussion Venue . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   2.  What is GenART . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   3.  Goals  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
   4.  GenART Reviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
     4.1   IESG Telechat Review Process . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  3
     4.2   IETF LC Assignments  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  5
     4.3   Form of review . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  6
     4.4   Archiving of reviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
   5.  Results  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
   6.  Impressions  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  7
     6.1   Reviewers' Impressions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  8
     6.2   One General Area Director's Impressions  . . . . . . . . .  9
     6.3   One GenARt Secretary's Impressions . . . . . . . . . . . . 10
   7.  Needed Improvements  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
   8.  Applicability  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
   9.  Acknowledgments  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
   10.   Informative References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
       Authors' Addresses . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
   A.  IANA considerations  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 12
       Intellectual Property and Copyright Statements . . . . . . . . 13

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1.  Discussion Venue

   Discussion of this proposal is intended to place on the IETF mailing
   list <mailto: ietf@ietf.org> in the absence of a better home.

2.  What is GenART

   The General Area Review team was created personally by the former
   General Area Director and retained by the current one.  It has no
   official role in the IETF standards process, except as a set of
   individuals entitled, like everyone, to comment on Internet-Drafts.
   Its Secretary, and the team of volunteer reviewers, serve at the
   invitation of the General AD.  The original secretary was Avri Doria,
   recently replaced by Mary Barnes, who previously served as a
   reviewer.  The current General AD was also previously a reviewer.

3.  Goals

   The original and continuing goal of the GenART team was, and is, to
   offload some of the burden from the General Area AD of IESG reviews.
   The load for the bi-weekly IESG reviews is often quite large;
   occasionally there are 20 drafts or more scheduled for discussion in
   a single telechat.

   GenART was based on a model that had proved productive in the Ops
   Directorate: Quick review close to telechat time, to advise the AD on
   issues that remain serious.  By having a trusted group of reviewers
   read and evaluate the drafts, the General Area AD would be able to
   concentrate on those drafts where there was an concern expressed by
   the reviewer.

4.  GenART Reviews

4.1  IESG Telechat Review Process

   The process for reviewing documents when they appear on the IESG
   o  The nearly final IESG meeting agenda generally appears on Thursday
      night,  one week before the IESG telechat.  The GenART secretary
      uses this as the input for the assignment process.
   o  For documents reviewed at Last Call, a new review is only asked
      for if the document is revised.  In this case the reviewer, if
      possible the person who did the last call review, only needs to
      check that any open issues were resolved.  Often the draft will
      not have changed between IETF LC and the IESG telechat review.
   o  The Secretary names a reviewer per document, more or less
      randomly.  This assignment process is currently very labor
      intensive and is completely manual (although much of it could, in

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      theory, be automated).
      1.  Remove everyone who has announced they are on vacation, or is
          otherwise unavailable for reviewing, from the resource list.
      2.  All previously reviewed drafts are assigned to the reviewer
          who reviewed them previously, assuming that reviewer is
          available.  Otherwise, these documents are assigned to a new
          person in the process described below.
      3.  Make note of the groups of drafts that are being grouped as a
          single ballot.  If the load is not too great, an attempt is
          made to assign all the documents in a single ballot to a
          single reviewer.  Sometimes, given the length or number of
          documents, this is unreasonable and the group is split between
          several reviewers.
      4.  Make a note of whether any of the reviewers is involved with
          the draft as either an author or the chair of the WG.  This is
          sometimes difficult to get right and occasionally, given the
          fact that most GenART reviewers are active IETF participants,
          sometimes a reassignment is required once the original
          assignments are announced.
      5.  At this point, a very modified round robin process is used to
          make the remaining review assignments.  The process is
          approximately as follows:
          +  Begin the round robin from where the previous week's
             assignments stopped.
          +  If someone has indicated a restricted load, e.g. they have
             only agreed to review one draft per cycle, skip them once
             that load is met.
          +  For every two repeat reviews someone has, skip them in one
             cycle of the round robin.  The reason for equating two
             repeat reviews to a single new review is that there is an
             assumption that the task of re-reviewing is lighter then
             the process of reviewing.  Note: if someone is being
             assigned a returning document as if for the first time, it
             is treated the same as any new assignment.
          +  After the round robin is completed, then the secretary
             looks at the list and if it looks very imbalanced with
             someone having far too much work to do then some load
             shifting may be done.  There is no attempt made to actually
             equalize the load as the length and complexity of the
             drafts is not taken into account in this process.  (Thus, a
             reviewer could end up with a couple of hundred page
             documents, but this is statistically rare.)
   o  It should be mentioned that assignment is never made according to
      a reviewers technical specialty.  Even though it happens, when,
      for example, routing drafts fall on routing experts or MIBs fall
      on MIB doctors, it is coincidental.  To the reviewer, the choice
      looks random.

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   o  Once the assignments are made, the web pages that list the reviews
      and the assignments are posted.  If the reviewers notice any
      problems or conflict of interest, a bargaining process, shifting
      documents from one reviewer to another, takes place.
   o  Once the review has been completed the reviewer sends the review
      to the GenART list.
   o  The secretary takes the reviews, sometimes edits them for format,
      records the review on the web pages and gives each review a short
   o  The reviews are them posted on the public web page (this may occur
      after the review has been read by the AD, or even after the IESG
   o  If the AD concludes that the concerns raised by the reviewer
      warrant placing a DISCUSS comment on the document, the AD will do
      so, and the DISCUSS must be resolved before the document advances.
      Usually, the reviewer will be involved in the resolution process.
   o  Occasionally, and more often of late, reviewers have been mailing
      reviews to authors, ADs or WGs.  This part of the process has been
      voluntary, and sometime resulted in confusion among the authors
      and working groups.  Reviewers have begun appending a description
      of GenART and the purpose of the review on these occasion to
      lessen the confusion.
   o  All reviews need to be completed and posted before the Thursday
      telechats.  For the reviews to be useful to the General area AD
      the earlier the posting the better.  It should be noted, that this
      allows the reviewers only 4 working days and the weekend, for
      those who work on the weekend, to complete their reviews.  The
      secretary generally needs to work late on the Wednesday night
      before the telechat to record all the information.  In fact the
      secretary's job usually requires night work (depending on time
      zone effects).  It also requires a responsive Internet connection,
      even when on travel.

4.2  IETF LC Assignments

   While the original process was meant only for late reviews before the
   IESG telechat, it was decided to include IETF Last call reviews.  In
   some ways this proved to be an overloading of the process and has
   presented difficulties.

   Obviously the greatest utility for IETF LC would be achieved by
   having the reviews completed before the end of the last call.
   However due to the secretary's schedule and the difficulty of
   assigning an IETF LC review as soon as it was announced, these
   assignment were often made midway through the the LC timing, and
   sometimes even after the IETF LC ended.  Within GenART practice to
   date, the IETF LC assignments took on a different aspect as they were
   treated more as early warning of pending IESG reviews then as IETF LC

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   requirements.  While there were many occasions on which an IETF LC
   review was done before the end of the last call, these occasions were
   treated as happy coincidences and not as a requirement.  The nature
   of the IETF LC assignments has remained an issue for the GenART as
   the General Area AD would prefer for them to completed by the end of
   the IETF LC.  There have been frequent conversations on the GenART
   mailing list about the nature and timeliness of IETF LC reviews.

   IETF LC reviews were assigned on a strictly round robin basis with
   the exception that an IETF LC document would not be assigned to
   someone who was scheduled to be on vacation for the entire period of
   the LC.  Otherwise a separate list of the reviewers was maintained
   and each assignment was done in order.

4.3  Form of review

   Rather than invent new guidelines, the GenART requirements for the
   form of a review stole liberally from
   draft-carpenter-solutions-sirs-01, making  adaptations for the
   special "late, quick review" case and the nature of the General
   area's concerns.

   Each review must start with a summary statement chosen from or
   adapted from the following list:
   o  This draft is ready for  publication as a [type] RFC, where [type]
      is Informational,  Experimental, etc.  (In some cases, the review
      might recommend  publication as a different [type] than requested
      by the author.)
   o  This draft is basically ready for  publication, but has nits that
      should be fixed before publication.
   o  This draft is on the right track  but has open issues, described
      in the review.
   o  This draft has serious issues,  described in the review, and needs
      to be rethought.
   o  This draft has very fundamental  issues, described in the review,
      and further work is not  recommended.
   o  Unfortunately, I don't have the expertise to review this draft.

   The length of a review can vary greatly according to circumstances,
   and it is considered acceptable for purely editorial comments to be
   sent privately if it's obvious that the document needs substantial
   revision.  All substantive comments, however, must be included in the
   public review.  Wherever possible, comments should be written as
   suggestions for improvement rather than as simple criticism.
   Explicit references to prior work and prior IETF discussion should be
   given whenever possible.

   Reviewers are asked to  review for all kinds of problems, from basic

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   architectural or security issues, Internet-wide impact, technical
   nits, problems of form and format (such as IANA Considerations or
   incorrect references),and editorial issues.  Since these reviews are
   on documents that are supposed to be finished, the review should
   consider "no issue too small" - but should cover the whole range from
   the general architectural level to the editorial level.

   All reviews should apply generally agreed IETF criteria, such as:
   o  [RFC1958]  The Architectural Principles of the Internet
   o  [RFC3426]  General Architectural and Policy Considerations
   o  [RFC3439]  Some Internet Architectural Guidelines and Philosophy
   o  [NITS]  The "I-D Nits" document maintained by the IESG
   o  [RFC2223]  Instructions to RFC Authors
   o  [BCP26]  Guidelines for Writing an IANA Considerations Section in
   o  [RFC3552]  Guidelines for Writing RFC Text on Security
   o  As well as any other applicable architectural or procedural
      documents.  It is considered  important that reviews give precise
      references to such criteria when relevant to a comment.

   Of special interest to the GEN area (because it's no area's special
   interest) is:
   o  Clear description of why the  document or protocol is useful to
      the Internet Adherence to IETF formalities such  as capitalized
      MUST/SHOULD (ID-Nits)
   o  Useful and reasonable IANA  considerations
   o  Correct dependencies for normative  references
   o  That it's written in reasonably clear English

4.4  Archiving of reviews

   All reviews are archived and publicly visible.  The archive can be
   found at: http://www.alvestrand.no/ietf/gen/art/gen-art.html

5.  Results

   Over the last 18 months, the GenART has provided reviewing services
   to 2 ADs and has done over 450 publicly available reviews.  Each of
   these reviews was  been done in a short interval of about a week by a
   dozen or fewer reviewers.

6.  Impressions

   This section is divided into 3 subsections, the impressions as
   gathered from the GenART review team, the impressions of the ADs for
   who they worked, and the impressions of one the secretaries of the

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6.1  Reviewers' Impressions

   The following list of comments are excerpted and edited, but without
   attribution, from comments sent in by the reviewers of GenART in
   response to the request:

   "We'd like to ask you each to write a few lines about your personal
   experience and lessons learned as a Gen-ART reviewer."
   o  We really do find problems, but we don't find problems with most
   o  Comments seem to be in three areas: editorial/grammar, editorial/
      what-the-heck-does-this-mean, and actual problems.  I'm seeing
      fewer reviews in the first category, which is a good thing.
   o  Since we're not a documented step in the process, a fair number of
      authors/editors don't know what to do with us.  Arguing is rare,
      but negotiating is more common, and it's pretty frequent that
      someone asks "do I rev the document now or wait until the
      telechat?"  Adding the boilerplate explaining who we are, why we
      are annoying this particular document, etc. seems to help, but it
      would be nice to agree on a particular boilerplate.
   o  It is becoming rarer that we hear back "these guys have suffered
      enough, I'm voting no objection" (I'm remembering an LDAP document
      that had been around so long it had 2119 referenced AS A DRAFT -
      some people suffered a lot).
   o  The direct assignment of reviews is necessary and effective.  It
      does not matter much as far as I can tell what scheme is used to
      actually do the assignment.
   o  Folks are very open to the reviews that come out of GenART.  This
      somewhat surprised me because I have seen resistance to outside
      reviews in other cases.
   o  The improvements that have come about (for example one of my
      latest, the sipping conference draft - whatever the outcome) have
      made a big difference to the comprehensibility and usability of
      the documents - and provide a useful incentive to keeping going.
   o  Some form of review like this is desperately needed.  While most
      of the stuff we see is good, every once in a while really bad
      errors have made their way all the way to IESG vote.
   o  Reading this stuff is interesting.  I like having a reason to read
      a wide range of materials.
   o  I am more than convinced that this can be and is a valuable
      process.  It is IMO a pity that SIRS and so on did not take off,
      because this late stage reviewing is a poor substitute for doing
      the same thing at a much earlier stage.  Very few of the drafts
      that have come past my screen are truly fully ready for IESG
      review.  It is actually a joy to find the occasional nugget that
      is both well written and is a proper technical job, such that the
      review really can say 'This is ready'.

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   o  I have certainly found the process intellectually stimulating!  It
      encourages me to take a wider interest in what is going on in the
      IETF, but consumes a fair bit of time to do a proper job, and
      requires a very wide knowledge to be able to properly catch the
      cross-area implications:  I hope (believe!) that this is something
      that one gets better at with experience and doing a few of these
   o  There are probably a very limited pool of people who have both the
      time and the inclination to keep on doing these reviews.  It does
      require a fair bit of dedication.
   o  It is difficult to avoid correcting the English, even if that is
      not really the point: Often really bad English (whether as a
      result of non-mother tongue authors with limited grasp or mother
      tongue authors using informal language) obscures/corrupts what is
      being said or just makes it impossible to read.
   o  Mostly authors welcome the comments:    I think most of them
      understand the concept of 'ego-free reviewing' and we have
      generally been constructive rather than destructive.
   o  Part of the job of gen-art is to think the unthinkable from
      another point of view, to challenge (apparently undocumented)
      assumptions and apply experience from other fields.

6.2  One General Area Director's Impressions

   It's essential.  The reviewing load for the IESG <shout>DOES NOT

   On a single fortnight example, the IESG had 21 drafts on the agenda.
   It is just impossible, and no wonder we sometimes miss serious

   So I think a distributed review team with o(30) trusted reviewers
   needs to be institutionalized.  I suspect that will need to be
   formalized in a BCP sooner or later - with their reviews having a
   formal position in the standards process, and the expectation that
   the whole IESG truly reviews all documents being relaxed.

   I think we've learned that polite, well reasoned, constructive
   reviews are very positively received by authors and WGs.  Dismissive
   reviews are counter-productive.  And reviews sent in private
   eventually show up in public, so it's better to go public at the

   I believe that there is a bit of a problem in the way we handle LC
   reviews right now.  Sometimes the timing works out well (the LC
   review comes in good time, and the draft gets revised prior to
   hitting the IESG agenda).  But quite often the LC review never
   happens, or happens so late that the document still has serious

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   issues when it hits the agenda.

   The other problem I see is a big detail - between late Thursday or
   early Friday when the secretary sends out the assignments, and
   Wednesday when I like to start filling in ballots, there are only
   three work days (plus possible volunteer time over the weekend).  Now
   even with only one document to review, that may be a real challenge.
   Sometimes, a lucky reviewer will get  130 pages (e.g.
   draft-ietf-nntpext-base-27).  That doesn't compute.

   There are some mechanical issues.  The process followed is far too
   manual.  Everything needs to be robotic except for the judgment calls
   about which reviewer gets which draft.  Similarly, the reviewer
   should be able to just paste the review into a web form, click, and
   it's sent off to everyone appropriate and posted to the review site.

   That, by the way, would be the same tool that we also need to support
   early review, WG Last Call review, etc.

6.3  One GenARt Secretary's Impressions

   Serving as the secretary of GenART was a worthwhile experience.  From
   a personal point of view, it gave me an easy way to track all of the
   work going through the IESG review process and see how the work
   flowed through that process.  Also, by reviewing and doing light
   editing on all of the reviews in order to create some degree of
   uniformity of presentation and to create the one line abstracts that
   go on the review web page, I had the opportunity to really get a
   survey of the work being approved by the IETF.

   One element of the GenART that makes it work is the immediacy of the
   review.  I think that the fact that these are late reviews that have
   a particular advisory role allows a relatively small group of people
   to read and review.  The nature of these reviews is informal, and
   originally the reviews were only intended for the General Area AD,
   though they were made public.  During 2004 there was little if any
   interaction between authors and reviewers.

   There was some discussion during 2004 about trying to expand the role
   of GenART to a more formal, early review model, i.e to evolve it into
   a form of SIRS.  I was against such a transformation because I felt
   it would risk something that worked.  I believed that the risk was
   inherent in formalizing the reviews and in adding mechanisms for
   standardizing the review mechanisms that would resort from
   formalization.  Another concern involves the interaction between
   reviewers and authors.  As discussed above, recently, it has become
   the practice to send reviews to the authors with an explanation about
   the nature of GenART reviews.  While it is clear that this has

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   resulted in improved RFCs, it has also resulted in increased work
   load for the reviewers.  The addition of IETF LC reviews was also a
   potential increase in work load for the reviewers.  If these review
   assignments were only to be used as an early warning for a reviewer
   of a draft that would eventually be in IESG review, then I saw it as
   a helpful to the reviewers.  If, on the other hand, they became an
   extra work load that need to be completed by the end of LC then I
   thought it was harmful.

   I think that GenART is an experiment that works but I believe it is
   fragile.  As secretary I was often concerned about overburdening
   reviewers, and felt it my responsibility to keep them from burn out;
   though I was never sure how to achieve that given the work load.

7.  Needed Improvements

   Automation of the manual processes of assignment, and of mailing and
   web-posting the resulting reviews seems, to be the main improvement
   needed.  For example, the IETF Secretariat system generates an
   "Evaluation" message to the IESG whenever a ballot is initiated for a
   draft.  These messages, and "IETF Last Call" messages, could be used
   to trigger assignment of reviews to reviewers, with only exceptional
   cases needing manual handling.  A web tool could allow reviewers to
   upload their reviews and send mail to interested parties.

8.  Applicability

   As implemented today, the process has no formal role in the IETF
   standards process.  Whether the reviews appear during IETF Last Call
   or during IESG Evaluation, they have no distinguished status.  But as
   trust in the review team has built, and as the team itself has
   learned to deliver reviews that are generally well received, they
   have had a significant impact on document quality and on timeliness.
   Rather than becoming a roadblock, they have (in general) allowed the
   General AD to feel more confident in reaching decisions and be more
   precise in resolving issues.

   A question that naturally arises is whether a formal or official role
   for such a team would bring even more benefits.

9.  Acknowledgments

   Initial comments were received from the members of the GenART team
   and the experiences discussed in this document were derived from
   their hard work over the last 18 months as reviewers.  We thank the
   reviewers of GenART: Mark Allman, Mary Barnes, David Black, Scott
   Brim, Elwyn Davies, Spencer Dawkins, Lakshminath Dondeti, Joel
   Halpern, John Loughney, Lucy Lynch, Michael Patton, and Suzannne

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10.  Informative References

Authors' Addresses

   Avri Doria
   Lulea University of Technology

   Phone: +1 401 663 5024
   Email: avri@acm.org

   Harald Alvestrand
   Cisco Systems
   Weidemanns vei 27
   Trondheim  7043

   Email: harald@alvestrand.no

   Brian E Carpenter
   IBM Zurich Research Laboratory
   Saeumerstrasse 4
   8803 Rueschlikon

   Email: brc@zurich.ibm.com

Appendix A.  IANA considerations

   As this is an informational document about an IETF process, there are
   no IANA considerations.  However, one of the requirements for an IETF
   document is the inclusion of IANA considerations section.  One of the
   areas that the IESG review includes, and thus the GenART review needs
   to include is a reading of the IANA section to make sure that it not
   only exists, but that it includes

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