The following text is copyright 1998 by Network World, permission is hearby given for reproduction, as long as attribution is given and this notice is included.
The Internet is not dead
By Scott Bradner
Jon Postel died the other day.
These are very hard words to write. The reality behind them is even harder. Jon was a friend, teacher, co-trustee, sage and guide. We mourn his passing and celebrate his having been. He left us far before his time, having accomplished far more than most people can know.
Jon was one of the fundamental reasons that the Internet works. He did not invent all the technology, but as the editor and arbiter of the IETF's RFC publication series he made sure that the descriptions of technology were clear and precise. He did not invent the process of Internet standards, but he was a guide to those of us trying to understand and then document the process.
These contributions, which would have formed a full legacy by themselves, are not the reason that it is hard to imagine the Internet of today developing without Jon.
Jon created the Internet technical management structure. He invented and then became the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which is the Internet's technical bookkeeper. The IANA kept the lists and created the processes that ensure IP addresses are unique, domain names can be resolved and Internet applications can communicate. This is mundane work, but it is just the sort of thing that can cause a system to collapse if not done correctly.
Jon was the IANA for many years, but as it became clear that the Internet was growing too fast for any one person to support on his own, Jon started to build an organization to perform these functions. The IANA has been for some years an organization, not an individual.
Over the last few years Jon has been working out what he called an exit strategy. He felt the organization that is now the IANA needed to wean itself from U.S. government support and authority, and become a standalone, public interest, non-governmental organization. He felt the same way about the IP address, protocol number and domain name allocation processes.
Jon came up with a proposal to accomplish this separation based on the same system used by the IETF to process standards. That process consists of producing a series of draft proposals, with each succeeding draft modified in response to comments received. Jon's new proposal is known as the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and was submitted to the U.S. government shortly before Jon died.
During this submission process Jon was subjected to some of the most vitriolic personal attacks I've seen on any individual and there were many times when it would have been rational for Jon to just walk away. But his strong sense of responsibility would not let him do that. This was not ego; Jon had built the Internet support functions and it would have been irresponsible not to ensure their continuation.
The ICANN plan is not Jon's legacy. However, we must work to complete the plan's realization, not to honor him, but because it is the right organization for our future.
Jon's legacy is an Internet whose support systems just work. Nevertheless, I shall miss him greatly.
Disclaimer: I knew Jon, Harvard did not; these are my remembrances.