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Misleading with the IETF

"Submitted to the IETF". is becoming an increasingly common phrase in this and other technical publications but in some cases it can be very misleading.

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) was formed in 1986 to help evolve the Internet Protocol (IP), the Internet and the protocols that are run over the Internet and over private IP networks. ( The IETF has 3 meetings each year, the most recent was held in Munich Germany two weeks ago.

The work of the IETF is done in the more than 100 currently active working groups. The IETF has no fixed membership, anyone interested in the work of the IETF can come to the meetings and join the working group mailing lists.

The IETF standards process (defined in RFC 2026) almost always involves extended working group deliberations before any proposal is accepted into the IETF standards track. These deliberations begin with the publication of an Internet-Draft (ID) describing the proposed technology. Revised versions of the ID are normally published as the work proceeds. When the working group feels that the ID is ready for prime time they send a request for consideration to the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG). The IESG will then issue an IETF-wide Last-Call asking anyone in the IETF with comments on the ID to please send them to the IESG. If there are no show-stopping comments and if the IESG's own review concludes that the technology fits the requirements for IETF standards track technology the ID is republished as a RFC with Proposed Standard status.

But not all IDs are for working group consideration and not all RFCs are Internet Standards. Any individual can ask for the publication of a properly formatted document as an ID. Almost any generally relevant topic is accepted. There might be a question raised about a recipe for medicinal brownies but if the document is about some Internet-related technology it generally gets published without any sort of technical review. In the same way individuals or organizations can request that some document be published as an Informational RFC. These documents are given a quick review by the IESG to be sure that they are not too wacko but most get published as requested. Note that an Informational RFC is not an Internet Standard and frequently has not been the subject of any working group review.

We are now seeing more and more cases where someone sends a document into the IETF for publication as an ID and then claims that the technology has been "submitted to the IETF" even when there is no working group dealing with the topic. While some of these announcements might be because of a misunderstanding about the IETF process, most seem to be designed to mislead the public into thinking that the technology is under active consideration by the IETF when it is not. So the next time you see such a press release treat it with some skepticism, especially if there is no specific IETF working group mentioned.

disclaimer: As a member of the IESG I get pissed when this happens but Harvard could not care less.