IETF Series: How IETF works? (Part II)

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I illustrated India’s contribution in IETF in my earlier ‘India in IETF’ post and asked you to provide comments and suggestions on how we can improve the quality and quantity of India’s contribution in IETF.

In the past, during various informal discussions, people mentioned that they are not aware of how IETF works. I always pointed them to relevant links but I am sure not many have read through them. So I decided to give a brief run down on how IETF works in my own words. Please note that it is like a small crash course on this subject and if you want to get more information, please do go through the links posted at the end of this post.

IETF is a standard body that produces highly relevant technical documents which are used by people to design, develop, use and manage the Internet. IETF has organised its work in different Areas. At present, there are 8 active Areas in IETF. There are several Working Groups in each of these Areas. Each Working Group has a pre-defined charter that identifies the goals and milestones for the working group. There are currently more than 100 Working Groups in IETF. I will talk about the process of creating a Working Group in some future post.

Each Area is managed by one or more Area Directors (ADs) with the help of IESG (Internet Engineering Steering Group). IESG members are Area Directors who are selected by Nomination Committee. Each Working Group is managed by one or more Working Group Chair.

Most of the IETF work happens through mailing list. Each Working Group (WG) has its own mailing list. Anybody can subscribe to any Working Group’s mailing lists for free and start contributing.

IETF produces RFCs (Request For Comments) which are implemented by various OEM vendors in their products to make Internet work. Authors write up a private draft which describe a specific problem and the proposed solution. Authors then submit their draft to the most relevant Working Group. Authors can post their draft to other relevant Working Groups as well. For example: A draft can be submitted to both PIM WG as well as L3VPN WG if the draft is related to both the Working Group. Working Group reviews all the proposals and accept those proposals on which Working Group like to work. These proposals are then submitted as IETF Internet Drafts. These drafts then go through extensive reviews in the Working Group. Once Working Group feels that a specific draft has gone through enough reviews, Working Group chair submit the draft to IESG. The draft goes through another review by IESG members and once it is approved by IESG, it is passed to RFC editor to convert it into a RFC.

The easiest way a person can contribute to a Working Group is by reviewing the various Internet Drafts submitted to that Working Group. Again, as mentioned above, its free. You just need to subscribe to the mailing list. This helps everybody as it enhances the quality of the drafts and in turn the output of IETF.

There are regular IETF face-to-face meetings which are organised three times a year. Two of these meetings usually happen in USA/Canada region while one meeting happens somewhere in rest-of-the-world. These meetings are as technical as you can think of. Each Working Group meets to discuss their on-going work. In these meetings, people discuss their current and future work, find co-authors, get feedback on their work and network with people.

For more information, please refer to the TAO and page setup for newcomers in IETF.


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