Contributing in IETF : Where to Start?

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India in IETF

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

In multiple informal discussions, different people have pointed out that while they would like to contribute but they do not know how and where to start. So I decided to write this post to provide some information on the same.First thing first. Do you know how IETF works? If not then you need to read through my previous post here on the same topic.

If you are reading this, I will assume that you know about the Areas and Working Groups in IETF. You need to identify the Working Group which interests you. It could be related to what you are currently working on or what you would be working on in near future or what you want to learn to expand your ever-growing knowledge. You can be interested in multiple Working Group at the same time.

So what next?

You go ahead and subscribe to the mailing list of each Working Group you are interested in. This is because most of the IETF technical work happens in mailing lists. How do you join a Working Group mailing list? You just need to send a mail to the Working Group mailing list with  ‘subscribe’ in the subject line and body of the mail.

Now that you have joined the mailing list, you will start receiving mails sent by others. Read them to understand the discussion and people’s point of view. If you feel like asking a question in any of the discussion, feel free to do that.

Scan all the Internet Drafts submitted to a working group. Pick one that interests you the most and read through it. While reading through it, take your time to understand the problem it is solving as well as the proposed solution. Note down all the questions you could not answer yourself. Also note down editorial changes like sentences which you think are not clear enough, incorrect spelling etc.. At the end of the reading if you think you have some questions and suggestions on a draft, do send it to the mailing list. One of the author will acknowledge your suggestions and will respond to them. In some cases, you will see that apart from authors other people also pitch in with their view on your suggestions. Finally all your suggestions will be addressed by authors. You can take a pat on your back because you have just helped enhancing the quality of a draft. Do this exercise with all the documents in the Working Group.

Please do not think that any question or suggestion you might have on a draft is a stupid one. You will know its worth only when you send it out on the mailing list. Also please do not get discouraged if nobody responds to your questions. Mostly this does not happen but if it does, do send your mail again. Also if your mail has some valid points, someone will surely reply.

What else?

You come across a problem which your customers are facing or a problem you see in a protocol you are working with or a problem you found when you were testing a protocol in a network configuration. You think that a solution to this problem does not exist.  You discuss this problem among your colleagues and come up with a solution. You are thinking that this solution will help in deployment. In such a case, you should send out a mail describing the problem on the relevant Working Group’s mailing list. If others agree that such a problem exist, you should create a draft and submit it. You should then ask Working Group to review your draft. It is good to attend an IETF meeting to discuss this in the Working Group meeting as well as in the corridors of the meeting venue with as many people as possible. If the problem you are solving is a real problem, your draft will be accepted by the Working Group. It will then go through multiple rounds of review and will later become a RFC.

Just one suggestion from me. Please be patient when you have sent a mail on a mailing list. People might take some time to reply as they will be busy with their day-to-day work. But let me assure you that people do reply.

So what are you waiting for, go ahead and start contributing to make Internet better. Best of Luck!

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