The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) was formed in 1986 to serve as a forum for technical coordination by contractors for DARPA working on ARPANET, U.S. Defense Data Network (DDN), and the Internet core gateway system.
It is a purely voluntary, technical standard-setting organization responsible for developing and maintaining the Internet’s core standards, including the DNS protocol and its security extensions and the current and next-generation versions of the Internet Protocol. The core standards the IETF develops define, on a basic level, how the Internet operates and what functions it is capable of performing. It is a voluntary, consensus-based standards body, whose participants include network operators, academics, and representatives of government and industry, among others.
Internet users express their opinions on how the Internet should operate to the IETF. Much of IETF's work is conducted via e-mail lists, although it meets three times a year to discuss the Internet's operational and technical problems. If a problem deserves special attention, the IETF sets up a working group to discuss it. The working group eventually issues a report or recommendation, which can be either voluntarily accepted by the IETF or sent to the Internet Architecture Board (IAB) to be declared a standard.
The IETF adheres to a number of principles:
- Open process. Any interested person can participate in the work, know what is being decided, and make his or her voice heard on an issue. All IETF documents, mailing lists, attendance lists, and meeting minutes are publicly available on the Internet.
- Technical competence. The issues addressed in IETF-produced documents are issues that the IETF has the competence to speak to, and the IETF is willing to listen to technically competent input from any source. The IETF's technical competence also means that IETF output is designed to sound network engineering principles, an element often referred to as "engineering quality."
- Volunteer core. IETF participants and leaders are people who come to the IETF because they want to do work that furthers IETF's mission of "making the Internet work better."
- Rough consensus and running code. The IETF makes standards based on the combined engineering judgment of its participants and their real-world experience in implementing and deploying its specifications.
- Protocol ownership. When the IETF takes ownership of a protocol or function, it accepts the responsibility for all aspects of the protocol, even though some aspects may rarely or never be seen on the Internet. Conversely, when the IETF is not responsible for a protocol or function, it does not attempt to exert control over it, even though such a protocol or function may at times touch or affect the Internet.
- "Overview" section: Cyberspace: United States Faces Challenges in Addressing Global Cybersecurity and Governance, at 14.
- "Guiding principle" section: IETF Web site.
- "The Tao of IETF: A Novice's Guide," RFC 3160 (Aug. 2001) (full-text).