Networking Standards and Standards Organizations

Networking Standards

There are thousands of standards relating to networking!  These are far too many to publish in any one reference book, and in any case the standards are changing and growing all the time.  So you must locate the standards when you have networking questions!  These are generally available on-line but some organizations sell copies of standards, for up to thousands of dollars a copy.  (PDFs of these can often be purchased for around $20.  See TechStreet for one of the many places standards can be purchased.)  A system administrator (SA) or network administrator (NA) must be aware of where to locate networking information, which organizations are responsible for networking standards and services, what legal and administrative requirements must be met by your network and servers.


There are thousands of Requests for Comments.  Despite the name, these are the official Internet standards.  Not all RFCs pertain to Internet Protocols and not all networking standards are published as RFCs (IEEE, ISO, ITU, W3C, and proprietary standards generally are not).  However most of what a SA or NA needs to know is published as RFCs.

The Requests for Comments (RFC) document series is a set of technical and organizational notes about the Internet (originally the ARPANET), beginning in 1969.  Memos in the RFC series discuss many aspects of computer networking, including protocols, procedures, programs, and concepts, as well as meeting notes, opinions, and sometimes humor.  RFCs are generally ASCII text documents.

The official specification documents of the Internet Protocol suite that are defined by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) are recorded and published as standards track RFCs.  As a result, the RFC publication process plays an important role in the Internet standards process.  RFCs must first be published as Internet DraftsRFC 2026 describes The Internet Standards Process.  (See also

The RFC Editor is the publisher of the RFCs and is responsible for the final editorial review of the documents.  The RFC Editor also maintains a master file of RFCs called the RFC Index, which can be searched online.  For nearly 30 years, the RFC Editor was the legendary Jon Postel; today the RFC Editor is a small group funded by the Internet Society.

Each RFC has a category or status designation.  The possible categories are:

Each RFC is numbered.  For instance RFC 791 (also called STD0005) documents the IP protocol.  Although most RFCs are generally are quite readable, others are nearly impossible to read (written in standardese).

RFCs never change or get updated.  This avoids any hassle with incompatible versions of standards.  When necessary a new RFC is created that obsoletes the original one.  However, the RFC Editor does maintain errata for RFCs, and RFCs obsoleted by a newer RFC sometimes (but not always) list the new RFC number at the top.  (See for example RFC-822 (SMTP), which was obsoleted by RFC-2822 (ESMTP), which was recently obsoleted by RFC-5322.)

Further information on the RFC documents and the IETF, the body that produces them, can be found at the home of the RFC Editor (  (This includes an RFC search form.)  RFCs can be found in several other repositories (mirrors), including,, and elsewhere.  Some of these have converted the text documents to HTML.

Standards Bodies and Organizations

An alphabet soup of groups oversee the Internet: The Internet Society (ISOC) charters the Internet Architecture Board (IAB), the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Engineering Streering Group (IESG), and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).  Other groups also are responsible for some networking standards: ISO, IEEE, ITU, (and no doubt others I've forgotten!)

The IANA is the clearing house and distribution point for network parameters (such as protocol numbers).  The actual definition of these is up to the IETF, organized into a number of different working groups.  These groups are under the oversight of the IESG.  The IESG in turn is under the oversight of the IAB, which also adjudicates any disputes.

The IAB is chartered both as a committee of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and as an advisory body of the Internet Society (ISOC).  Its responsibilities include architectural oversight of IETF activities, Internet Standards Process oversight and appeal, and the appointment of the RFC Editor.

The IAB was also responsible for the management of the IETF protocol parameter registries.  Previously there was no commercial involvement and all management decisions were up to the IETF/IAB/ISOC.  With the growth and world-wide acceptance of the importance of the Internet, many countries and companies felt that the non-profit management of the Internet by the ISOC, which had no legal standing by any country, was no longer appropriate.  Also the IETF used a single company, Network Solutions, Inc. as the sole registrar for DNS domain names.  Many companies wanted to make a profit from selling DNS services and Network Solutions had a monopoly.

Parts of Internet management (domain name services) have become commercialized.  To oversee the commercial DNS service providers (DNS registrars), a number of countries then built the Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers ( ICANN), which "usurps" much (but not all) of the management tasks from the IETF.  The ICANN accredits companies and organizations for domain name registration, such as VeriSign (which bought out Network Solutions) and many others.  (Visit ICANN's website to find a list of DNS registrars for some TLD such as .com, and then visit those organizations' websites for info.)

ICANN has no oversight from the IAB or IESG, they only respond to the member countries (which never agree on anything, so essentially ICANN has no oversight).  However the ISOC/IETF does get to appoint two member to the ICANN board.  This chaos, along with a lack of coordination with the ISOC, has so far resulted in ICANN being largely ineffectual, and in a breakdown of Internet regulation.

For example, today nearly any registrar can be accredited to manage any TLD, and the rules for who can get a domain name in various TLDs are largely ignored.  ICANN has authorized many new TLDs, but a (small) number of registrars have ignored them and created any TLD a customer wishes.  Since some DNS servers recognize only some TLDs, this causes big problems for everyone.

Note that ICANN still uses the IANA as a clearing house and distribution point for the TLDs.  The IANA still maintains the list of root servers, however these servers are controlled by a few U.S. companies, and thus the US government controls the actual DNS system.  Recently (2005) the U.S. announced they would not relinquish control of the DNS root servers to the international community (probably some offshoot organization of ICANN).  This is currently a big political issue.

The IEEE is the organization responsible for popular Layer 2 standards: Ethernet, Wi-Fi, etc.  They control MAC addressing.

The ITU is the descendant of CCITT and controls telephony standards and radio frequency allocations, amongst other tasks.  The ITU is charted by the United Nations to coordinate global telecom networks and services.

The ISO is responsible for a variety of networking related standards, including some Layer 1 (physical layer) standards, country codes (the two and three letter abbreviations used in TLDs), etc.  The ISO is most famous for their OSI seven layer reference model of networking.  Note however the Internet is based on the US-DoD four layer model of networking.  (Note this is based on the original Arpanet Reference Model (ARM), and some people count the physical layer as a fifth layer.)

The IANA is responsible for protocol numbers, port numbers, AS numbers, maintaining the official TLD DNS lists (for ICANN), and maintaining the DNS root servers hints file.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) maintains many standards and protocols relating to Internet use.  Examples include HTML, CSS, SOAP, P3P, and many others.

Finally note that the presence of a standard doesn't mean everyone will use it!  The advantage to using open standards (where the specifications are widely available, and there is no licensing fees or other restrictions on use) made the Internet possible.

Links to Organizations

Internet Architecture Board 
Internet Assigned Numbers Authority 
Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers 
Internet Society 
Internet Engineering Streering Group 
Internet Engineering Task Force 
International Standards Organization 
International Telecommunications Union 
RFC Editor 
World Wide Web Consortium 

Some important, commonly referenced, or just interesting standards

RFC 1122: TCP/IP Tutorial, part 1 
RFC 1123: TCP/IP Tutorial, part 2 
RFC 791: IP Protocol 
RFC 793: TCP Protocol 
RFC 768: UDP Protocol 
RFC 1034: DNS Introduction 
RFC 2606: Private TLDs 
RFC 1812: IPv4 Routing 
RFC 1930: AS Numbering 
RFC 3513: IPv6 Addressing 
RFC 3530: NFSv4 Protocol 
RFC 3927: IPv4 Dynamic Address Assignment

ISO 639: Language Codes 
ISO-3166: 2 and 3 letter country codes (in English)