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Issue No.03 - July-September (2006 vol.28)
pp: 48-61
Andrew L. Russell , The Johns Hopkins University
Internet historians recognize the technical achievements but often overlook the bureaucratic innovations of Internet pioneers. The phrase, "We reject: kings, presidents, and voting. We believe in: rough consensus and running code," was coined by David Clark in 1992. This article explains how the phrase captured the technical and political values of Internet engineers during a crucial phase in the Internet's growth.
Internet standards, history of computing, organizations
Andrew L. Russell, "'Rough Consensus and Running Code' and the Internet-OSI Standards War", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.28, no. 3, pp. 48-61, July-September 2006, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2006.42
1. For descriptions of the features (and problems) of formal standards setting, see P.A. David and M. Shurmer, "Formal Standards-Setting for Global Telecommunications and Information Services," Telecommunications Policy, Oct. 1996 pp. 789–815; and W.J. Drake, "The Transformation of International Telecommunications Standardization: European and Global Dimensions," Telecommunications in Transition: Policies, Services, and Technologies in the European Community, C. Steinfield, J.M. Bauer and L. Caby, eds., Sage Publications, 1994, pp. 71–96.
2. The best single account of Internet history is J. Abbate, Inventing the Internet, MIT Press, 1999. Cerf and Kahn were awarded the 2004 Turing Award for their pioneering efforts.
3. According to one history, the Internet's architectural principles "embody some value judgments and reflect the fundamental political and ethical beliefs of the scientists and engineers who designed the Internet"; National Research Council, The Internet's Coming of Age, National Academy Press, 2000, p. 35.
4. See H. Nissenbaum, "How Computer Systems Embody Values," Computer, Mar. 2001, pp. 118–120.
5. D.D. Clark, "A Cloudy Crystal Ball: Visions of the Future," plenary presentation at 24th meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force, Cambridge, Mass., 13–17 July 1992. Slides from this presentation are available from http:/ videos/future_ietf_92.pdf.
6. L. Lessig, Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace, Basic Books, 1999, p. 4.
7. On "rough consensus and running code" as IETF credo, see E. Huizer, IETF-ISOC Relationship, IETF RFC 2031, Oct. 1996;; and S. Bradner, "The Internet Engineering Task Force," Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution, C. DiBona, S. Ockman, and M. Stone, eds., O'Reilly, 1999, p. 50.
8. W. Drake, "The Internet Religious War," Telecommunications Policy, Dec. 1993, p. 643.
9. B. Carpenter, ed., Architectural Principles of the Internet, IETF RFC 1958, June 1996;
10. R.E. Kahn, oral history interview by J.E. O'Neill, 24 Apr. 1990, OH 192, Charles Babbage Inst. (CBI), Univ. of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Kahn continued, noting that "all the details were different. I don't mean conceptually they were different. They were sort of the same genre. Just like, say, Chinese and Americans are of the same genre except one speaks Chinese and one speaks English, one lives on one side of the world, they go to sleep during your daytime, etc."
11. V.G. Cerf and R.E. Kahn, "A Protocol for Packet Network Intercommunication," IEEE Trans. Comm., vol. COM-22, no. 5, 1974, pp. 637–648. For an account of the decisive international contributions to TCP/IP, especially from French computer scientists such as Louis Pouzin who had developed the Cyclades network, see J. Abbate, Inventing the Internet, pp. 123–133.
12. R. Kahn, "Testimony before the Subcommittee on Basic Research of the Committee on Science on the Subject of Internet Domain Names,"31 Mar. 1998; available from http:/ testimony.html.
13. D.D. Clark, "The Design Philosophy of the DARPA Internet Protocols," Proc. SIGCOMM 88, Computer Communication Rev., vol. 18, no. 4, 1988, pp. 106–107.
14. Cerf, Cohen, and Postel split the protocol into TCP and IP to reduce the requirements on network gateways and leave complex tasks such as tracking reliable packet delivery to the computers at the ends of the network. See J. Abbate, Inventing the Internet, pp. 129–130; V.G. Cerf, "Protocols for Interconnected Packet Networks," Computer Communication Rev., vol. 18, no. 4, 1980, pp. 10–11; and J. Postel ed., , "DOD Standard Internet Protocol," IETF RFC 760, Jan. 1980;
15. J.H. Saltzer, D.P. Reed, and D.D. Clark, "End-To-End Arguments in System Design," ACM Trans. Computer Systems, vol. 2, no. 4, 1984, p. 277.
16. J.H. Saltzer, D.P. Reed, and D.D. Clark, "End-to-End Arguments," p. 287.
17. D.S. Isenberg, "The Rise of the Stupid Network," Computer Telephony, Aug. 1997, pp. 16–26.
18. M.S. Blumenthal and D.D. Clark, "Rethinking the Design of the Internet: The End to End Arguments vs. the Brave New World," ACM Trans. Internet Technology, vol. 1, no. 1, 2001, pp. 70–109.
19. Lessig notes that end-to-end concepts are not unique to the Internet, and are distinguished for their ability to provide a broad range of services. Two examples are the electricity grid and the highway systems: they are simple architectures with minimal requirements for participation (standard plugs or motor vehicles) that do not constrain the behavior of the participants. L. Lessig, The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World, Random House, 2001, pp. 26, 39.
20. For a discussion of the strategy behind this transition, see J. Postel, "NCP/TCP Transition Plan," IETF RFC 801, Nov. 1981;
21. R.E. Kahn, "The Role of the Government in the Evolution of the Internet," Comm. ACM, vol. 37, no. 8, 1994, p. 16. Kahn was director of ARPA's Information Processing Techniques Office from August 1979 until September 1985. Because Cerf left ARPA in October 1982 and Barry Leiner did not replace him until August 1983, Kahn personally managed the transition to TCP/IP. R.E. Kahn, oral history interview, OH 192, CBI.
22. V.G. Cerf, oral history interview by J.E. O'Neill, 24 Apr. 1990, OH 191, CBI.
23. V. Cerf, "The Internet Activities Board," IETF RFC 1160, May 1990;
24. R.E. Kahn oral history interview, OH 192, CBI. The term "kitchen cabinet" dates from the administration of President Andrew Jackson, who preferred to consult with an informal group of advisors—allegedly in the White House kitchen—instead of his formal "Parlor" cabinet. See R.V. Remini, Andrew Jackson: The Course of American Freedom, 1822–1832, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1998, pp. 315–330.
25. V. Cerf as told to B. Aboba, "How the Internet Came to Be," The Online User's Encyclopedia: Bulletin Boards and Beyond, B. Aboba, Addison-Wesley, 1993. Kahn and Cerf note that the ICCB, unlike the IAB and IETF, functioned in a time where there was very little commercial interest in the Internet, no personal computers, and a nascent networking industry. R.E. Kahn, and V.G. Cerf, "What Is The Internet (And What Makes It Work)," Dec. 1999; http:/ what_is_internet.html.
26. R.E. Kahn, "The Role of the Government," p. 16.
27. The acronym "IAB" remained consistent since 1984, but the "A"—and the meanings behind it—have changed. From 1984 to 1986, the IAB was the Internet Advisory Board; in 1986 its name changed to the Internet Activities Board; in 1992 it changed once again, this time to the Internet Architecture Board. See "A Brief History of the Internet Advisory/Activities/Architecture Board";
28. Clark was Internet Architect from 1983 to 1989; Cerf served from 1989 to 1992, and was followed by Lyman Chapin (through March 1993).
29. See B. Leiner et al., "A Brief History of the Internet"; http:/ internet/history/brief.shtml, and R.E. Kahn, oral history interview, OH 192, CBI. Task forces or working groups have been a consistent feature in the history of technical standards bodies. See C. Cargill, Open Systems Standardization: A Business Approach, Paladin Consulting, 1997.
30. E. Krol, "FYI on 'What is the Internet?'" IETF RFC 1462, May 1993;
31. See B. Leiner et al., "A Brief History of the Internet"; http:/ internet/history/brief.shtml. Since 1989, the number of IETF areas has shifted between seven and ten.
32. B. Leiner et al., "A Brief History of the Internet"; and R. Kahn, "The Role of the Government," p. 17. For Internet Research Task Force mission and activities, see http:/
33. See S. Bradner, "The Internet Engineering Task Force," OnTheInternet, vol. 7, no. 1, 2001, p. 24; and J. Abbate, Inventing the Internet, pp. 207–208.
34. V. Cerf, "IETF and ISOC,"18 July 1995; http:/ internet/history/ietfhis.shtm I. Kahn also worked to provide institutional support for the growth of the Internet when he founded the Corporation for National Research Initiatives in 1986. See
35. B. Leiner et al., "A Brief History of the Internet." In a 1993 article, Dave Crocker concurred: "In general, the IETF is applying its own technical design philosophy to its own operation." D. Crocker, "Making Standards the IETF Way," StandardView, vol. 1, no. 1, 1993, p. 54. The 1968 musings of Melvin Conway are also strikingly relevant: "There is a very close relationship between the structure of a system and the structure of the organization which designed it." See M.E. Conway, "How Do Committees Invent?" Datamation, vol. 14, no. 4, 1968, p. 30; and "Conway's Law," at http:/ ~esr/jargon/html/C/ Conways-Law.html.
36. A.L. Norberg and J.E. O'Neill, Transforming Computer Technology, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1996; and T.P. Hughes, Rescuing Prometheus, Pantheon Books, 1998, pp. 15–68.
37. L. Press, "Seeding Networks: The Federal Role," Comm. ACM, vol. 39, no. 10, 1996, pp. 11–18.
38. The description of the ICCB as a "grass-roots mechanism" comes from Kahn, "The Role of the Government," p. 18.
39. Various aspects of OSI adoption—too numerous and complex to describe in full in this article—permeate Internet history. Although we lack a comprehensive historical analysis of the Internet, OSI, and other computer internetworking architectures of the period, three excellent comparisons may be found in J. Abbate, Inventing the Internet, pp. 147–169; National Research Council, Global Networks and Local Values: A Comparative Look at Germany and the United States, National Academy Press, 2001, pp. 23–45; and T. Egyedi, "'Tension between Standardisation and Flexibility' Revisited: A Critique," Standardisation and Innovation in Information Technology: Conf. Proc. 1st IEEE Conf. Standardisation and Innovation in Information Technology, K. Jakobs and R. Williams eds., IEEE Press, 1999, pp. 65–74.
40. J. Abbate, "Government, Business, and the Making of the Internet," Business History Rev., vol. 75, no. 1, Spring 2001, p. 167. See also M. Libicki, Information Technology Standards: Quest for the Common Byte, Digital Press, 1995, pp. 75–129; J.S. Quarterman, and S. Wilhelm, UNIX, POSIX, and Open Systems: The Open Standards Puzzle, Addison-Wesley, 1993; C. Cargill, "Evolution and Revolution in Open Systems," StandardView, vol. 2, no. 1, 1994, pp. 3–13; and S. Schindler, "Open Systems, Today and Tomorrow—A Personal Perspective," Computer Networks, vol. 5, no. 3, 1981, pp. 167–176.
41. R.N. Langlois, "Networks and Innovation in a Modular System: Lessons from the Microcomputer and Stereo Component Industries," Research Policy, vol. 21, no. 4, 1992, pp. 297–313. See also R. Sanchez, and J.T. Mahoney, "Modularity, Flexibility, and Knowledge Management in Product and Organization Design," Strategic Management J., vol. 17, Winter special issue, 1996, pp. 63–76.
42. See P.E. Green Jr. ed., Network Interconnection and Protocol Conversion, IEEE Press, 1988; and R.J. Cypser, Communicating for Cooperating Systems: OSI, SNA, and TCP/IP, Addison-Wesley, 1991. IBM executives and engineers were keenly aware of the importance of network migration and integration. See, for example, L.M. Branscomb, "Computer Communications in the Eighties—Time to Put It All Together," Computer Networks, vol. 5, no. 1, 1981, pp. 3–8; P. Janson, R. Molva, and S. Zatti, "Architectural Directions for Opening IBM Networks: The Case of OSI," IBM Systems J., vol. 31, no. 2, 1992, pp. 313–335; and T.J. Routt, "Integration Strategies for APPN and TCP/IP," Business Communications Rev., Mar. 1995, pp. 43–49.
43. H. Zimmerman, "OSI Reference Model—The ISO Model of Open Architecture for Open Systems Interconnection," IEEE Trans. Comm., vol. COM-28, no. 4, 1980, p. 425. ISO, created in 1947, is a worldwide federation of national standards bodies.
44. R. des Jardins, "Overview and Status of the ISO Reference Model of Open Systems Interconnection," Computer Networks, vol. 5, no. 2, 1981, pp. 77–80.
45. See, for example, T. Whitty, "OSI: the UK approach," Comm., vol. 7, no. 2, 1990, pp. 20–24; L. Caffrey, "EPHOS: Towards a European GOSIP," Computer Networks and ISDN Systems, vol. 19, no. 3–5, 1990, pp. 265–269; and R. Cowan ed., , Information Technology Standards: The Economic Dimension, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1991, pp. 23–30.
46. For an analysis of ISO's position within the system of European standardization bodies, see S.K. Schmidt and R. Werle, Coordinating Technology: Studies in the International Standardization of Telecommunications, MIT Press, 1998, pp. 39–57.
47. M. Witt, "Moving from DoD to OSI Protocols: A First Step," Computer Communication Rev., vol. 16, no. 2, 1986, pp. 2–7.
48. National Research Council, Transport Protocols for Department of Defense Data Networks: Report to the Department of Defense and the National Bureau of Standards Committee on Computer-Computer Communication Protocols, Board on Telecommunications and Computer Applications Commission on Eng. and Technical Systems, National Academy Press, 1985.
49. J. Postel, "A DoD Statement on the NRC Report," IETF RFC 945, May 1985;
50. "U.S. Government Open Systems Interconnection Profile," US Federal Information Processing Standards Publication 146, version 1, Aug. 1988, cited in V. Cerf and K. Mills, "Explaining the Role of GOSIP," IETF RFC 1169, Aug. 1990; See also P. Janson et al., "Architectural Directions for Opening IBM Networks," p. 314 ("Many government agencies around the world, including the U.S. Department of Defense, require OSI on all systems they purchase").
51. , Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, DoD procurement policies were effective means for driving market growth in semiconductors, computers, and software. See D.M. Hart, "Corporate Technological Capabilities and the State: A Dynamic Historical Interaction," Constructing Corporate America: Historical Perspectives on Big Business, Society, and Politics, K. Lipartito and D.B. Sicilia, eds., Oxford Univ. Press, 2004, pp. 168–187.
52. TCP/IP and OSI, despite the rhetoric of many of their proponents, could be engineered (with substantial effort) to work together. Since 1987, according to Cerf and NIST's Kevin Mills, there had been efforts "within the Internet community to enable integration of OSI, coexistence of OSI with TCP/IP, and interoperability between OSI and TCP/IP"; V. Cerf and K. Mills, IETF RFC 1169. See also E. Huizer, "The IETF Integrates OSI Related Work," ConneXions, vol. 7, no. 6, 1993, pp. 26–28.
53. R. des Jardins, "OSI is (Still) a Good Idea," ConneXions, vol. 6, no. 6, 1992, p. 33. Des Jardins added, "Let's continue to get the people of good will from both communities to work together to find the best solutions, whether they are two-letter words or three-letter words, and let's just line up the bigots against a wall and shoot them."
54. D. Cohen and J. Postel, "The ISO Reference Model and Other Protocol Architectures," Information Processing 83: Proc. IFIP 9th World Computer Congress, R.E.A. Mason, ed., North-Holland, 1983, p. 34.
55. D. Cohen and J. Postel, "The ISO Reference Model," p. 30.
56. C. Malamud, Exploring the Internet: A Technical Travelogue, Prentice Hall PTR, 1992 p. 191.
57. D.A. Mills, personal interview with author, 26 Feb. 2004.
58. M.A. Padlipsky, The Elements of Networking Style, and Other Animadversions on the Art of Intercomputer Networking, iUniverse, 2000, 1st ed., Prentice Hall, 1985, p. 11. In his characteristically witty prose, Padlipsky recommended that the ISO Reference Model, or ISORM, be pronounced "Eyesore-mmm."
59. C. Malamud, Exploring the Internet: A Technical Travelogue, p. 196.
60. C. Malamud, Exploring the Internet: A Technical Travelogue, p. 151.
61. Published in December 1991, IETF RFC 1287 noted "increasing strains on the fundamental architecture, mostly stemming from continued Internet growth." D. Clark et al., "Towards the Future Internet Architecture," IETF RFC 1287, Dec. 1991; Lyman Chapin, IAB chairman in 1992, said in May 1992 that the shortage of Internet addresses was "definitely the most significant engineering problem on the Internet now." E. Messmer, "Internet Architect Gives Long-Term View," Network World, vol. 9, 18 May 1992, p. 37.
62. For one proposal to incorporate CLNP, see R. Callon, "TCP and UDP with Bigger Addresses (TUBA), A Simple Proposal for Internet Addressing and Routing," IETF RFC 1347, June 1992;
63. In addition to this technical rationale, Clark suggested that ISO and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) were pressuring the IAB to implement ISO as the Internet host protocol. D.D. Clark, personal communication, 27 Oct. 2001.
64. C. Huitema, IPv6: The New Internet Protocol, Prentice Hall PTR, 1998, p. 2. Minutes of the IAB discussion are available from http:/ documents/iabmins/IABmins.1992-06-18.html. According to "The Internet Standards Process," written by L. Chapin and published as IETF RFC 1310 in March 1992, the IAB (still at this time the Internet Activities Board) delegated to the IETF "the primary responsibility for the development and review of potential Internet Standards from all sources." Internet Activities Board, L. Chapin chair, , "The Internet Standards Process," IETF RFC 1310, Mar. 1992; http:/ rfc/rfc1310.txt.
65. C. Cargill, Open Systems Standardization, p. 257; S. Bradner, "The Internet Engineering Task Force," OnTheInternet, p. 24; V. Cerf, "IETF and ISOC"; http:/ internet/history/ietfhis.shtml.
66. S. Bradner, "IETF," OnTheInternet, p. 24.
67. Chapin remarked in May 1992, "The most comprehensive solution [to the shortage of Internet addresses] is to replace the Internet Protocol in the Internet with the Open Systems Interconnection Connectionless Network Protocol. That idea is already almost universally accepted." Clearly Chapin was mistaken in his assessment of community support for CLNP. E. Messmer, "Internet Architect," p. 46.
68. ISO's designation as a "standards elephant" comes from David Clark's presentation to the July 1992 IETF plenary, "A Cloudy Crystal Ball: Visions of the Future" (see ref. 5).
69. C. Cargill, Open Systems Standardization, p. 257.
70. V.G. Cerf, personal communication, 27 Jan. 2002. A photograph of Cerf wearing his shirt is available at http:/ videos/ip_on_everything.jpg. Beginning in 1994, the IETF developed a new version of the Internet Protocol, known as IPv6, to succeed IPv4; but for a variety of reasons beyond the scope of this article, a universal transition to IPv6 has not yet occurred. Interested readers might visit http:/ pub/ipng/html/.
71. S. Bradner, "IETF," On The Internet, p. 24.
72. S. Bradner, "IETF," Open Sources, pp. 47–53. See also D. Crocker, "Making Standards the IETF Way," pp. 48–54; and S. Harris, "The Tao of the IETF—A Novice's Guide to the Internet Engineering Task Force," IETF RFC 3160, Aug. 2001;
73. The informal name of the document series in which Internet Standards are published—"Requests for Comments"—underlines the intention for Internet standards to be descriptive documents, not final and unchangeable prescriptions. IETF standards are published as RFCs, but not all RFCs are standards. See RFC Editor et al., "30 Years of RFCs," IETF RFC 2555,7 Apr. 1999; http:/ rfc/rfc2555.txt ("Hiding in the history of the RFCs is the history of human institutions for achieving cooperative work"). Among the humorous and offbeat RFCs, two classics are R. Callon ed., "The Twelve Networking Truths," IETF RFC 1925, 1 Apr. 1996; http:/ rfc/rfc1925.txt; and D. Waitzman, "A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers," IETF RFC 1149,1 Apr. 1990; http:/ rfc/rfc1149.txt.
74. S. Bradner, "IETF," OnTheInternet, p. 26. Bradner's summary is telling: "In brief, the IETF operates in a bottom-up task creation mode and believes in 'fly before you buy.'" Bradner, "IETF," Open Sources, p. 51. Bradner is a longtime participant of the IETF who served as an area director and IESG member between 1993 and 2003.
75. M.A. Padlipsky, Elements of Networking Style, p. 104.
76. Lyman Chapin, quoted in G. Malkin, "Who's Who in the Internet: Biographies of IAB, IESG, and IRSG Members," IETF RFC 1336, May 1992;
77. Einar Stefferud, quoted in M.T. Rose, "Comments on 'Opinion: OSI Is (Still) a Good Idea,'" ConneXions, vol. 6, no. 8, 1992, pp. 20–21.
78. See M. Libicki, Information Technology Standards, pp. 108–119; D.C. Wood, "Federal Networking Standards: Policy Issues," StandardView, vol. 2, no. 2, 1994, pp. 218–223; J.S. Quarterman, "The Demise of GOSIP," Matrix News, vol. 4, no. 10, 1994, p. 6; and R. Hunt, "The Future of TCP/IP and OSI/GOSIP—Migration or Coexistence?" Proc. Networks 93 Conference: Held in Birmingham, June–July 1993, Blenheim Online, 1993, pp. 423–437.
79. T. Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web by its Inventor, HarperSanFrancisco, 1999, p. 16.
80. C. Huitema, IPv6: The New Internet Protocol, p. 1. Huitema was on the IAB from 1991 to 1996 and was Internet Architect from March 1993 to July 1995.
81. For a lengthy and enthusiastic appraisal of the IETF as "an international phenomenon that conforms well to the requirements of [Jürgen] Habermas's discourse ethics," see A.M. Froomkin, "Habermas@Discourse.Net: Toward a Critical Theory of Cyberspace," Harvard Law Rev., vol. 16, no. 3, 2003, pp. 749–873. For a more critical appraisal of the problems of informal standardization bodies (including the IETF), see P.J. Weiser, "The Internet, Innovation, and Intellectual Property Policy," Columbia Law Rev., vol. 103, no. 3, 2003, pp. 573–576.
82. "Rough consensus and running code" provided a model for standards development for the World Wide Web. See T. Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web, p. 98. See also "Global Grid Forum Overview: Structure and Process"; http:/ L_About/Struc_Proc.htm; and "Voting System Performance Rating Charter"; http://vspr.orgcharter ("The underlying approach and structure of VSPR is modeled after the IETF").
83. As one participant stated recently, the "process-process" is "sucking resources out of IETF's technical/standards work." S. Dawkins, "Two New Proposals/Drafts—Details,"10 Feb. 2004; available from http:/ pipermail/solutions/2004 -February/000969.html. For a summary of the IETF's recent problems, see E. Davies, ed., "IETF Problem Statement," IETF RFC 3774, May 2004; http:/ rfc/rfc3774.txt.
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