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Practical Internet Groupware by Jon Udell

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Appendix B. Internet RFCs: A Groupware Perspective

Since 1969, the loosely organized Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has documented the standards that govern the Internet in a format called Request for Comment (RFC). Thirty years later, in August 1999, the series extended to 2,648 RFCs. The Internet groupware technologies discussed in this book are defined, for the most part, in this remarkable collection of documents. This appendix traces the evolution of email, news, the Web, security, directory services, and various metadata initiatives to their roots in the RFC series. You can find the RFCs in many places on the Web including the home page of the IETF (http://www.ietf.org/) and, in a more easily navigable and searchable form, at http://www.faqs.org/.

The Internet standards process moves slowly, and it surprises some people to learn that many seemingly well-established parts of the Internet’s infrastructure—for example, LDAP, IMAP, and S/MIME—are as yet merely proposed standards. Even such stalwarts as Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) and MIME are draft, not yet official standards.

We think of the RFCs as prescriptive, and indeed they’re full of legalistic phrases like “an implementation SHALL...” There is even an RFC (2119, Key words for use in RFCs to Indicate Requirement Levels) that defines what RFCs mean by terms like SHALL, SHOULD, and MAY. But in truth the RFCs function not so much as a body of law but rather as a kind of groupware docbase, embedded in ...

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