By Paul Muchene
Ever wondered how you are able to seamlessly send and receive a tweet, e-mail, file share inter alia across disparate timezones and geographical regions while you are consistently on the move? Behind that almighty ‘look and feel’ of your web browser or app lies a universe of standards, protocols, bits and bytes that all seem to function with such resilience and precision.
Your tweet is guaranteed to reach your followers vis-à-vis you are assured your will receive your followers’ tweets on your device unless of course you have a dysfunctional government (read censorship), Internet Service Provider (ISP), network administrator or device.
The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) has primarily contributed to making the Internet technically vibrant and operationally feasible so that you can tweet, share and collaborate seamlessly on cyberspace.
In a nutshell, the IETF is a self governing community of individuals drawn from users, vendors, researchers, academics, contractors, network managers et al whose goal is to identify and propose solutions to pressing operational and technical problems in the Internet. As such the IETF is a engineers’ forum where discussions are highly technical, immensely passionate and as habitual to engineers (particularly networking) full of wry slapstick humour.
The IETF holds three meetings each year. Nevertheless, the bulk of IETF work is done in Working Group (WG) mailing lists and not during a meeting. These Working Groups address specific technical problem like Routing, Security, DNS, Applications and Operational issues of the Internet. Physical meetings mainly apprise members of what has been transpiring in the mailing lists.
‘Membership’ to the IETF is free and open to anyone who pines to contribute ideas that would resolve current or outstanding issues that affect the technical functioning of the Internet. Contributions result in an Internet Draft (ID) where individual/collective input from a Working Group is submitted for comments from members in the WG mailing list. Depending on the ‘rough consensus’ of members, an ID could eventually engender a protocol specification known as an RFC (Request For Comments). RFCs are documents on record and as such are the de-facto laws which govern certain technical aspects relating to the Internet. Although however, RFCs can also be made obsolete as newer solutions to existing and current technical problems are discovered.
Courtesy of the Internet Society, eleven fellows from across the world, two of whom were from Kenya were selected to attend the 84th IETF meeting in Vancouver BC; Dorcas Muthoni an Internet entrepreneur and a board member of Ushahidi and I had the privilege to attend the meeting. The Internet Society awards fellowships every year to aspiring engineers and policy makers under their Next Generation Leader’s (NGL) programme. You can read more about the IETF by going over the TAO of the IETF and choose a Working Group (WG) where your enthusiasm lies.