The IETF Standards Process

The basic definition of the IETF standards process is in RFC 2026 (BCP 9). However, this document has been amended several times. The intellectual property rules are now separate, in RFC 5378 (BCP 78) (rights in contributions) and RFC 3979 (BCP 79) (rights in technology). Another update is RFC 3932 (BCP 92) (independent submissions to the RFC Editor). An overview of many process documents is available in The IETF Process: An Informal Guide.

From RFC 2026, section 1.2:

In outline, the process of creating an Internet Standard is straightforward: a specification undergoes a period of development and several iterations of review by the Internet community and revision based upon experience, is adopted as a Standard by the appropriate body... and is published. In practice, the process is more complicated, due to (1) the difficulty of creating specifications of high technical quality; (2) the need to consider the interests of all of the affected parties; (3) the importance of establishing widespread community consensus; and (4) the difficulty of evaluating the utility of a particular specification for the Internet community.

The goals of the Internet Standards Process are:

  • technical excellence;
  • prior implementation and testing;
  • clear, concise, and easily understood documentation;
  • openness and fairness; and
  • timeliness.

... The goal of technical competence, the requirement for prior implementation and testing, and the need to allow all interested parties to comment all require significant time and effort. On the other hand, today's rapid development of networking technology demands timely development of standards. The Internet Standards Process is intended to balance these conflicting goals. The process is believed to be as short and simple as possible without sacrificing technical excellence, thorough testing before adoption of a standard, or openness and fairness.