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New Independent Submissions Editor looks for interoperability, continuous improvement

31 Mar 2022

Eliot Lear, a long-time Internet Engineering Task Force participant and engineer for Cisco Systems, was recently appointed independent submissions editor by the Internet Architecture Board (IAB).

As Independent Submissions Editor, Lear is responsible for shepherding the RFC publication of documents that are outside the IETF, IAB, and Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) processes but still relevant to the Internet community. A big part of the job is to help these documents achieve reasonable levels of technical and editorial quality.

The independent submissions process is home for the traditional April 1 RFCs, including RFC 1149 which “describes an experimental method for the encapsulation of IP datagrams in avian carriers.”

The IETF Blog recently interviewed Lear about his new job.

IETF Blog: Tell us about your background.

Lear: I'm a long-time IETFer. I started participating around 1988, in the “working group” that developed what became RFC 1123. I started out participating from the operator perspective, and then switched over to engineering. I'm an RFC author, former working group chair and IAB member, and have participated in other standards organizations as well, sometimes even on behalf of the IETF.

IETF Blog: Why were you interested in serving as the Independent Submissions Editor?

Lear: Independent submissions are wide and varied in theme and content. Therefore, anyone taking on this role gets an education with each and every new submission. I find that very attractive. It's also a great way to give back to the community.

IETF Blog: In your own words, what does the Independent Submissions Editor do? 

Lear: Having been in the job for only a few weeks, I'm still trying to answer that question, but here's a start. The Independent Submissions Editor considers various drafts—which is shorthand for "Internet-Drafts"—for publication as informational RFCs that are not seeking community consensus. These can include proprietary specifications, new cryptographic algorithms, formats or protocols, or well thought out critiques and suggestions. I have to carefully pick and choose, and then work with authors to help them produce a document that is worthy of the RFC moniker.

IETF Blog: So, the independent submissions process does not create RFCs that are Internet Standards or Best Current Practices (BCPs)?

Lear: That's right. If you want to build a standard or a BCP, you should participate in the IETF.

IETF Blog: What are your publication priorities?

Lear: I have three overarching priorities: interoperability, continuous improvement, and levity.

Interoperability means two things to me. It means publication of specifications so that people can develop their own implementations that work properly with other implementations; and it means providing the means for operators to understand what is happening on their networks.  To me, interoperability is the primary purpose of the RFC series.

Continuous improvement means acknowledging that no system is perfect and proposing approaches that make things better. That could mean technology changes or human process changes. One example is draft-schanzen-gns, which looks at rootless name service at a time when some nation states are attempting to control the message. Will GNS fly? I don't know. Is it worth considering? You bet!

I cannot stress enough how much I value levity. Traditionally the RFC Editor puts out entertaining RFCs on April 1st. However, levity shouldn't be limited to an annual event, even in the RFC series. Take a look at RFC 1121 from 1989. Here we have Jon Postel, Vint Cerf, and Leonard Kleinrock putting out a compendium of poems that include such greats as “Ode to a Queue.”

Levity in particular is difficult to achieve in these times, and humor can be culturally sensitive. This means that those who do it successfully are truly gifted. 

Anyone who is trying to put a smile on other people's faces will have my attention and my respect.

IETF Blog: Do you do this job alone?

Lear: Absolutely not. First, the people in the RFC Production Center (RPC) are the ones who do the real editing, making engineers’ works readable. The Independent Submissions Editor also asks for help from experts from the community who can perform reviews. Finally, the Independent Submissions Editor is ably assisted by an editorial board to advise him, find more reviewers, and hopefully keep him out of trouble. We’ll see about that last one.

IETF Blog: How does someone submit a work for publication?

Lear: Have a look at the Independent Stream webpage on the RFC Editor website. And of course, anyone can contact me at with any questions or comments

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