The IETF holds three week-long meetings a year. Onsite participation averages between 1000 and 1500 participants. Every effort is made to integrate the 600+ remote participants into the overall meeting experience.
IETF meetings are very different from standard industry conferences as they are working meetings with the primary goal of helping Working Groups (WGs) get their tasks done, and the secondary goal of promoting mixing among the WGs. For that reason, most of the agenda is comprised of multiple simultaneous sessions for Working Groups. There is no exposition hall and only a small section of the agenda is set aside for tutorials, industry presentations, panel sessions, and opportunities for the whole community to come together.
The dates of upcoming meetings are set many years in advance.
IETF meetings are of high interest to engineers, developers, academics, researchers, and interested individuals from:
Vendors. Employees of networking hardware and software vendors are often the IETF particiants writing the protocols and leading the Working Groups. If you create Internet hardware or software, or run a service available on the Internet, and no one from your company has ever attended an IETF meeting, it behooves you to come to a meeting if for no other reason than to tell the others in your company how relevant the meeting was or was not to your business.
Operators. A fair amount of IETF work covers many parts of the operations of ISPs, social media platforms, streaming media companies, large enterprises, and specialist industries such as domain name registries and registrars. The IETF has several WGs focused on operations, in addition to many relevant protocols under development. For example, the IETF is increasingly working on encrypting network traffic, which has significant implications for operators. Many of the best operations documents from the IETF come from real-world operators.
Academia. IETF meetings are often excellent places for all kinds of academics and researchers to find out what is happening in the way of soon-to-be-deployed protocols, and networking architecture and infrastructure. Professors and grad students (and sometimes overachieving undergrads) who are doing research in networking or communications can get a wealth of information by following Working Groups in their specific fields of interest. Wandering into different Working Group meetings can have the same effect as going to symposia and seminars in your department. The Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) meets concurrently with the IETF and IRTF Research Groups (analogous to WGs) are of high interest to researchers. There is also an annual Applied Networking Research Workshop held in conjunction with an IETF meeting.
Contractors/Consultants. There is as small and active number of technical contractors/consultants who specialize in Internet standards development, or an aspect of it, such as cryptography. These contractors are often empoloyed by organisations for whom standards development is a peripheral rather than a core activity, such as governments.
Interested individuals. There are many people who participate solely as individuals with no direct link to their employment. A key principle of the IETF is that participation is as an individual not a formal representative of an employer, and so interested individuals have as much opportunity to contribute as anyone else.
Civil Society. A few people from civil society organizations participate in the IETF looking at the parts of IETF work that have broader policy implications.
Given that IETF meetings are very different from trade conferences or learning/training-based conferences, there are some roles who would probably get little benefit from participating:
IETF meetings are not designed or intended for sales and marketing people. There are no sales booths, no advertising is permitted and there are no opportunities for marketing presentations.
As the IETF is a technical organization, there are rarely any opportunities for non-technical policy makers or policy advocates to contribute.
If your intention is to find out what will be hot in the Internet industry next year, you can safely assume that coming to an IETF meeting will confuse you more than it will help you understand what is happening, or will be happening, in the industry.
Finally, please note there are many people who have been very active and very productive in the IETF who have never attended an IETF meeting, and you should not feel obligated to come to an IETF meeting in order to contribute.
To participate in an IETF meeting, either onsite or remotely, you have to register and pay a registration fee. If you cannot afford the online registration fee, you can apply for a fee waiver to then apply during the registration process. There are different fee schedules for early-bird, latecomers, single-day passes, students, and so on. The general registration fee covers all of the week's meetings, except the Social Event, which is an additional ticket purchased through the registration system. The registration system also provides the options to register for the Hackathon and ANRW.
In order to register, you will need an IETF Datatracker account, which is free to create. The email address you use for that account should be the same as the one you use for registration, or you will not be recognised when you attempt to use the required remote or onsite participation application.
Agendas are published on the web a few weeks before the meeting with changes possible to the last minute, including cancelling a WG session. Some Working Groups meet multiple times during a meeting. All of the sessions below are listed on the agenda.
On the Saturday and Sunday before the start of WG sessions, there are a few sessions for participants. In addition to those listed below, Sunday also has some new participants events. See the New Participant section below for more details.
The main weekend session running across both Saturday and Sunday, is the IETF Hackathon, which generally has 200+ participants working on one of the various projects. Full support is provided for remote participants. Unlike the rest of the week, breakfast and lunch are provided for the Hackathon. The Hackathon is free to participate in but you must register by selecting the appropriate option in the meeting registration system. It is possible to register just for the Hackathon and not the main IETF meeting.
There are also two smaller sessions on the Saturday of a Code Sprint, where participants contribute patches and new features to the IETF Datatracker, and sometimes a Content Sprint where participants contribute text to IETF wikis and other documentation. Both these sessions have full support for remote participants.
HotRFC Lightning Talks are held on Sunday evenings. These are a series of talks, where individuals talk through in just five minutes an idea or Internet-Draft (I-D) they have authored, with no questions or audience interaction. These are a great way for people learn about a wide range of potential or new activity within the IETF.
The Welcome Reception on Sunday evening is the first event where most onsite participants show up to meet each other and mingle. A snack buffet and cash bar are provided, though they are not meant to be a replacement for dinner. The Welcome Reception is an onsite event only with no support for remote participants.
The official meeting runs from Monday through to Friday, with the following sessions on the agenda:
Most of the work at IETF meetings takes places in the WG and Birds of a Feather (BoF sessions. There are eight, sometimes nine, parallel streams of working sessions with each time slot, lasting for between one and 2.5 hours. Some WGs meet more than once, depending on how much work they anticipate doing. The WG chairs set the agenda for their meeting time(s).
The Internet Research Task Force (IRTF) meets concurrently with the IETF and its Research Groups (RGs) meet as part of the official agenda in the same way as WGs.
Plenary sessions provide an opportunity for the whole IETF community to come together and so no other sessions are scheduled in parallel.
The Administrative Plenary is organized by the IETF Chair and normally takes place on Wednesday afternoon, after the WG sessions have finished. This has greetings from the meeting host, reports on meeting attendance and IETF finances, and progress reports from the various leadership groups in the IETF. Each of these groups then has an "open mic" session, where participants can ask questions.
Either the first part of the Administrative Plenary, or a separate Technical Plenary, may have one or more technical presentations on topics of interest to many Working Groups. This is organized by the Internet Architecture Board (IAB).
The meeting host (main sponsor) may choose to hold a social event during the week, generally on a Tuesday evening. The social event is sometimes a high-tech-related event, or it might be in an art museum or a reception hall. Note, however, that not all IETF meetings have social events. This event is designed to give people a chance to meet on a social rather than technical level. It is a good idea to wear your name badge and leave your laptop behind.
The social event is a paid event, with tickets purchased through the registration system, either at time of registration or later if the event has not been finalized whem registration opens. The social event has limited capacity and it is common for people looking to buy or sell a social ticket to post to the participant email list.
During the week, the various leadership groups and other appointed roles may hold an "office hours" session, advertised on the agenda. This is a chance for you to drop in and meet with that person/group and discuss any topic of interest.
A side meeting (historically called a "bar BOF") is an unofficial get-together in-between WG meetings or in the late evening, during which a lot of work gets done. The IETF provides two rooms that can be booked on a first-come-first-served basis for side meetings, but side meetings can spring up in many different places around an IETF meeting, such as restaurants, coffee shops, unused hall spaces and the like.
The IRTF and ACM co-host the annual Applied Networking Research Workshop, normally scheduled during the July IETF meeting. Registration is required (an option in the meeting registration system) and is free to those registered for the meeting, but chargeable if not.
The IRTF also hosts the Applied Networking Research Prize, which includes a cash prize, a travel grant to attend, and a chance to present. See the web page for requirements.
All meeting participants, both onsite and remote, need to use Meetecho in order to participate in sessions as it is used for key operations such as joining the queue to speak, and responding to a poll called by the chairs. Meetecho is WebRTC based and runs in any browser. There is a separate cut-down version that works on mobile browsers. The Meeting Technology page has extensive guides to Meetecho.
Most of the rooms are laid out in classroom style with chairs facing to the front of the room, where there is a desk for the chair, two large screens, and a lectern, all facing back into the room. There will also be one or two microphones in the gangways between the chairs for people to stand when asking questions or making comments.
When you enter a session you should register your participation using the mobile browser Meetecho by scanning the barcode outside of the room or just inside the door. This is required to ensure the transparency of the standards process and in case of any legal action around Intellectual Property and what was disclosed in front of whom.
Different WGs chairs have very different styles, so it is impossible to generalize how a WG meeting will feel. All WGs have agendas, however, and most will follow the following approach.
At the beginning of the meeting, the chair will call for volunteers to take minutes. More than one person can do so, and they are often done on a Web page using a collaborative editing app. Taking minutes can be a good way to ensure you follow the discussions without distraction! The link to the web page will be part of the WG entry that is part of the online meeting agenda. There is also a chance to make any last-minute updates to the agenda. This is known as "agenda bashing." Finally, there will be a review of the Note Well. The order in which these things happen can vary, but they are all done before the meeting really "starts."
To speak during a meeting, use Meetecho to join the speaking queue and when you are called by the chair, go to the microphone(s) located near the middle of the room. For controversial topics, there will be a long queue, but do not hesitate to be the first person to join the queue if you have a question or a contribution to the discussion. The mics perform a very useful task: they let the people listening remotely and in the room hear your question or comment. When you first speak, say your name and affiliation for identification purposes. If you miss this, folks will often say "name!" to remind you. Don't be embarrassed if this happens, it's not uncommon.
All sessions have a chat stream integrated into MeetEcho. This uses an open source messaging system called Zulip, which has free clients for all major OS's if you want to connect separately. Each WG session has its own Zulip stream. The Meeting Technology page has more details on Zulip.
The links for the Meetecho rooms, the chat rooms, and meeting materials, can always be found in the right-hand side of the agenda, under the different icons. The materials are also available within the Meetecho room.
Scheduling conflicts are unavoidable and participants work around this in a number of ways. Some sit in one session and watch another remotely, while other watch the recording of a sessions after the meeting.
There is an onsite Registration Desk staffed throughout the meeting, where you collect your badge and any giveaways such as a t-shirt.
There is always a "materials distribution table" near the Registration Desk, which is used to make appropriate information available to the onsite participants (e.g., copies of something discussed in a Working Group session, descriptions of online IETF-related information). Please check with the Secretariat before placing materials on the desk; the Secretariat has the right to remove material that they feel is not appropriate. This is also where COVID masks and Rapid Antigen Tests are distributed.
All participants are provided with a name badge and are expected to wear it while participating. Many people wear their badges when socializing in the venue as it helps people in person.
Near the Registration Desk there are usually ribbons and markers that people can attach to their name badges to indicate their specific interests, languages spoken, preferred pronouns, history, and so on. Some people use them to make (inside) jokes, which are sometimes amusing.
Some participants will have one or more little colored dots on their name badge. These dots identify people who have volunteered and been appointed to do leadership positions, such as being a WG chair, an IESG member, and so on. The colors have the following meanings:
|Working Group/BOF Chair
|Nominating Committee member
|IETF LLC Board
Registered members of the media wear badges that have orange ribbons and the word "Press" on them.
The IETF WiFi is provided by volunteers and contractors who run the Network Operations Center (NOC). They set up a high-speed network throughout the hotel for the duration of the meeting, including the accommodation floors and common areas (restaurants, coffee shops, and so on). There's no charge to use the IETF WiFi and the service is not filtered. A number of different WiFi networks are provided to support different access addressing mechanisms.
The NOC provide support, both remotely and at a dedicated NOC helpdesk near the Registration Desk.
Many people use their laptops actively during meeting sessions for practical purposes such as consulting I-Ds. Power strips in all meeting rooms and hotel rooms will provide only the sockets permitted by local regulations, so ensure in advance that you have an appropriate travel adapter.
Coffee, tea and snacks are provided at break times, but meals are not included in the registration fee. Breakfast may be included with your hotel reservation but for other meals you will need to either visit an onsite eatery or one nearby to the venue. A list of places to eat within easy reach of the venue is normally provided and the meeting participant email list is also a useful source.
The IETF provides free onsite childcare during IETF meetings provided by a professional, qualified and registered childcare company. This is available on a first-come-first-served basis when announced.
Any lost and found items should be taken to the registration desk (the IETF registration desk, not the hotel/venue registration desk). At the end of the meeting, anything left over from the lost-and-found will usually be turned over to the hotel or brought back to the Secretariat's office.
The Lounge is a large room, set out with tables and chairs, which is open to all participants who need somewhere to meet or work or just take time out.
The terminal room provides power and WiFi for people who want to work quietly. What it doesn't provide are terminals; the name is historical.
All participants are automatically subscribed to a meeting-specific announcement list. You can also subscribe to a meeting-specific email list for participants when registering. Discussions on the meetings list can be high volume and fairly wide-ranging about meeting-specific issues, but it is also a channel for sharing information that many find useful to understand what is going on during the meeting itself. Topics often include information about local mass transit, interesting sites to see, desire to buy or sell a social event ticket, and so on. Local experts, people who live in the area, often respond to questions and can be very helpful.
Hallway conversations are an important part of IETF meetings and the venue space is set up to support this, with additional furniture brought in if needed. In addition there is a large room set aside, the Lounge, specifically for this purpose.
The IETF registration desk is often a convenient place to arrange to meet people. If someone says "meet me at registration," you should clarify if they mean the IETF Registration Desk, or the hotel registration desk: This has been a common cause of missed connections.
Those that participate onsite will generally do a lot of work during the week, as well as a fair amount of socializing as socializing is highly conducive to collaboration.
At IETF meetings people dress how they want, which for most people is 'casual comfort', though a few wear suits. The meetings team aim to keep room temperature at 22°C/71°F but this is not always possible and it is a safe bet to bring a sweater or other covering just in case.
IETFers in general are very approachable. Never be afraid to approach someone and introduce yourself. Also, don't be afraid to ask questions, especially when it comes to jargon and acronyms. Hallway conversations are very important. A lot of very good work gets done by people who talk together between meetings and over lunches and dinners. Every minute of the IETF can be considered work time (much to some people's dismay).
Occasionally, a participant can cross the line into rudeness or other unacceptable behavior. To build a climate in which people of many different backgrounds are treated with dignity, decency and respect, the IETF has an anti-harassment policy, a code of conduct, and an Ombudsteam that you can reach out to.
An IETF meeting and the plenary session in particular, is not a place for vendors to try to sell their wares. People can certainly answer questions about their company and its products, but bear in mind that the IETF is not a trade show.
Dedicated support is available to all new participants (anyone who has participated in less than 6 meetings). See the New Participants page for full details.
The following records are provided after each meeting:
The Proceedings are the official record of an IETF meeting and are where you find links to the agenda, minutes, presentations, video recordings, bluesheets (who attended each session), and the Internet-Drafts relevant to each session. The Proceedings are compiled in the weeks and months after each meeting; be sure to look through at least once.
The IETF has a YouTube channel where recordings of all of the sessions are posted, generally within 24 hours of the session.
Additionally, there is a post-meeting survey which is analyzed and the results posted on the IETF blog. This is used as the basis for identifying improvements from meeting to meeting.
IETF meetings are only possible because of the generous support of our meeting sponsors. Each meeting has a Host sponsor who gets the opportunity to host a technical presentation open to all participants. A number of facilities available at IETF meetings (such as childcare) are only possible because of our sponsors. If you are interested in becoming a meeting sponsor then get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org.