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Bringing new work to the IETF

A guide for people who have a new idea or some proposed work they wish to bring to the IETF.

Introduction

The IETF sees over a thousand new ideas brought to it each year from a wide variety of people. Some of these ideas lead directly to new work items, while others contribute to other work, but many go nowhere. This guide explains how to bring new work to the IETF and what that entails.

Is the IETF the right place to bring this work?

The IETF has a specific focus and so it is important to check that your proposed work item is appropriate for the IETF. What follows is a general checklist but it is not exhaustive and there are exceptions:

  • Is this an Internet-layer protocol or related operational best practice?. The IETF does not standardize transmission hardware (we leave that to organizations like the IEEE and the ITU) and does not standardize specialized application layer protocols. For example, we leave HTML and XML standards to the World-Wide Web Consortium. But the IETF does standardize all the protocol layers in between, from IP itself up to general applications like email and HTTP.
  • Will it be used and who will use it? The IETF prefers work where there is an identified set of likely users who are committed to working on the specification. If there are already non-interoperable alternatives then the participation of the implementers of those alternatives, would be an advantage.
  • Is this engineering and not research? The IETF is an engineering body and not a research body. If your proposed work is closer to research, then it would be more appropriate for the IRTF.

More information can be found in Section 4 of RFC 3935 "A mission statement for the IETF".

Writing up the idea as an Internet-Draft

If you want to bring an idea to the IETF then you should to write it up as an Internet-Draft (I-D) and submit it to the IETF or it is highly unlikely to be properly considered by other IETF participants. Writing an Internet-Draft allows you to clearly explain your idea, provide references to related work or other sources, set out your goals for the idea and cover the key questions above. Anyone can write and submit an Internet-Draft on any subject, no permission is required.

See the Authors website to learn how to write and submit Internet-Drafts.

Understanding rights and Intellectual Property

When you submit an I-D you grant the IETF the necessary rights to work on the idea and this grant cannot be revoked later. You are free to patent your idea but you are required to disclose the existence of any such patent and patents will be taken into account when deciding whether or not a particular proposed work item should progress.

See our Guide to Intellectual Property Rights and the IETF for a basic introduction, and references to the relevant BCPs.

Deciding what outcome you are aiming for

There is no obligation to do anything with an Internet-Draft once you've submitted it. Some people write Internet-Drafts without a specific outcome in mind. Some just want to start a discussion and see where it goes, while some just want to record an idea and leave it to others to decide if they want to pick it up. These are all valid uses of an Internet-Draft.

If you want your idea to end up as an Internet Standard RFC then it will need to follow the IETF Standards Development Process and your next step should be to find the best part of the IETF for your idea, as explained below.

If you just want your idea published as an Informational RFC with no chance of becoming an Internet standard then you could consider the Independent Submission Stream.

Finding the most appropriate WG to share your I-D

The IETF has over one hundred Working Groups (WG), organised into several areas. It may take some time, but you should read through the list of WGs to see if one of those covers the subject area of your proposed work item and if the charter of the WG covers the specific problem/solution described in your Internet-Draft.

When you have identified the appropriate WG for your proposed work, read our Guide to IETF Working Groups to understand how to introduce this to the WG.

If there isn't an appropriate existing WG

If your proposed work is not in scope for an existing working group then there are a number of alternative paths forward:

  1. Take your I-D to ALLDISPATCH for a community discussion on the next steps. ALLDISPATCH is a special group that discusses new work and provides guidance to the IESG on how the I-D should proceed. The outcomes of this process are that the I-D does not process and the authors are asked to work on it more, or a recommendation is made for the I-D to follow one of the other steps below. The ALLDISPATCH process is limited and focused, and tends to be the best choice for I-Ds that propose a specific technology, but is equally appropriate for all types of I-D.

  2. Form a community of of interested participants. This is often done by requesting a non-working group mailing list where people with an interest can come together to discuss the idea. [RFC6771] "Considerations for Having a Successful "Bar BOF" Side Meeting" provides advice on building this community of interest. At IETF meetings, individual particpants can book a room for a self-managed side meeting, which is a commonly used method for trying find a community of common interest.

  3. Request a BOF (Birds Of a Feather), which is a pathway to created a new WG. This is normally only done when you know there is good community of interest and you have a clear idea of what the BOF will consider. A BOF is more suited to an I-D that outlines a problem as most BOFs are held in order to get support for an eventual Working Group, not to get support for a particular document.

  4. An Area Director may agree to directly sponsor an I-D though this is normally only after the I-D has been through the ALLDISPATCH process and that has recommended that it be AD-sponsored.

  5. The final option is to request publication on the Independent Stream. This is only suitable for documents that are outside the official processes of the IETF, IAB, and IRTF but are relevant to the Internet community and achieve reasonable levels of technical and editorial quality.

Next steps

Taking an idea from initial Internet-Draft is a long process and it requires considerable skill and effort in listening, finding creative solutions, working with others and writing clearly.