A Guide to RFCs

In the world of networking and internet technology, RFCs play a crucial role in defining protocols and standards. From the basic definition to the process of creation and implementation, this guide explores the ins and outs of RFCs and their impact on the digital world.

Understanding the Basics of RFC

Before diving into the intricacies of RFCs, it’s important to understand what they actually are. RFC stands for Request for Comments, which is a document that outlines proposed standards, protocols, and other technical specifications related to the internet and networking.

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Definition of RFC

An RFC is an official memorandum that describes proposed standards for the internet community. It serves as a platform for open discussion, providing a way for developers and experts to collaborate and refine technical proposals.

The History of RFCs

RFCs have a rich history dating back to the early days of the internet. The first RFC was published in 1969 by Steve Crocker, detailing the specifications of the newly developed ARPANET. As the internet evolved, so did the need for standardization, leading to the continuous development of RFCs.

Over the years, RFCs have become an integral part of the internet ecosystem, shaping the way we communicate and share information online. They have played a significant role in the development of various protocols and technologies that we rely on today.

Importance of RFCs in Networking

RFCs play a vital role in networking by providing a common language and framework for communication and interoperability. By defining standards and protocols, RFCs ensure that different hardware and software components can effectively communicate and exchange information.

For example, the widely used hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) that powers the World Wide Web is defined by an RFC. This standardization allows web browsers, servers, and other internet-connected devices to seamlessly communicate with each other.

Furthermore, RFCs contribute to the stability and security of the internet. They provide guidelines and best practices for implementing various network protocols, helping to prevent vulnerabilities and ensuring a more secure online environment.

The Structure of an RFC Document

Understanding the structure of an RFC document is essential for comprehending the technical specifications and proposals it contains. Let’s explore the main sections that make up an RFC.

Header and Metadata

The header section provides information about the document, such as the title, author, and status. It also includes metadata, such as the date of publication and the category of the RFC.

Abstract and Introduction

The abstract provides a concise summary of the RFC, giving readers a high-level overview of its content. Following the abstract, the introduction sets the context and provides background information about the topic being addressed in the RFC.

Body of the Document

The body of the RFC contains the main technical specifications and proposals. This section is organized into subsections, each addressing a specific aspect of the proposed standard or protocol. Detailed explanations, diagrams, and examples may be included to clarify concepts.

Security Considerations

Security is a critical aspect of any internet-related standard. RFCs include a dedicated section that outlines the security considerations and potential vulnerabilities associated with the proposed standard. This section helps developers and implementers identify potential risks and design secure systems.

References and Appendices

At the end of the RFC, references are provided to acknowledge and link to related documents, standards, or external resources. Appendices may be included to provide additional information, such as mathematical proofs, experimental results, or implementation guidelines.

As the RFC document is a collaborative effort, it undergoes a rigorous review process before publication. Experts in the field carefully examine the technical content, ensuring its accuracy, relevance, and adherence to established standards. This review process helps maintain the quality and credibility of RFCs, making them reliable sources of information for the internet engineering community.

Furthermore, the structure of an RFC document follows a standardized format to facilitate easy navigation and understanding. The use of headings, subheadings, and numbered sections allows readers to quickly locate specific information within the document. This logical organization ensures that the content flows smoothly, guiding readers through the technical details and proposals.

Different Types of RFCs

RFCs, or Request for Comments, are categorized into different types based on their purpose and level of maturity. Let’s dive deeper into the main types of RFCs and explore their significance in shaping the internet landscape.

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Standards Track

Standards Track RFCs play a crucial role in defining the protocols and standards that form the backbone of the internet. These RFCs undergo extensive review and revision, ensuring that they meet the highest standards of technical excellence and interoperability. In fact, many Standards Track RFCs require real-world implementations before they can be approved as internet standards.

An excellent example of a Standards Track RFC is RFC 7540, which describes the Hypertext Transfer Protocol version 2 (HTTP/2). This groundbreaking protocol revolutionized web communication by introducing features like multiplexing, server push, and header compression. Thanks to RFC 7540, modern websites can deliver content faster and more efficiently, enhancing the overall user experience.


Informational RFCs provide valuable information and guidance on various topics related to networking and the internet. Although they are not mandatory standards, these RFCs serve as a valuable resource for developers, researchers, and network administrators. They offer insights, recommendations, and best practices that help professionals navigate the complex world of networking.

For instance, RFC 2616 provides detailed information about the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) 1.1. This informational RFC delves into the protocol’s syntax, semantics, and message format, empowering developers to build robust and compliant web applications. By adhering to the guidelines outlined in RFC 2616, developers can ensure seamless communication between clients and servers, enabling the smooth transfer of data across the internet.


Experimental RFCs play a vital role in fostering innovation and pushing the boundaries of what is possible on the internet. These RFCs introduce new concepts, protocols, or technologies that are still in the experimental stage. By seeking feedback and assessment from the wider community, researchers and developers can gauge the feasibility and potential benefits of their proposals.

An infamous experimental RFC is RFC 1149, also known as “A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers.” This playful and imaginative RFC humorously proposes using carrier pigeons to transmit data packets. While it may seem far-fetched, RFC 1149 serves as a reminder of the creative thinking and open-mindedness that drives innovation in the technology industry.

Best Current Practice

Best Current Practice (BCP) RFCs provide recommendations and guidelines based on industry best practices. They aim to promote consistent and efficient use of internet standards and protocols, ensuring that organizations and individuals can navigate the digital landscape effectively.

A well-known BCP RFC is RFC 1918, which defines private IP address ranges that can be used within private networks. This RFC was instrumental in addressing the shortage of globally unique IP addresses. By establishing standardized private IP address ranges, RFC 1918 enabled organizations to create secure and scalable internal networks, fostering the growth of interconnected systems without straining the limited pool of public IP addresses.

As you can see, RFCs play a pivotal role in shaping the internet as we know it today. Whether they define the fundamental protocols, provide valuable information, foster innovation, or establish best practices, RFCs are the building blocks that enable the internet to evolve and thrive.

The Process of Creating an RFC

Creating an RFC involves a meticulous process that includes drafting, review, and publication. Let’s explore the key steps involved.

Drafting the Document

When an individual or group wants to propose a new standard or protocol, they start by drafting an RFC document. This document includes all the necessary technical specifications, rationale, and examples to support the proposal.

For example, in 1999, Cisco Systems submitted RFC 2453, which introduced the Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) routing protocol. This protocol revolutionized the way routers communicate and exchange information, enabling more efficient routing decisions and faster network convergence.

The drafting process requires careful consideration of existing standards and protocols, as well as thorough research to ensure the proposed solution addresses current challenges and aligns with the goals of the internet community.

Review and Feedback

Once the initial draft is complete, it goes through a rigorous review process. Experts and stakeholders from the internet community provide feedback, suggestions, and critiques to refine the proposal and ensure its technical accuracy.

One real-life example is the development of the Transport Layer Security (TLS) protocol. Numerous RFCs contributed to its development and refinement, incorporating feedback from various organizations and individuals. The review process involves in-depth analysis of the proposed protocol’s security mechanisms, cryptographic algorithms, and compatibility with existing infrastructure.

Feedback is crucial during this stage as it helps identify potential vulnerabilities, improve performance, and address any concerns raised by the community. The iterative nature of the review process ensures that the final RFC reflects the collective expertise and consensus of the internet community.

Publication and Implementation

After incorporating feedback and making necessary revisions, the RFC document is published and made publicly available. It becomes part of the official RFC series and is assigned a unique identification number.

Real companies, such as Google, have actively contributed to the creation of RFCs. For example, RFC 7541, co-authored by Google engineers, introduces the Header Compression for HTTP/2 (HPACK) algorithm, which improves the efficiency of data transfer over HTTP/2. This algorithm reduces the size of HTTP headers, resulting in faster page load times and improved network performance.

Once an RFC is published, it serves as a reference for developers, network administrators, and researchers worldwide. It provides a standardized and well-documented solution to a specific problem or requirement, ensuring interoperability and promoting the growth of the internet.

Furthermore, the implementation of an RFC involves updating software, hardware, and network infrastructure to support the newly standardized protocols or technologies. This process may require collaboration between different organizations and may involve extensive testing and validation to ensure seamless integration and compatibility.

The Role of RFCs in Internet Governance

RFCs play a crucial role in internet governance by providing a platform for collaboration, standardization, and decision-making. Let’s explore the key organizations that are involved in managing and promoting RFCs.

Request for Comments (RFCs) are a series of documents used in computer networking and the internet for proposing new standards, discussing protocols, and sharing best practices. They serve as a foundation for the development and evolution of the internet, ensuring that different systems can communicate effectively with each other.

One of the key aspects of RFCs is their open nature, allowing experts from around the world to contribute their knowledge and expertise to the development of internet standards. This collaborative approach helps to ensure that the internet remains a global, interconnected network that benefits users worldwide.

Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and RFCs

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) is a large, open community of network designers, operators, and researchers. It is responsible for the development and promotion of internet standards, including the RFC series.

The IETF ensures that RFCs go through a robust and transparent process that involves community review, consensus building, and rigorous technical evaluation.

Participation in the IETF is open to anyone, regardless of their background or affiliation, fostering a diverse and inclusive environment for the development of internet standards. This openness helps to ensure that the resulting RFCs reflect the needs and perspectives of a wide range of stakeholders in the internet community.

Internet Architecture Board (IAB) and RFCs

The Internet Architecture Board (IAB) oversees the technical and architectural development of the internet. It provides oversight and guidance to the IETF and plays a crucial role in the management of the RFC series.

The IAB ensures that RFCs align with the long-term vision and goals of the internet, promoting interoperability, security, and scalability.

By working closely with the IETF and other relevant organizations, the IAB helps to shape the future direction of the internet, ensuring that it continues to evolve in a way that benefits users and supports innovation. The collaboration between the IAB and the IETF is essential for maintaining the stability and growth of the internet as a global resource.

Common Misconceptions about RFCs

Despite their significance, RFCs are often surrounded by misconceptions. Let’s address and clarify a couple of common misconceptions regarding RFCs.

RFCs as Laws

One common misconception is that RFCs are laws or regulations that must be followed strictly. While RFCs define technical standards and protocols, compliance with them is not legally binding. Implementers have the flexibility to adapt and innovate within the boundaries set by RFCs.

For example, although an RFC defines how email should be transported (SMTP), companies like Google have created their own extensions to enhance email functionality (e.g., Gmail’s Inbox Tabs).

It’s important to note that the flexibility provided by RFCs encourages creativity and diversity in the implementation of protocols. This flexibility fosters innovation and allows for the development of new technologies that can enhance the overall user experience.

The Permanence of RFCs

RFCs are not set in stone and can evolve over time. As technology advances and new requirements emerge, RFCs can be updated, revised, or even retired to make way for newer and better standards and protocols.

One real-life instance of this is the transition from IPv4 to IPv6. As IPv6 adoption increased, several RFCs were published to address the migration process and ensure the smooth transition to the newer protocol.

Furthermore, the evolution of RFCs is often a collaborative effort involving experts from various fields. Working groups and committees regularly review and propose updates to existing RFCs to ensure they remain relevant and effective in the ever-changing landscape of technology.

Conclusion: The Impact of RFCs on the Digital World

RFCs have had a profound impact on shaping the internet and enabling the digital world we live in today. Without the collaborative efforts and standardization provided by RFCs, the seamless communication and interoperability we experience across devices and networks would not be possible.

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From the fundamental protocols that power the internet to the experimental proposals that push the boundaries of innovation, RFCs continue to play a vital role in defining the rules and guidelines that govern our digital interactions.

As technology advances and the internet continues to evolve, RFCs will remain a powerful tool for the global community of developers, researchers, and network administrators to shape the future of networking and internet technology.

Understanding the intricacies of RFCs is just the beginning of ensuring that your business’s digital infrastructure is secure and compliant. At Blue Goat Cyber, we leverage our expertise in cybersecurity to protect your company’s data, especially in the critical field of medical device cybersecurity. As a Veteran-Owned business, we’re committed to safeguarding your operations against cyber threats with services like penetration testing, HIPAA and FDA compliance, and more. Contact us today for cybersecurity help and partner with a team that’s as dedicated to your security as you are to your clients.

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