Monday, January 26, 2009

To leave one's mark

So I was reading about RFCs today, because I was curious about how they actually get written and standardized. Somewhere along the line, I saw a reference to Jon Postel, and looked him up since he sounded familiar. It turns out that he was one of the original founders of the Internet, and did a lot of things, but the role I'm mainly talking about today is that of the designated RFC editor. He passed away a little over a decade ago, which leads into my main point here, but first some background.

The RFCs are a series of documents which, not to put too fine a point on it, make up the Internet. Every major standard and protocol on the Internet is defined by one. (For example, HTTP is officially defined by RFC 2616.) The name stands for "Request for Comments", but this is really a misnomer these days, since by the time something becomes an RFC it is well past the point of requesting comments. RFCs are never changed; instead, new RFCs are written to replace old ones, so in some sense they form an immutable history of the Internet, going back almost 40 years.

Which brings me back to Jon Postel. As the RFC editor, and the author of numerous RFCs, he had a tremendous influence on the Internet for much of its history. Even so, I was shocked when I found out that his obituary (which was written by Vint Cerf, no less!) was itself made into an RFC; he is remembered in RFC 2468.

There's just something about being immortalized forever in the fabric of the Internet that absolutely blows me away.

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