RFC: How the Internet Was Born

Where did the Internet come from? Have you ever wondered? Where did HTML, which shapes the web pages that we are so used to looking at, come from? Where did the email address format with that clever @ symbol come from? Have you ever wondered? Here are the answers: The Internet came from RFC 830.​1​ HTML came from RFC 1866.​2​ Email address format came from RFC 822.​3​ Wait a second! That doesn’t answer anything. It’s just as confusing! What’s an RFC? This [SPEECH] will explain what an RFC is and how RFCs shaped the Internet that we use today.

“RFC” stands for “Request for Comments.” ​4​ These are the documents that define the Internet. To understand RFCs, let’s take a look at where they came from, what they look like and how they work.

RFC History

Imagine, if you will, 4 men sitting around a table “during the summer of 1968.”​5​ They are tasked with getting computers to talk to one another for ARPA Network (Advanced Research Projects Agency) or ARPANET. ARPANET’s “initial purpose was to link computers at Pentagon-funded research institutions over telephone line.” ​6​ This was for the purpose of decentralizing the core of information so it could not be destroyed in one “fell swoop.” ​6​

By April of 1969 these men had a core idea of how to do this by transferring “packets” of data over phone lines. One of the men, Steve Cocker, wrote down a note about how this could be done. He called this document, Request of Comments (RFC)-1.​5​ In the document Steve wrote, “Very little of what is here is firm and reactions are expected,” ​5​ implying that the note was open for discussion and could be refined. Later that month the process for writing further notes was, itself, written in a note called RFC-3, Documentation Conventions. The notes were supposed to be roughly written for two reasons, “to promote the exchange and discussion,” ​7​ and to ease the inhibition “to publish something unpolished.” ​7​

The RFC process was born. Since that time, the RFC process was further refined through the publication of additional RFCs. [need reference] RFCs, not only evolved to define themselves and ARPANET, but also became “the single series for all Internet protocol standards, recommendations, new ideas, procedures, etc.” ​1​

Each new idea shared in an RFC defined all the protocols that we now use as the Internet.

RFC Facts

Before we take a look at the structure of an RFC and how they work, let’s state a few facts about them:

  • RFCs Are written in English only and in plain text. ​1​
  • If images and diagrams are need in addition to the text, a PDF or PS version may also be submitted. ​1​
  • RFCs are written in a consistent format. ​1​
  • RFCs are immutable. ​1​
  • Changes may only be made to an RFC through the following processes:
    • Rewriting and resubmitting. The new RFC will supersede the old one.
    • Adding errata.
    • Modifying the metadata in the headers.
    • Changing the status.
  • Definitions of the RFC Editor role:
    • From RFC #4844: “The RFC Editor is the implementer handling the editorial management of the RFC Series, in accordance with the defined processes.” ​8​
    • From Heather Flanagan, the current RFC Series Editor: “The RFC Editor oversees the series, ensuring the editorial quality of RFCs and maintaining the archival record of what has been published.” ​4​
  • Before 1998 the RFC Editor role was filled by one person, Jon Postel. After his death in 1998, the role has been maintained by a team. ​1​
  • The RFC Editor function was funded by the Department of Defense (DARPA) until 1998. After 1998 it was funded by the non-profit agency, The Internet Society (ISOC). ​1​
  • As of April, 2020 there are nearly 8,800 RFCs published. ​9​
  • RFCs are free to write and free to read. This enables “the RFC documents to be widely distributed around the world, and studied by students, developers, vendors and other professionals,” and allows “people to learn how … the Internet, [works] – and to build on that to create new and amazing services, systems and software.” ​10​

RFC Structure

Researcher / copywriter needed to finish this article

RFC Process

Researcher / copywriter needed to finish this article


How would you like to change the Internet? Now you know there is a process that gives you that power! The Internet will continue to evolve with that process. It is a process that have been around for 50 years and has proven effective. This same process may be applied to any organization that want participatory input on decisions and ideas. Request for Comments … RFC. How the Internet was born.

Cite this article as: Jay Ligda, "RFC: How the Internet Was Born," TrueDemocracy.Global 04/18/2020, https://truedemocracy.global/research/internet/rfc-how-the-internet-was-born/ accessed 07/24/2024.


  1. 1.
    RFC Editor . RFCs & the RFC Editor: A Tutorial. Presented at the: IETF 76; November 8, 2009; Hiroshima, Japan.
  2. 2.
    Berners-Lee T. Hypertext Markup Language – 2.0. IETF Tools. https://tools.ietf.org/html/rfc1866. Published November 1995. Accessed April 27, 2020.
  3. 3.
    Crocker DH. RFC822: Standard for ARPA Internet Text Messages. W3C. https://www.w3.org/Protocols/rfc822/. Published August 13, 1982. Accessed April 27, 2020.
  4. 4.
    Flanagan H. Fifty Years of RFCs. RFC Editor. https://www.rfc-editor.org/history/fifty-years-of-rfcs/. Published April 2019. Accessed April 27, 2020.
  5. 5.
    Cocker S. Host Software. RFC Editor. https://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc1.txt. Published April 7, 1969. Accessed April 24, 2020.
  6. 6.
    Featherly K. ARPANET United States Defense Program. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/ARPANET. Published November 28, 2016. Accessed April 24, 2020.
  7. 7.
    Cocker S. Documentation Conventions. RFC Editor. https://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc3.txt. Published April 1969. Accessed April 24, 2020.
  8. 8.
    Daigle L. The RFC Series and RFC Editor. RFC Editor. https://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc/rfc4844#section-3.1. Published July 2007. Accessed April 27, 2020.
  9. 9.
    RFC Editor . RFC Index. RFC Editor. https://www.rfc-editor.org/rfc-index-100d.html. Accessed April 27, 2020.
  10. 10.
    York D. Celebrating 50 Years of the RFCs That Define How the Internet Works. Internet Society. https://www.internetsociety.org/blog/2019/04/celebrating-50-years-of-the-rfcs-that-define-how-the-internet-works/. Published April 7, 2019. Accessed April 27, 2020.

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