Over its fifteen year history, the Internet has functioned as a collaboration among cooperating parties. Certain key functions have been critical for its operation, not the least of which is the specification of the protocols by which the components of the system operate. These were originally developed in the DARPA research program mentioned above, but in the last five or six years, this work has been undertaken on a wider basis with support from Government agencies in many countries, industry and the academic community. The Internet Activities Board (IAB) was created in 1983 to guide the evolution of the TCP/IP Protocol Suite and to provide research advice to the Internet community.
During the course of its existence, the IAB has reorganized several times. It now has two primary components: the Internet Engineering Task Force and the Internet Research Task Force. The former has primary responsibility for further evolution of the TCP/IP protocol suite, its standardization with the concurrence of the IAB, and the integration of other protocols into Internet operation (e.g. the Open Systems Interconnection protocols). The Internet Research Task Force continues to organize and explore advanced concepts in networking under the guidance of the Internet Activities Board and with support from various government agencies.
A secretariat has been created to manage the day-to-day function of the Internet Activities Board and Internet Engineering Task Force. IETF meets three times a year in plenary and its approximately 50 working groups convene at intermediate times by electronic mail, teleconferencing and at face-to-face meetings. The IAB meets quarterly face-to-face or by videoconference and at intervening times by telephone, electronic mail and computer-mediated conferences.
Two other functions are critical to IAB operation: publication of documents describing the Internet and the assignment and recording of various identifiers needed for protocol operation. Throughout the development of the Internet, its protocols and other aspects of its operation have been documented first in a series of documents called Internet Experiment Notes and, later, in a series of documents called Requests for Comment (RFCs). The latter were used initially to document the protocols of the first packet switching network developed by DARPA, the ARPANET, beginning in 1969, and have become the principal archive of information about the Internet. At present, the publication function is provided by an RFC editor.
The recording of identifiers is provided by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) who has delegated one part of this responsibility to an Internet Registry which acts as a central repository for Internet information and which provides central allocation of network and autonomous system identifiers, in some cases to subsidiary registries located in various countries. The Internet Registry (IR) also provides central maintenance of the Domain Name System (DNS) root database which points to subsidiary distributed DNS servers replicated throughout the Internet. The DNS distributed database is used, inter alia, to associate host and network names with their Internet addresses and is critical to the operation of the higher level TCP/IP protocols including electronic mail.
There are a number of Network Information Centers (NICs) located throughout the Internet to serve its users with documentation, guidance, advice and assistance. As the Internet continues to grow internationally, the need for high quality NIC functions increases. Although the initial community of users of the Internet were drawn from the ranks of computer science and engineering, its users now comprise a wide range of disciplines in the sciences, arts, letters, business, military and government administration.
In 1980-81, two other networking projects, BITNET and CSNET, were initiated. BITNET adopted the IBM RSCS protocol suite and featured direct leased line connections between participating sites. Most of the original BITNET connections linked IBM mainframes in university data centers. This rapidly changed as protocol implementations became available for other machines. From the beginning, BITNET has been multi-disciplinary in nature with users in all academic areas. It has also provided a number of unique services to its users (e.g., LISTSERV). Today, BITNET and its parallel networks in other parts of the world (e.g., EARN in Europe) have several thousand participating sites. In recent years, BITNET has established a backbone which uses the TCP/IP protocols with RSCS-based applications running above TCP.
CSNET was initially funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to provide networking for university, industry and government computer science research groups. CSNET used the Phonenet MMDF protocol for telephone-based electronic mail relaying and, in addition, pioneered the first use of TCP/IP over X.25 using commercial public data networks. The CSNET name server provided an early example of a white pages directory service and this software is still in use at numerous sites. At its peak, CSNET had approximately 200 participating sites and international connections to approximately fifteen countries.
In 1987, BITNET and CSNET merged to form the Corporation for Research and Educational Networking (CREN). In the Fall of 1991, CSNET service was discontinued having fulfilled its important early role in the provision of academic networking service. A key feature of CREN is that its operational costs are fully met through dues paid by its member organizations.