(WHTM) — In the beginning, was the ARPANET.
The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network project was started in 1966 by computer pioneer Bob Taylor, director of ARPA’s Information Processing Techniques Office.
In a 1999 article in the New York Times, Taylor described some of the thinking, and frustration, that led to the ARPANET project. In 1966, he had to have three different ARPA-funded computer terminals in his office.
“For each of these three terminals, I had three different sets of user commands. So, if I was talking online with someone at S.D.C., and I wanted to talk to someone I knew at Berkeley, or M.I.T., about this, I had to get up from the S.D.C. terminal, go over and log into the other terminal and get in touch with them. I said, ‘Oh Man!’, it’s obvious what to do: If you have these three terminals, there ought to be one terminal that goes anywhere you want to go. That idea is the ARPANET.”
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The Department of Defense, which ran ARPA, was concerned with more than convenience. They wanted to devise a robust communication system that would survive disruptions in case of minor inconveniences like a nuclear attack. But how to make ARPANET work? The project would end up involving hundreds of scientists and engineers across the country, and a lot of ideas were put forth.
One of those involved was Steve Crocker of UCLA. By 1969 some of the first hardware for ARPANET had been designed, the IMP or Interface Message Processor. They were the ancestors of the router you’re using today to read this story, but back then they were as big as refrigerators and cost $100,000 apiece. But software standards for using them had to be established. On April 4, 1969, Crocker published Request For Comment 1, or RFC 1.
RFC 1, titled “Host Software” was exactly what it said it was, a request for comment. Crocker was not declaring any standards for IMPs. His RFC pointed out what standards had been established, and where work was needed and invited feedback.
In later years, Crocker referred to RFC 1 as “a modest and entirely forgettable memo”. But it established the way much of the ARPANET, and later the Internet would develop, through open discussion, criticism, and tweaking of proposed standards. The Internet Engineering Task Force, which works under the nonprofit Internet Society which develops and promotes voluntary Internet standards, is open source and run completely by volunteers. RFCs are still a primary tool for establishing how the Internet will work.
RFCs have also become a great archive of how the Internet developed. The RFC Archive has over 8500 RFCs. With them, you can trace how the Internet grew and developed, what standards were adopted, what standards weren’t, and what standards were adopted and then dropped when something better came along, all the way back to RFC 1.
To view RFC1 in its entirety, click here
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