365 RFCs

Commenting on one RFC a day in honor of the 50th anniversary of the first RFC.

by Darius Kazemi, October 31 2019

In 2019 I'm reading one RFC a day in chronological order starting from the very first one. More on this project here. There is a table of contents for all my RFC posts.

Data control facility

RFC-304 is titled “A Data Management System Proposal for the ARPA Network”. It's authored by Douglas B. McKay of IBM and dated February 17, 1972.

The technical content

This is a long one, and it's meant to start a conversation about what data management on the network will look like. It's explicitly not supposed to be a complete standard. It's an example of an early straw man proposal, a draft document meant to generate discussions, in part by encouraging people to argue against its flaws.

A Data Control Facility (DCF) is proposed. The concept of a DCF was referenced in McKay and Karp's RFC-146 nine months prior. A DCF is a program that lets a remote user do stuff with data without knowing anything about the file system or operating system of the computer that hosts the DCF. It's an example of an “indirect service” a la Bhushan.

FTP is also discussed, and in particular the idea that DCFs could transfer files via that protocol.

Analysis

I love how the language around things like file transfer hasn't settled yet. For example, the author talks about how a file is to be “shipped” from Santa Barbara to BBN.

I notice that the text version of the RFC, which was transcribed in 1998, has the pages out of order — the last page of the text version belongs in the middle of page 3 of the text version. The PDF-with-images version I've linked above is a scan of the original and is correct. (I've submitted an errata report to the RFC Editor.)

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You can subscribe to this blog's RSS feed or if you're on a federated ActivityPub social network like Mastodon or Pleroma you can search for the user “@365-rfcs@write.as” and follow it there.

About me

I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm an independent technologist and artist. I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with ActivityPub, including a Node.js reference implementation, an RSS-to-ActivityPub converter, and a fork of Mastodon, called Hometown. You can support my work via my Patreon.

by Darius Kazemi, October 30 2019

In 2019 I'm reading one RFC a day in chronological order starting from the very first one. More on this project here. There is a table of contents for all my RFC posts.

List management

RFC-303 is titled “ARPA Network Mailing Lists”. It's dated March 3, 1972 and authored (presumably) by Jeanne North of the SRI NIC.

The technical content

This RFC updates RFC-300, and consists of three different distribution list for documents related to ARPANET. As in RFC-300, RFC-211, and RFC-168, List A is essentially the critical sites that need information as soon as possible, and lists B and C are for secondary sites.

How to follow this blog

You can subscribe to this blog's RSS feed or if you're on a federated ActivityPub social network like Mastodon or Pleroma you can search for the user “@365-rfcs@write.as” and follow it there.

About me

I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm an independent technologist and artist. I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with ActivityPub, including a Node.js reference implementation, an RSS-to-ActivityPub converter, and a fork of Mastodon, called Hometown. You can support my work via my Patreon.

by Darius Kazemi, October 29 2019

In 2019 I'm reading one RFC a day in chronological order starting from the very first one. More on this project here. There is a table of contents for all my RFC posts.

A user test

RFC-302 is titled “Exercising the ARPANET”. It's authored by Roland F. Bryan of the UCSB Computer Research Laboratory and dated February 8, 1972.

The technical content

A group of graduate students at UCSB performed a user test of the ARPANET and this RFC presents their results.

They gave access to the network to a group of people who are “technically competent” but who know nothing about time-sharing, networking, or the ARPANET. They wanted to see what they would be able to do, and what problems arise.

The users were given a brief training and access to NIC documents and then allowed to log in to the system at UCSB. The users had a whole bunch of questions and comments. Some highlights:

  • They say a user manual for the Network Control Program at each site would be helpful.
  • How can you tell when you're truly logged out if the connection just fails?
  • How do we make contact with programmers at other sites to develop cooperative programs for file transfer, etc?
  • What are good times of day to connect to each site?
  • They point out various bugs.

The users are particularly impressed with MIT and BBN, which provide better documentation than most sites and greatly eased their onboarding process.

How to follow this blog

You can subscribe to this blog's RSS feed or if you're on a federated ActivityPub social network like Mastodon or Pleroma you can search for the user “@365-rfcs@write.as” and follow it there.

About me

I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm an independent technologist and artist. I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with ActivityPub, including a Node.js reference implementation, an RSS-to-ActivityPub converter, and a fork of Mastodon, called Hometown. You can support my work via my Patreon.

by Darius Kazemi, October 28 2019

In 2019 I'm reading one RFC a day in chronological order starting from the very first one. More on this project here. There is a table of contents for all my RFC posts.

IMP Goes Down

RFC-301 is titled “BBN IMP (#5) and NCC Schedule March 4, 1971”. It's authored by Ralph Alter of BBN and dated February 11, 1972.

The technical content

IMP 5 is going “off the air” on the morning of March 4, 1972 for maintenance. The Network Control Center's live support people will be available by telephone during the maintenance window, which will last until the early afternoon. They are doing maintenance on a Saturday to minimize impact on the network.

BBN is also letting the Network Working Group know that after this maintenance, there will be a new Host connected a the Network Control Center at BBN, but it won't be a server available for others on the network to log in to.

How to follow this blog

You can subscribe to this blog's RSS feed or if you're on a federated ActivityPub social network like Mastodon or Pleroma you can search for the user “@365-rfcs@write.as” and follow it there.

About me

I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm an independent technologist and artist. I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with ActivityPub, including a Node.js reference implementation, an RSS-to-ActivityPub converter, and a fork of Mastodon, called Hometown. You can support my work via my Patreon.

by Darius Kazemi, October 27 2019

In 2019 I'm reading one RFC a day in chronological order starting from the very first one. More on this project here. There is a table of contents for all my RFC posts.

List management

RFC-300 is titled “ARPA Network Mailing Lists”. It's dated January 25, 1972 and authored by Jeanne North of the SRI NIC.

The technical content

This RFC updates RFC-211, and consists of three different distribution list for documents related to ARPANET. As in RFC-211 and RFC-168, List A is essentially the critical sites that need information as soon as possible, and lists B and C are for secondary sites.

How to follow this blog

You can subscribe to this blog's RSS feed or if you're on a federated ActivityPub social network like Mastodon or Pleroma you can search for the user “@365-rfcs@write.as” and follow it there.

About me

I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm an independent technologist and artist. I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with ActivityPub, including a Node.js reference implementation, an RSS-to-ActivityPub converter, and a fork of Mastodon, called Hometown. You can support my work via my Patreon.

by Darius Kazemi, October 26 2019

In 2019 I'm reading one RFC a day in chronological order starting from the very first one. More on this project here. There is a table of contents for all my RFC posts.

Information Management

RFC-299 is titled “Information Management System”. It's authored by Dorothy Hopkin of the University of Illinois Center for Advanced Computation and dated February 11, 1972.

The technical content

This RFC is a statement of intent for the building of a system for querying large amounts of data, with storage offloaded to the datacomputer. (Recall that this is a kind of prototypical remote storage device with a “trillion bit” storage capacity.)

People who might want to use this are encouraged to contact the author.

Further reading

If she wasn't already Director of the Center for Advanced Computation at the time of this RFC, Hopkin would hold that title by 1977. Here is an advertisement from the April 11, 1977 issue of Computerworld featuring Hopkin:

A full page advertisement featuring photo of Dorothy Hopkin, a black haired woman posing in front of file records and holding a computer printout. Most of the text is an attributed testimonial from Hopkin about the MARK IV software from Informatics.

MARK IV was a programming language first developed in the 1960s that provided non-programmers a way to manage files and records and generate reports. It was often used for accounting purposes: keeping track of general ledgers and invoices and generating reports for businesspeople to take action on.

There is an interesting interview transcript with Walter F. Bauer of Informatics that covers some of the business strategy around selling MARK IV, which was one of the first commercial software applications ever sold, and certainly the first multi-million-dollar “hit”.

How to follow this blog

You can subscribe to this blog's RSS feed or if you're on a federated ActivityPub social network like Mastodon or Pleroma you can search for the user “@365-rfcs@write.as” and follow it there.

About me

I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm an independent technologist and artist. I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with ActivityPub, including a Node.js reference implementation, an RSS-to-ActivityPub converter, and a fork of Mastodon, called Hometown. You can support my work via my Patreon.

by Darius Kazemi, October 25 2019

In 2019 I'm reading one RFC a day in chronological order starting from the very first one. More on this project here. There is a table of contents for all my RFC posts.

Halfway online

RFC-298 is titled “Network host status”. It's authored by Ellen Westheimer of BBN and dated February 1, 1972.

The technical content

This is another report from BBN on the status of various ARPANET hosts in the same series as RFC-288, RFC-287, RFC-267, RFC-266, RFC-255, RFC-252, RFC-235, and RFC-240.

The numbers this time, from January 17 to January 28:

  • 70 dead
  • 67 open
  • 17 half open
  • 12 timed out
  • 4 refused

Analysis

Things are looking up! Doing an apples-to-apples comparison of just the machines that have been online since RFC-235 stats were reported, we are up to 50% online from 27% online!

How to follow this blog

You can subscribe to this blog's RSS feed or if you're on a federated ActivityPub social network like Mastodon or Pleroma you can search for the user “@365-rfcs@write.as” and follow it there.

About me

I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm an independent technologist and artist. I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with ActivityPub, including a Node.js reference implementation, an RSS-to-ActivityPub converter, and a fork of Mastodon, called Hometown. You can support my work via my Patreon.

by Darius Kazemi, October 24 2019

In 2019 I'm reading one RFC a day in chronological order starting from the very first one. More on this project here. There is a table of contents for all my RFC posts.

Stop your groaning

RFC-297 is titled “TIP Message Buffers”. It's authored by Dave Walden who is now back at BBN after a brief stint at Norsk Data.

The technical content

This RFC is a response to “groaning” about the message buffers on the Terminal IMP (TIP). Walden is here to set the record straight.

While we realize these aren't as big as some Hosts might desire, they aren't as small as the intensity of the groans suggest either.

The TIP has 63 available ports for communication, and the lower numbered ports have bigger buffers than the higher numbered ones. Walden recommends that users of line-oriented systems (which send messages consisting of each line of text, rather than each character of text) try to connect on the lower numbered ports.

He says that they don't dynamically allocate buffers to devices because he estimates the code to do that would eat into the overall buffer space available, reducing the buffer space about about 20%.

How to follow this blog

You can subscribe to this blog's RSS feed or if you're on a federated ActivityPub social network like Mastodon or Pleroma you can search for the user “@365-rfcs@write.as” and follow it there.

About me

I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm an independent technologist and artist. I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with ActivityPub, including a Node.js reference implementation, an RSS-to-ActivityPub converter, and a fork of Mastodon, called Hometown. You can support my work via my Patreon.

by Darius Kazemi, October 23 2019

In 2019 I'm reading one RFC a day in chronological order starting from the very first one. More on this project here. There is a table of contents for all my RFC posts.

A computer that never was

RFC-296 (PDF) is titled “DS-1 Display System”. It's authored by David Liddle of Owens-Illinois and dated January 27, 1972.

The technical content

The Computer History Museum has a transcript of a long interview with David Liddle (PDF) that talks about his history with the ARPANET community. Apparently this RFC discusses a network workstation that he had single-handedly built a protoype of and that apparently Owens-Illinois was considering putting into production, though they never did.

This is a very long RFC and it's for a piece of hardware that never went in to production so I'm not going to get into extremely fine detail.

The DS-1 is planned to be, essentially, a personal computer before that was really even a category of machine. It's billed as an “intelligent terminal”, so a terminal with its own computing power, but the “offline system” can debug, edit, and display graphics.

It uses an Owens-Illinois DIGIVUE Model 512-60 plasma display. Here's a page from a 1972 trade industry advertisement for the model (PDF) for it:

It will be able to connect via a modem or an RS-232 cable.

Further reading

I had no idea that RS-232 was a thing in 1971! It was still widely used in computing in the 1990s when I was a kid, but it was invented way back in 1960. Wikipedia has more on this venerable hardware standard.

And once again, this interview with David Liddle (PDF) is full of wonderful anecdotes, especially about Liddle's time at Xerox PARC and a lot of the minutiae of patent disputes and negotiations between computer manufacturers.

How to follow this blog

You can subscribe to this blog's RSS feed or if you're on a federated ActivityPub social network like Mastodon or Pleroma you can search for the user “@365-rfcs@write.as” and follow it there.

About me

I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm an independent technologist and artist. I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with ActivityPub, including a Node.js reference implementation, an RSS-to-ActivityPub converter, and a fork of Mastodon, called Hometown. You can support my work via my Patreon.

by Darius Kazemi, October 22 2019

In 2019 I'm reading one RFC a day in chronological order starting from the very first one. More on this project here. There is a table of contents for all my RFC posts.

Protocols

RFC-295 is titled “Report of the Protocol Workshop”. It's authored by Jon Postel of UCLA and dated October 12, 1971.

The technical content

This RFC tells us what happened at the protocol workshop at the Network Working Group meeting in October 1971. Recall from RFC-212 that this workshop was part of the NWG meeting and was run by both BBN and UCLA people (representing, respectively, the IMP-Host Protocol of level one and the Host-Host Protocol of level two).

A proposal for an extension of the IMP-Host protocol to provide status reports (presumably on the IMPs themselves) was rejected due to its high cost and low benefit.

A bunch of edge cases in the Host-Host Protocol are explored and discussed. The GVB (“give back [memory]“) command has been a source of trouble for a long time. It seems like someone must have suggested removing it and pointed to the fact that literally nobody uses it as a justification. It was overturned because someone might use it in the future.

The authors suggest that some prohibitions be put in place on “spontaneous commands” in Host-Host, mostly ones that are meant to reply to another command. You can imagine that if you flooded the network with “yup I heard what you said” in response to nothing, that would result in a situation where another person could interpret that as a response to something unrelated that they just sent.

They recommend logging errors you get from a remote host instead of just throwing them away.

The Initial Connection Protocol is “found to be satisfactory” with only minor issues.

The Telnet Protocol needs a ton of work, which makes sense to me because all the Telnet documents to date seem woefully under-specified (by which I mean that any two people implementing Telnet software going off these documents have a strong chance of writing incompatible software). The usual suspects are brought up as pain points: definition of duplex modes, character vs line mode, funky ASCII stuff like what an end-of-line is supposed to look like, interrupts, the virtual terminal, and more.

Analysis

It makes sense to me that ICP is mostly satisfactory because it was the first protocol to be fully supported at basically every active host site (yes, even moreso than the host-host protocol).

They specifically ask for a new document defining Telnet, which I take as prodding to write a new document from scratch rather than merely modify the existing, shaky foundation.

Interestingly they agree that upper and lower case letters should be supported universally on Telnet! I guess that makes sense because why would you throw away nearly half the 7-bit ASCII characters?

How to follow this blog

You can subscribe to this blog's RSS feed or if you're on a federated ActivityPub social network like Mastodon or Pleroma you can search for the user “@365-rfcs@write.as” and follow it there.

About me

I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm an independent technologist and artist. I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with ActivityPub, including a Node.js reference implementation, an RSS-to-ActivityPub converter, and a fork of Mastodon, called Hometown. You can support my work via my Patreon.

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