by Darius Kazemi, May 26 2019
A data sharing committee
RFC-146 is titled “Views on Issues Relevant to Data Sharing on Computer Networks”. It's authored by Peggy Karp and D. C. M. Wood of MITRE, and Douglas B. McKay of IBM and dated May 12, 1971.
The technical content
This RFC opens by concurring with Arie Shoshani's suggestion that a committee be formed to discuss data sharing on the ARPANET.
One thing this RFC does that Shoshani does not is make the explicit connection between data sharing and Bhushan's file transfer protocol. In addition to Shoshani's technology-oriented classifications of data sharing, these authors propose user-oriented classifications of data sharing. Their three use cases are:
- Hosts provide data handling to the user, such as discussed in Jim White's Simple-Minded File System described in RFC-122. The user logs in directly to some service on a remote host to manipulate files.
- The user talks to a remote program that doesn't require knowledge of the file system. It's a “data control facility” (either centralized or decentralized) that provides specific higher-level data services. One example is the Data Reconfiguration Service proto-API discussed in RFC-138.
- The user plugs into the network as a whole and just asks for files “by name” willy-nilly, not caring where they come from. This is ultimately pretty similar to the World Wide Web, where you can, for example, load an
index.htmlfrom one server which embeds image files from a bunch of other servers. The “by name” seems to imply a system like the URIs we have today. They cite RFC-51 as something close to this, and RFC-51 is pretty much the only RFC thus far that I completely could not understand! This is conceptually a really advanced topic and I think a lot of the descriptive language for it just isn't here in 1971.
They recommend that the committee be responsible for discussions regarding:
- File transfer
- Transfer of existing databases to specialized data computers
- Ways to define restructuring of data
- Data transformation (such as the Data Reconfiguration Service)
- Maintenance of data consistency across duplicate copies of data on multiple network sites
- Data privacy and access control
Later in the RFC they mention that a “data control facility can range anywhere from a simple interface to an intelligent front-end processor to a network-wide referral system.” An “intelligent front-end processor” sounds to me a lot like a web browser, and “a network-wide referral system” sounds like URIs.
Given all of this focus on interactivity or potential interactivity it's no surprise that they also cite RFC-5, which if you'll recall is the Decode-Encode Language, which was a very early proposal for a rich application layer.
I am 99% sure that the D. C. M. Wood who co-authored this paper is the same David C. Wood of Mitre who wrote this 1975 paper on packet-switching networks. It's a really interesting paper and is a great overview of eight different pre-Internet networks—many (all?) of which would eventually be connected into what we now know as the Internet.